Breaking down your soul, one demon at a time…
Bluepoint’s immaculate repertoire of re-imaginings, remasters, and illustrious remakes are some of the industry’s best, rivaling the fidelity and prowess exemplified this year by Square Enix and Capcom. From the improved textures of the Uncharted: Nathan Drake Collection to the new lavish coat of paint for Shadow of the Colossus, Bluepoint’s impressive pedigree and technical achievements continues to percolate and develop, all of which culminates into what is undoubtedly their best work to date, the 2020 remake of FromSoftware’s Demon’s Souls. As the inaugural foray into FromSoftware’s idiosyncratic Soulsborne genre, the foundation and structured DNA of remarkably intricate level design, impeccable enemy variety, and that delectable cadence of risk and reward are conspicuously evident, constructing an immaculate equilibrium between its fostered groundwork and exclusive systems. Notable mechanics were either fine-tuned for future instalments or were removed altogether, for better and for worse. From its furthering approach to rewarding difficulty with the introduction of the Soul and Body form to the intriguing implementation and gameplay implications of World Tendency, many tantalizing elements of Demon’s Souls remain exclusive to this inaugural entry. The gargantuan scaled boss fights evoke an invigorating spectacle of awe, incorporating intricate layers of strategy and puzzle solving while requiring a profound understanding of their attack patterns and movements. Its non-linear approach to its branching level design and complimented mechanics evoke a welcoming sense of player flexibility, incorporating a level of engagement and player agency that encourages exploration and reward utilization in a manner the player sees fit. Demon’s Souls is simply oozing with a pristine sense of discovery and mystery, with many of its best elements and spoils being hidden from the naked eye. A profound level of research and dedication is highly recommended to fully understand and embrace this exquisitely rich and robust experience that equally gives as much as it takes. While the swift and visceral combat of Bloodborne and Sekrio is sorely missed, combat in Demon’s Souls still carries a deliberate weight of satisfaction, with a diverse set of weapon variations and combinations to satisfy a plethora of different playstyles. Demon’s Souls not only boasts some of the best level design and impeccably crafted environments in the Soulsborne genre, but Bluepoint’s technical enhancements elevate preconceived notions to another level, resulting in top-notch performance and gorgeously detailed visuals which are seldom found in Soulsborne titles. As one of the greatest launch games of all-time and arguably the best game available on the PlayStation 5, Demon’s Souls is an absolute masterclass in game design.
As to be expected with FromSoftware’s established narrative design, Demon’s Souls’ delivery of exposition is relatively abstract and obtuse. With an intriguing opening that establishes heavy tones of detriment and despair, while showcasing the diverse monstrosities and exquisite labyrinths you will inevitably explore, Demon’s Souls puts an emphasis on enriched world building and the prominent impact to its established lore as opposed to the traditional conventions of storytelling. While this ambiguous form of narrative exposition and abstract world building is certainly not my cup of tea, I understand that many players will love this alluring trail of breadcrumbs. There is a vast measure of attainable knowledge to discover throughout the Kingdom of Boletaria, all of which is a voluntary endeavour handled at the player’s own volition. Demon’s Souls’ established lore and encompassing narrative structure caters to a give and take persona, rewarding players with satisfying development of understanding and gratification through additional research and investigation of its lore. A profound element of Demon’s Souls that we can unanimously praise its gorgeously detailed and exceptionally diverse environmental design. From the stone wall textures of the Boletarian Palace to the eerily atmospheric horrors of the Prison of Hope, each location is filled to the brim with an exquisite display of idiosyncratic personality and atmospheric charm, encompassing an unsettling aura of horrific ingenuity and imminent demise. This level of diversity and pristine detail compliment its established dark fantasy roots, boasting an atmospheric aura that rivals the terrifying ingenuity and horrific novelty of Bloodborne’s frightening demeanor. On top of its exquisitely detailed art design, Bluepoint’s technical restructure acts as a gorgeous new coat of paint, recreating all visual assets from the ground up and constructing a visual spectacle that is almost unrecognizable from the 2009 original. From its remarkable lighting, gorgeously rendered textures, and ray-traced reflections, Demon’s Souls is arguably the best looking video game of all-time. Soulsborne titles are generally plagued with low-res textures, bland environments, and poorly detailed character models; Bluepoint’s illustrious remake stands tall amongst the graphically impressive offerings of Sony’s first party repertoire. Another aspect that has continuously plagued FromSoftware titles is their technical performance; you would be lucky if Bloodborne or Sekiro maintained a steady 30fps, with notable dips below 20fps being a residual problem. Thankfully, Demon’s Souls includes two graphical modes: cinematic and performance. Cinematic mode caps the frame rate at 30fps but will include notable graphical enhancements and also run at a native 4K resolution. The performance mode will run at a buttery smooth 60fps but at a lower resolution that is upscaled to 4K. The performance mode is an absolute godsend, resulting in the most seamless and fluid gameplay experience in the Souls series. While the occasional frame drop is noticeable, Bluepoint managed to keep the performance at a relatively steady 60fps on a consistent basis, which is a remarkable achievement. Lastly, Demon’s Souls’ implementation in audio design is also remarkably strong. While its musical composition weighs more on the minimalistic atmospheric side as opposed to the traditional orchestral design, its radiating sound design is impeccably bombastic and deliberately impactful. From the reverberating echo of a shield riposte, the ear-shattering shrieks of a fire breathing dragon, or the terrifying cries of the grotesque monstrosities in Upper Latria, each symphonic sound in Demon’s Souls carries deliberate weight and further accentuates its established foundation of immersion.
