DEMON'S SOULS REMAKE
By Tom "TomBsTone" Bronneberg on March 4, 2021
Alright, this is it; the one I've been waiting for ever since Bluepoint Games announced they were doing a remake of the cult classic Demon's Souls. And yes I know we are a bit late to join the party train, but sadly my pre-ordered PS5 was delayed until last week. The Demon's Souls preorder was delivered right on time and was patiently waiting in my display box. For the record, I would have been able to write this review just from my experiences of the PS3 original, and the Youtube videos they already released of the remake, but that was just not going to happen. For me, the original was THE BEST Souls game ever made, and I was curious to see if the remake could come close to the superb experience I had back in 2009, playing the original game. So, let's find out shall we?
Demon's Souls the original is the Giantdad of all souls-like games. Back in 2009, From Software made this gem of a game, exclusively for the PS3. Back then the game got heavy criticism for being "too hard", or "too much of a challenge". Sometimes, people even said that the game "just wasn't fair" or was "just being mean". Well... this is not Super Mario! If you cannot handle the heat, get out of the dragon's nest! At the time I was mostly playing more action-oriented games such as God of War, so I thought I would get Demon's Souls at a sale later on. Somehow, I had the silly idea that a third person RPG wasn't my particular go-to genre at the time. I know, right? Silly me!
Well, after a bit of convincing from my little brother Mark "Demius" Bronneberg, who kept telling me it was the perfect game for me, I decided to listen for once, and bought the beautiful disk a few weeks after release. Maybe a 1000 hours of playtime later, he was clearly right. This is my Jam! I literally spent countless hours creating dozens of builds, farming gazillions of souls, just to create the perfect setups. I knew every nook and cranny of this game. At times, I even had to guide my little brother through a level just by talking to him on the phone while he was playing the game and got stuck somewhere. Now, I'm not tooting my own battle horn here, I just want to stress how much this game means to me. And therefore, this is going to be a very extensive review and comparison between the cult classic on PS3 and the remake for the PS5, so I apologize in advance.
The story in a nutshell; after a short adventure in the prologue, you get your ass handed to you and die, you reawaken in the Nexus, where you are greeted by a strange lady with wax on her eyes. You can travel through one of five Archstones to the land of Boletaria, and start your quest to slay demons for their Demon's Souls. By doing this, you will be able to reignite your inner flame and resurrect yourself. The setting is a medieval classic, with castles, prisons, underground tunnels, old ruins and forgotten swamps. A great variety of level and enemy design, and brutally hard level bosses. Your main goal is to slay the Old one and save yourself and the world. Since it is a remake and I know there are people out there who haven't played either the original or its remake (shame on you!), I am not going to spoil too much about the story. This mainly because this adventure is something you need to experience for yourself. Instead, we are going to review the quality and feel of the remake, and see if it can live up to the hype.
Bluepoint Games, who were already considered the masters of remaking games after releasing their Shadow of the Colossus remake, is THE company to hire for doing a remake of your older games. From Software did a perfect job with the original and Bluepoint took it up to eleven. At least, so they claim. Being another Playstation launch exclusive, and having the PS5 delivery problems, they faced somewhat of an uphill battle this time. Luckily, the Souls-like community has grown extensively over the years and the term "too hard" isn't in their vocabulary anymore. So more people can jump right into the punishment that is Demon's Souls.
After starting up the game, I first noticed the change in intro movie. Subtle additions of artwork and much more voice narration explain the story a bit better than the original did. For me this was the charm of PS3 version, you really needed to read all items, and listen to all of the NPCs in order to figure out what the hell the story was about. Even when doing so, you still didn't get half of it, but that was okay. You felt the story anyway as you died countless times during your adventures. Still, the animation upgrade of the intro cinematic along with the enhanced soundtrack is fantastic. I love the fact they tried to keep most of the original and just added some finer detail to the video renders.
