Demon’s Souls Remake – Review

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Demon’s Souls released on Playstation 3 February 5th 2009. The major selling point was the crushing difficulty of the game. I bought it a year or so later and immediately hated it. I couldn’t wrap my head around the clunky combat, and remember shelving it after finishing the first boss.

Since then From Software has become a household name in the industry. Dark Souls 1-3, Bloodborne and Sekiro have all been massive successes. I’ve played through them all and loved them almost equally. So when I finally got hold of a Playstation 5 in March this year it was with mixed feelings I bought the remake of Demon’s Souls. Would I dislike it as much? Probably not. I had, after all, gotten used to the gameplay by now. But I was suspicious of remaking the first game in a series that had evolved exponentially since its release.

Turns out I had no reason to fret. The remake is an amazing game, both in itself and as a history lesson for newer Souls fans. And the improvements make the game all the better.


Why visuals can make a major difference

Performance in the original Demon’s Souls was wonky, to say the least. It could regularly drop below 30 fps. For a game where one slight misstep could mean having to start the level over, even losing all your souls, this was alway a source of frustration. So when the remake lets me choose between a gorgeous performance mode with a more or less rock solid 60 fps, it immediately feels better to play. There’s a quality mode too, with better lighting and a 30 fps cap, which I found unplayable due to the 30 fps not feeling stable. To top it off the differences between the two graphics modes are negligible. I see no reason at all to choose quality over performance.

Having regularly had to defend the advantages of 60 fps on forums, I want to state the same thing here: increased framerate is not just a feast for the eyes. It makes the controls vastly more responsive. Turning the camera in 30 fps requires significant motion blur to even try to feel smooth, and that same blur removes detail in the image. Try it. Start up Demon’s Souls and turn the camera around in quality mode, then in performance mode. Performance looks and feels better. Your button presses will register faster in 60 fps too. Rolling out of the way of an incoming attack is easier. Timing your own counterattack is easier. Everything is easier in 60 fps. So do yourself a favor and forgo that quality mode.

That said, this is one of the best looking games I have ever played, no matter which mode you choose. The tesselation on the walls, making individual bricks stand out, the way torches light up a doorway, the insane detail when the first boss emerges from the shadows and you see every pore in his stretched skin. It’s amazing how far we’ve gotten in the last few years when it comes to graphics.

Last, but not least, the visuals add an immense sense of belonging. This world is alive, teeming with detail. The lighting in the prison level, the way the sun’s rays illuminate the passage leading to the two dragons in Boletarian Palace, with weeds snaking their way through long forgotten tilework. Whereas the original game had to rely on artificial lighting to illuminate the player’s surroundings, the lighting in the remake feels realistic. The most immediate effect this has is contrast. The world is overall darker which adds to the sense of dread. At the same time, light sources stand out. A single lit candle create a haven in an otherwise malignant world. A place where things make sense before you once again have to venture into that dark unknown. Having been primarily a PC player for the last few years I never imagined I would be this floored by a console game. It’s to the point of me wanting these kind of remakes for every Souls game.


The lighting in this game is superbly done


An undying formula

There is something about the Souls games that’s just fun. I don’t know if it’s the tough but fair combat system, the variety of builds or the world design, but it always feels special, delving into one of From Software’s games. This becomes immediately apparent when I start Demon’s Souls up. It’s familiar yet not. The interconnected worlds of the later games are nowhere to be found, replaced by more traditional levels that are accessed through archstones in The Nexus, the game’s hub.

The worlds are very different when it comes to visual design. You have the more human castle area, the mine area, the scary prison area, the rocky tempest area, and the poison swamp area. Each world has three or four levels with increasing difficulty. After finishing the very first level you can tackle them in any order you want. Maybe there’s a weapon in the fourth world you need for your build? You can go there and grab it, making your journey from that point far easier. Perhaps a boss is giving you trouble? Go somewhere else and level up, then come back. The system in Demon’s Souls feels both free and constricted compared to the other games in the series.

Being the first in the series there are some serious balance issues. The most prolific is how overpowered magic can be. They tried to address this in later games, somewhat succeeding in Dark Souls 3, but here the choice between going melee and caster is like choosing between difficulty levels. Watch a speedrun, most of them choose magic just for the sake of how much damage it can dish out. That said, it’s just so damn satisfying walking aroun with a massive twohanded weapon, armor clinking with every step. Which brings me to one of the best things about the Souls series: the equipment weight system. Rolling is very important since it has invincibility frames. You use it to avoid damage that would otherwise result in big damage or a massive stamina loss from blocking. And if you want to don that massive armor you better invest stat points in endurance. You see, your characters maneuverablity is tied to a percentage of your total equipment burden. A heavy weapon in tandem with heavy armor will turn your nimble roll into a clunky tumble. The choice between being able to take a few more hits or being able to more easily roll out of the way is always present. And you will have to make sacrifices if you like playing as a heavily armored knight.