Combat in Demon’s Souls shows its influence on the standard Souls series as opposed to their contemporary yet idiosyncratic side entries such as Bloodborne. Combat leans more on the slower and methodical side, requiring elements of strategic precision, interactive timing, and meticulous patience, crafting a combat experience that is uniquely gratifying thanks to the thunderous audio design and the DualSense’s haptic feedback. The combination of these two elements orchestrate a novel sense of immersion, from the auditory satisfaction of visceral slices to the pulsating reverberation upon each landing hit, combat feels deliberately weighted and emits a profound scale of novel gratification and innovative interaction. As with FromSoftware’s established repertoire, there are a multitude of different viable playstyles, catering to melee enthusiasts, illustrious wizardry, and anything in between. From two handed great swords, bleed-inducing Katanas, and bombastic spells of destruction, each piece of offensive weaponry offers a gratifying level of euphoria and inherently feel unique due to the respective feedback replicated on the DualSense. Shields also provide insurmountable value in Demon’s Souls – a significant mechanic that was transitioned over to the subsequent entries of the Souls series. Blocking with a shield is not only strongly recommended in Demon’s Souls but an added layer of strategic precision is required to parry and perform a devastating counterattack on the affiliated enemy. These execution animations are exceptionally gratifying and further cement the immersive qualities of its corresponding audio prowess and innovative reception of the DualSense. Weight encumbrance also plays a significant role in Demon’s Souls, allowing the player to equip heavy weaponry and armor for increased strength and defense, but at the expense of reduced mobility. There’s a remarkable level of customization and flexibility offered within these playstyles and juggling different set ups is notably encouraged as certain weapons, abilities, and spells can be more effective on particular enemy types. Speaking of enemy types, enemy variation in Demon’s Souls is arguably the best in the series, rivaling the diverse nature displayed in Bloodborne. From the grotesque mutilations of human centipedes to the exceptionally daunting Mind Flayer, enemies exude a profound level of ingenuity and diversity, with each enemy type exemplifying its own exclusive move set. Analyzing and adapting to enemy movements and attack patterns creates intense encounters of attrition as enemy attacks can be devastating, with each dodge, block, and well-timed parry serving as a life saving endeavour. This example of arduous tension is especially true for Black Phantoms, which can be more difficult variations of normal enemy NPCs or online invaders. The NPC variation of Black Phantoms are arguably more difficult and frustrating than actual boss encounters, as their increased volume, devastating levels of damage, and unpredictable spawn behaviour can be unbearably detrimental at times. Bosses deliver a delectable level of challenge and offer an atmospherically layered spectacle that is remarkably engaging and profusely intense. Demon’s Souls’ impeccable display of enemy diversity is also reflected in its boss design – from a gargantuan deity dragon to a brilliant Chimera-like monstrosity, Demon’s Souls’ boss design is surprisingly distinct and exceptionally creative from a visual and game design perspective. Many boss encounters incorporate intricate levels of problem-solving and critical thinking, more so than any other entry in the Souls series, establishing a profound layer of originality and strategic ingenuity. Boss enemies do lack the visceral ferocity exemplified in FromSoftware’s later titles, with no boss striking the same level of intensity or rage as Sekiro’s Gurdian Ape or Dark Souls III’s Nameless King. Additionally, the final boss in Demon’s Souls was unexpectedly underwhelming – from a lore perspective, there is a fundamental explanation for the circumstance but from a gameplay standpoint, it is undeniably disappointing. Despite its lack in intricate difficulty and other minor disappointments, formidable boss encounters are still exceptionally riveting and continue to emit an arduous sensation of palpable satisfaction. Upon defeating a boss, you will be rewarded with their respective demon soul. They can be consumed to gain a large amount of souls – which can be cashed in to level up your character, upgrade or repair your equipment, or purchase items – or they can be exchanged to craft new weapons or conjure up new spells. This semblance of player choice and the weight of losing your accumulated souls upon death, further cements FromSoftware’s notion in risk and reward, adding a welcomed dash of flexibility to the established chaos.