The detail in the sound effects is worth a mention by itself. As you run and roll, breathing will become harder as your stamina depletes and you will hear your heavy breathing in game. Footsteps, weapon and armor sounds and other effects are all done in supreme detail. I highly recommend playing this game on HIGH volume with a good HiFi set or on a PS5 Pulse 3D headset, as I played most of the time because it was in the middle of the night and my wife still has nightmares of the original game. Back in 2010 she was pregnant of my first son, and I was playing loads Demon's Souls, and particular farming in the Tower of Latria, the screams and ringing sounds the gatekeepers still haunts her dreams till this day.
After the intro video, we jump into the journey to the nexus prologue. I need to mention at this point that loading screens are displayed far shorter than I was used to. The PS5 really delivers on this part, and I am very happy with that feature alone. Now we just see a fog gate and within 2 to 3 seconds, you are in the game again. The thing I do miss here, due to the fact of the near instant loading screens, is the original loading screen artwork. These were a welcome addition to the swagger and lore of the PS3 version, but I guess we cannot complain about this of course. Not having to wait between respawns and level switching is highly productive during farming runs.
The first thing we need to take care of is the creation our character. Now, Bluepoint Games really outdid itself by the sheer level of detail in the character design, and available presets. Everything is customizable, so it is easy to get lost in here as well. Choosing your character can be a task on its own. New players might find it hard to decide what playstyle will sooth your needs, or what gifts are best for their early game. Therefore, I recommend a tank build for your first playthrough. Choose a soldier like preset and the Ring for better item drop rate for more and better rewards and healing wares. And you should be all right for the first part of the game. Of course, the veterans among us will run straight to their Royal or thief classes, but the great thing about these games, you can always create another character and start over again... and again... and again!
The basic game is identical to the original, in raw form of course. The insane level of detail BluePoint put into the remake is bordering on obscene. Water, rocks, grass, foliage, clouds, sunbeams just everything is NextGen. The first few minutes I really took the time to inspect everything around me. Because I know this game inside and out, I am intrigued to see what they altered and how it felt walking through the levels. Let's compare the level of detail to, for instance, Bloodborne, which is also a great game in its own right, but for me always felt a bit overdone with the detail. There was so much there that I just wasn't able to distinguish the detailed scenery from the usable content. As a result, I felt over-stimulated running through the game. I wished things were a bit less detailed. Now, this is mostly a personal preference, I know. I simply love the cleaner styled games like Demon's Souls and the first Dark Souls. Because they were lacking in computer power to create more intense scenery at the time, they needed to make up for this by creating better level design and more intriguing environments. Games with too much detail just felt unnecessarily cluttered.
I do not have this feeling when playing this Demon's Souls remake. Everything feels natural to me. Yes, there is much, much, MUCH more to see now, but it seems to be in keeping with the original content and level design. It just looks much, much prettier. Now, on to the voice acting! I must admit that I do miss the tad of flair and awkwardness of the original game when it comes to the voice acting. In the remake, they re-recorded all of the voice acting, and since some of the original lines where so iconic, I do miss them. For example; again my wife keeps asking me if this is the "art thou done?" game, but now the maiden says "art thou finished?", which sounds a bit smoother than the original. In addition, characters like Ostrava of Boletaria and Biorr of the Twinfangs do miss a bit of their original flair. I guess new players won't even notice this, and it's not badly done at all; I just miss the old and sometimes awkward NPC lines.
