Demon's Souls Review PS5

Demon’s Souls Review PS5 (2020)

My first playthrough of Demon’s Souls was shortly after having beaten the first two Dark Souls games and Bloodborne. I remember it being pretty clunky (even more than the original Dark Souls) but still creating a unique world with many brutal challenges. After having played those other Souls games, I was not as entirely impressed with Demon’s Souls as I may have been if it were the first game I had played in the franchise. I liked it but did not see myself ever playing again, that is, until the remaster was announced.

The surface-level story, as in any Souls game, is seemingly simple. You are a character set on a quest to destroy the demons plaguing the realm, eventually reaching and killing the major demon of the world in hopes of saving Boletaria. But underneath this simplicity is so much more that is reached by carefully exploring, listening to dialogue, and reading item descriptions. Boletaria is now plagued by demons, serving a creature known as the Old One. They kill to gather souls, slowly delivering them back up the food chain to greater demons and eventually the Old One, taking a small share for themselves. The Old One has been summoned to this Earth by God due to his wrath at people using their souls for magic rather than what they were intended for. Now, after many years, a rebirth of magic has caused a calamity, and as the main character, your job is to destroy the new demons infesting the world in hopes of reaching the Old One to finally put it to rest.

And through five distinct areas of the world – the medieval Boletarian city, the fiery underground mines, the seemingly haunted magical tower, the storm shrouded island, and the plague ridden valley – the character travels, defeating these demons and archdemons along the way. Each area has its own distinct lore and the humans, demons, and objects within these worlds have stories and mysteries as well. It’s that ability, to have a good story that, if the player is willing, can be delved into at such a deep level that discoveries are endless. Is it as deep, rich, and complex as Dark Souls or Bloodborne? Well, no, but that is such an absurdly high bar that this comparison does not detract at all from the wonderful story and lore that is told here.

I said initially that I remember Demon’s Souls being similar to Dark Souls, but slower and clunkier. I remember comparing the difference in pacing between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls 1, to that difference between Dark Souls 1 and Dark Souls 2. It was the main drawback for me. Immediately upon loading the remaster and pushing through the tutorial area, I felt something was different. I was moving smoothly, switching between menus and items with ease, and realizing that it wasn’t just the graphics and certain mechanics that were updated, but the gameplay and quality-of-life as well. It made for a far more modern game that didn’t feel like you were trekking back into the past, but rather into a  new game of the franchise.

Demon’s Souls is a complex game that requires patience. There is no rushing allowed unless you are familiar with the area, enemy placement, traps, and events, which can only all be learned by at least one (but probably more) slow playthrough of an area. Learning the intricacies of each map is an incredibly satisfying experience, no matter how annoyed one may become at some of the “cheaper” deaths that are experienced. The very small number of shortcuts and archstones made the game, in my opinion, even more stressful than the other Souls games, as some levels were so long and dangerous that you felt like you’d lose your mass of souls at any second while still not knowing how close you had come to the end.

Then come the bosses which in the first half of the gameplay were again complex, requiring patience and awareness of everything going on around you. Those such as the Temple Knight, Flamelurker, and Maneater fit into this category. Then came those like the Storm King and Old King Allant which while not necessarily difficult, still forced you to wait, learn move sets, and not get greedy with your hits (and of course, were just wonderfully designed). But unfortunately, a lot of the late-game bosses were not very difficult, interestingly designed, nor did they require any learning (i.e. Dirty Colossus and Maiden Astraea). This led some of the late game feeling significantly less difficult than the early game, but not in the sense that you had progressed by leveling, rather, that the game had become easier. Although overall, excluding those few caveats, the bosses were still one of the many great joys of the game.

Every aspect of this game is great, but level design is where it really shines. There is so much variation between areas, and even the separate levels within each stage all pose a completely different experience. The castles and city in the first area felt like a true medieval world that had been destroyed and evacuated by some plight. The mines felt maze-like and claustrophobic, and required much memorization but to a fair degree. Latria was an arcane prison and academy right out of a gothic horror movie, and the grotesque enemies within it added to this feeling. The Isle of Storms was a cold, windy island tormented by beautifully designed shadow creatures. And finally, the Valley of Defilement was at first another maze-like area filled with poison and traps, and then transformed into the most vastly open, deadly chamber in the game. It was really a joy to explore each of these areas, and even though I found some to be better designed than others, they still all exemplified thoughtful game design. And of course, the graphics and every single thing you can look at, are truly some of the most beautifully created scenes in any game I have ever played.

Since it has been years after my initial playthrough of Demon’s Souls, I honestly cannot comment on the specific changes that Bluepoint made to the game. All I have to go on is how I felt playing through it both times. As I said, when I first played through it, it was enjoyable, but most of this enjoyment came from a historical perspective: seeing where one of my favorite franchises stemmed from. It was good but outdated – clunky to a fault. But now the game feels as if it were released yesterday. It no longer needs that historical significance to merit a playthrough but, instead, can be played and loved by anyone who may be familiar with or completely new to the Souls franchise. The game desires to be replayed again and again, and with dozens (or even hundreds) of hours, there will still be new things to be discovered.

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