Complimenting the exquisitely detailed and amazingly robust environments is its masterful level design, intricately weaving labyrinth-like paths throughout its structure and creating a strategic composition of organic exploration and discovery. Each facet of its level architecture is intricately designed and deliberately placed, with certain areas incorporating a dash of problem-solving along with the expected level of exploration. Through rigorous trial and error, you will inevitably adapt and familiarize yourself with the structural mapping of each location, analyzing and adapting to enemy placements, movements, and attack patterns. Straying off the beaten path is almost always encouraged in Demon’s Souls, as satiating your curiosity will often lead you to valuable spoils, optional NPCs, or game-changing shortcuts. Shortcuts are cleverly hidden and intricately weaved within the intrinsic architecture of each location. The sincere act of discovering a shortcut will never fail to instil a euphoric sensation of awe and relief, further rewarding the player’s display of audacity and curiosity. In obligatory Soulsborne fashion and to further aid its established notion in exploration and interaction, players can leave messages to provide useful knowledge of the world’s hidden intricacies or to lead newcomers down a falsified path of treachery. Demon’s Souls non-linear approach to level structure is a remarkably engaging design choice that caters to the established notion of risk and reward. After defeating the first boss, players can continue venturing throughout the subsequent levels of World 1 or they can jump straight into any of the other four corresponding worlds. This layer of flexibility adds an invigorative semblance of diversity to exploration, catering to a non-traditional approach to exposure. Additionally, jumping into subsequent worlds and locations may provide a formidable challenge or a simpler experience based on the player’s under or over levelled stature. The introduction of the Soul and Body form is an intriguing, albeit controversial mechanic that was never carried forward in future instalments. Simply put, when you die in Body form, you lose your physical body and enter Soul form. In Soul form, your health bar is halved and the primary way to recover your body is to defeat and claim the soul of a Demon (boss). You can also recover your body through the use of a rare item, being summoned into another player’s world and assisting them with defeating a boss, or eliminating another player in their world as an invader. The benefit to being in Soul form is that other players cannot invade your world and deaths in Soul form do not impact the World Tendency. While in Body form, you have access to a full health bar and can even summon other players to assist you. However, you are also vulnerable to enemy invaders and a death in Body form will shift the current World Tendency. It’s a unique system that further cements its foundation in risk and reward, while the use of player summons and invaders was eventually streamlined for subsequent entries. Demon’s Souls’ idiosyncratic World Tendency system incorporates novel changes to its game design and difficulty based on the actions performed by the player. Defeating specific Black Phantoms or even dying while in Body form will either increase or decrease the World Tendency, and depending on its current value, it will trigger different events that greatly change the infrastructure of the world. From previously inaccessible paths becoming available to difficult Black Phantom enemies populating in new areas, each location has a series of exclusive World Tendency events that can occur, crafting an enriched world that feels so organic given its adaptive structure. While Demon’s Souls’ inherent difficulty undoubtedly stems from the punishing nature of its boss design, with its World Tendency constantly changing and developing in real-time, its sporadic and relatively unpredictable nature creates a fully new construct of difficulty that is solely unique to this inaugural entry.
Demon’s Souls is a remarkable achievement in masterful game design; from its core foundation that remains relevant and substantially strong over a decade later to its technical enhancements that push the boundaries of new hardware, this 2020 remake is an undisputed masterpiece that respectfully invigorates the pioneered classic. Each masterfully crafted element of Demon’s Souls serves a resounding purpose; its intricately designed level architecture is profoundly deliberate, while consistently introducing adaptive components to alleviate any semblance of repetition or recycled familiarity. From the novel interactions and feedback emitted through the innovative DualSense, the absurdly gorgeous graphical overhaul and its top-notch technical performance, and the immersive auditory prowess exemplified through each detailed sound, Bluepoint’s impeccable work transcends Demon’s Souls into a technical masterpiece that exudes unprecedented levels of quality illustrated with its elaborate game design. Combat is notably methodical, albeit relatively slow, but its innovative gameplay feedback and diverse set of unique playstyles create a rewarding cadence that is deeply satisfying and novel in its own right. From its ambiguously adaptive World Tendency changes to the challenges bestowed upon the Soul and Body forms, Demon’s Souls’ idiosyncratic systems introduce a tantalizing layer of depth and difficulty. The everchanging structure of its World Tendency and the unpredictable repercussions of its triggered events prove to be more relentless and challenging than the expected nature of its boss encounters. From its labyrinth-like level design that boasts masterful intricacies and brilliantly hidden secrets to its novel systems that separate it from the established formula it pioneered, Demon’s Souls is a remarkably engaging, formidably challenging, and profusely rewarding gameplay experience that will continue to withstand the test of time. Bluepoint’s recreation of FromSoftware’s pioneered entry is an absolute marvel and a brilliant start to the new generation.
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