Another thing that never made it to later games is the tendency system. Both your character and the worlds you visit have a tendency, a scale of how “good” or “bad” they are on a scale from black to white. Dying in human form, killing people as an invader, and killing npc:s are some things that move world or character tendency towards black. Killing invaders and defeating bosses move it towards white. This is not something that is ever explained. I had no idea what it did until I read up online. And considering some items and events are only obtainable in pure white world tendency, few players will get these the first time through, especially considering that dying in human form, the one with the most health points, will make it more or less impossible to get pure white unless you know how to manipulate the tendencies.

At the other end of the spectrum, item drop rates and rarity are vastly increased in pure black world tendency. This also spawns black phantoms in the area, stronger versions of enemies. So if you struggle and die too much in human form, prepare to get a potentially even harder run back to where you died.

While this system is interesting it could have benefited from a tutorial of some sort. If you want to play devil’s advocate I guess you could argue that it adds mystery to the game. A fair point, but the fact that this system was removed in later games kind of proves how clunky it is.


Challenge is subjective

Demon’s Souls is a hard game. If it’s your first in the series, prepare to die, over, and over, and over. However, if you’re used to the Souls formula, this will by far be the easiest game of the bunch. This comes down to several things. For one, the AI is just plain bad. One of the toughest bosses can even soft-lock itself in place if you’re lucky, making it a cakewalk if you know how to exploit it. Even if you don’t abuse this, the challenge is vastly lower than for example Dark Souls or Bloodborne. I died over a hundred times on Laurence in Bloodborne before I beat him. In Demon’s Souls the most deaths on a single boss was four.

Another reason for the lower difficulty is the scope of the levels. You never get lost in Demon’s Souls the way you will in the other games. You can’t find a sidepath that goes into another area, not knowing if this is where you need to go or not. The path is more or less linear. This also means that the levels are smaller. At most there are one or two shortcuts back to the starting point. Some levels have no shortcuts at all and can be sprinted through in a few minutes to get another attempt at the boss.

And the bosses. They’re kind of… disappointing? Most of them fall into two categories: get behind and whack away, or gimmicks. Three of the final area bosses don’t even fight you themselves, instead resorting to area hazards or having to use very specific tactics to beat them. At best these are a marvel of scale, at worst a cheap slog to a finish line where you’re never really sure what to do.

The bosses that remain range from laughably easy to somewhat difficult. There’s a gank fight that would be amazing were it not for the AI regularly bugging out if you use a specific ring, forcing you to restart the fight. There’s an admittedly really cool fight where another player can take control of the boss, making you fight them instead of an AI. The improvements in game design is very apparent when comparing this game to later installments in the series. But to end on a sweeter note: the bosses aren’t bad. It’s just disappointing feeling that logical step backwards. This is a remake of the first game after all.


You encounter this guy in your first 30 minutes of the game. Fun, right?


Being mischiveous

Perhaps the most unique thing about these games is the pvp system. Instead of traditional deathmatches, you can either be summoned to another player’s world to help them, or invade their world to try and kill them. While cooperative play is fun, the real strength lies in the invasions. It feels both balanced and horribly unfair depending on who you play. The invaded host can summon help from other players, making a fair fight very hard for the invader. On the other hand, the invading player won’t be attacked by enemies and can resort to guerilla tactics to succeed. This creates a game of cat and mouse where mindless aggression is severely punished and the threat of having to start all over due to some asshole invader is always present.

But do I have to partake in this, you ask? No, you don’t. You can play offline or in soul form to avoid being invaded. The system also makes invasions more likely when the host has another player summoned. And no, you can’t be invaded when in a boss battle.

Playing PVP is like learning an entirely new game. The strength of slow, clunky weapons is severely diminished due to how easy they are to dodge. But you learn to use their wide arcs instead, tagging your opponents at the end of their rolls. Parries are a constant threat, making you choose your moments of attack wisely. And magic is not as overpowered as it is while fighting the AI since each spell has startup and can be interrupted or avoided by skilled maneuvering.


A worthy prequel to one of the greatest game series ever made

Demon’s Souls is worth the money. If you’re a Souls veteran you won’t be overly challenged, but it’s still a Souls game and will devour hours upon hours of your time. Replayability is as always great, and the active online community makes pvp a real joy to partake in. In fact, I find it hard to find anything to criticise. The game is visually striking, a joy to play, and the only thing keeping it from a top score is the aging AI and wonky tendency system.


An amazing remake of an equally amazing game. For veterans of the series the challenge will be somewhat lacking, but those new to the franchise will be in for a ride.

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