Let's talk about level design for a bit, shall we? For me personally, Demon's Souls is one of the best Souls Games, mainly because of its unique level design. Since it was the first game of the series, this is where it all started for me. All the sequels were great, but were not always hitting my sweet spot. Of course, repetition is the most common problem here, having to create an entirely new area that is unique is a very hard thing to do. Bolletaria has been divided into five Archstones. Typically, each Archstone has four different levels and each of those levels has their own unique Boss fight. At the center of all of this is the Nexus, your main hub, and go-to safe space. You will find all of your merchant and rescued NPC's in here, as well as the Maiden herself. She will be taking your gathered souls to level up. So yeah, you need to travel back to the nexus to level up in Demon's Souls. Do not worry, you will get used to this... trust me, I will explain later. The first stage you visit is the Castle area and the most common among the Souls games. Being a knight in shining armor, you will feel right at home here. You are greeted by a mighty dragon with a dozen bodies in its mouth, with a daunting castle looming in the background. With the castle's towers wreathed in flames, the setting is complete. Now it's time to change your underwear and check if you tied your shoelaces. No turning back now, so let's go!
New players will probably die within the first 3 minutes of the first level, but that is okay. Back in the day, this was a new phenomenon, but nowadays the souls-like community has taught us that it's okay to die. This is also a reason why the original Demon's Souls is my all-time favorite. Back then; there wasn't really a big Souls community to help you out when you got stuck. In addition, we had no experience with games like this, mostly for the excruciatingly simple reason that there were no other games like this. Therefore, the only solution was to "Get Gud". If you die, you will respawn at the beginning of the level, and all enemies and encounters are reset. So before long, you will learn the layout of the levels. Pretty soon you'll know the levels like the inside of your back pocket. Acquiring all of this knowledge was the only way to traverse the levels and defeat the boss without dying. So carefully memorizing the locations of all the enemies, and learning their move sets to figure out how to counter them in the most efficient way possible, was the best way to go. Therefore, if you are a new player to the Souls Games, this is the only way to play these games. Memorize everything, we know it is a lot, and hard to do, but you will "Get Gud" and you will fall in love with the series, I promise.
In-game, the enemies look and feel the way I remember them. The textures and animations have been upgraded in a balanced way, nothing to fancy but obviously much more detailed than the original. The placement of enemies also stayed the same, so my go-to short cuts and quick routes still work fine in the remake. The general level esthetic in the original was a bit plain and sober like a dark shrouded veil was pulled over the game. This was a good thing, because it emphasized the gravity and importance of your quest as you roamed across Boletaria. The Remake has an all-together different feel to it. As it's released on a next gen console with highly update textures and shaders, the entire feel and look of the game is more next gen than old-school this time. At first I didn't know what to make of this, because I really liked the old and dull scenery of the original. There are some custom video settings in the menu, and at first glance the "classic" vibe tickled my fancy for quite a while, but I decided to change it back to the original. I mean, we do need to give it a chance right? And, of course, Bluepoint knows what is best for us, because I never changed the setting again. There are no two ways about it; the game looks absolutely amazing.
The Boss fights is where the real magic happens. From Software did a great job designing the original Boss fights, complete with fitting sceneries, haunting soundtrack, and a sheer visual and mental impact on your soul. Bluepoint Games made good on their promise here and really did take it up to eleven. The first Boss you encounter, if you make it that far, is the tutorial boss. He now looks absolutely disgusting, the original was pretty scary in its own right, not only because of his sheer size and ability to one-shot most players the second they make it into the room. Yet now the level of detail makes sure he really comes to life and probably will haunt your dreams for the foreseeable future. In case you do make it past the Tutorial boss, (yes, this is a possibility), you will immediately encounter the main Dragon God himself. Again, this entire scene looks amazing. The sound effects alone will make you soil yourself again. You probably just had to change your underpants after the prologue boss fight, and now this. New players will probably will not see this mighty scene the first few play-trough's but it is fantastic. In addition, this is not the only mighty boss fight. Demon's Souls is renowned for its plethora of diverse Boss Fights. Some are huge, others scary and fast or just plain weird and a few are just epic. All of them have their own vibe to them, challenging areas in which to fight them, and haunting soundtracks to accompany you while you will fight for your very survival.
Now, on to the really complicated part of Demon's Souls. This is just another reason while this is considered the hardest of the Souls Series. Every world starts off at neutral world tendency, meaning all is well and as it should be by design. During your adventures, whenever you slay a Boss Demon, the world will shift one step towards White. After defeating a Demon Lord, you will regain your body form, and regain its main benefit: full health. In soul form, you will only have half of your maximum health to begin with, just another nice feature for the player to endure. But if you die in body form, the world will shift towards black tendency. Three steps towards white or black means you will have pure white or black world tendency, and now the tricky part will come to life. White will give you increased hit points and basic attack and defense, so the game will become easier for you. Towards black, you will lose hit points and basic attack and defense stats. So the game will become harder for you. However, the rewards will also be greater, so for farming we do like a pure back world tendency. Nevertheless, as a new player you should absolutely try to avoid this. Always try to finish the entire world in pure white world tendency; this will trigger unique events in this world, new shortcuts, areas with exclusive loot and even new NPC encounters. After you have managed to find all of these exclusive encounters, you can easily change your world back to pure black tendency, so you can farm items, construction materials and again unlock new exclusive content for this particular world. My advice during your first play through; after defeating a boss, run back to the nexus, climb the staircase and throw yourself from the top. Die in the nexus, not outside the nexus. This will make it easier to keep the world tendency where you want it to be.
Demon's Souls would not be the same without co-op play. In the original game, you could be invaded or assisted by phantom warriors, be it either friends online or complete strangers. Both can help you out or try to kill you. In the remake, we can now play with multiple friends or foes at the same time. Up to six players can help and or kill each other in the same game now. It's also possible to set an online server and password so you can easily find your friends online. Demius and I play a lot of Demon's Souls together, and summoning is as smooth as it can possibly be. With the password set, it is really fast, effective, and a lot of fun to do. We highly suggest you try to find a friend online to help you. There are also a lot of discord servers where players can ask for assistance if needed. Beware though, the host player will need to be in body form to call for assistance, so you will be vulnerable to invasions as well Black Phantom players invading your world and try to hunt you down. Plus, they will be equipped for PvP action, while you probably won't be. So be careful, if you see the invasion trigger on your screen, run and hide somewhere or prepare for a PvP fight. Playing hide and seek is also a lot of fun to do, I might add.
Another feature that makes Demon's Souls so unique is the volume of upgrade paths available for your weapons. Almost every single weapon in this game has multiple upgrade paths, all of them cost different materials, and all of those are unique for a specific world and or area. So you really need to be careful what you upgrade and how far you are willing to go. Because some areas can be a real pain in the ass to farm for crafting materials. So make sure you pay attention to what item drops where. Alternatively, use a Wikihow where to find the things you need. The Souls community will have your back. Online, you will be able to find everything you need, in great detail. Just another tip for the new players; do not consume the boss' souls at first, keep them in your storage until late or end game. After discovering a few of the NPCs, they will grant you new spells, miracles or even weapon upgrades that you will need those boss souls for. I know it can be tempting at first, but try to save them for later use.
I do think I need to wrap up this review right about now, or my editor might just kill me. Therefore, I will answer the main question; "is this better than the original game? And is it worth my money?" For new players, this game is simply a MUST-HAVE. I know it is a challenging game, but please try it, and do not throw your controller at your TV if you keep failing at first, keep pushing your limits and try to learn from your mistakes, you will thank From Software in the long run. For the people like myself who played and enjoyed the PS3 original, this game is also a MUST-HAVE, not only because of its enhanced features and insanely short loading times, but we also get the chance to experience it all over again. I already created about five different characters, all endgame or beyond, and I do not regret anything. This might already be the GOTY for me! 2020 and / or 2021, I don't care. Demon's Souls is one of the best games ever made... period!
Thank you for reading this monumental review, I hope I could convince some new players to join the Souls-Community. And thanks again to Bluepoint Games for reigniting my love for Demon's Souls.
And last but certainly not least, thanks to From Software for creating the Souls Series.