Prepare to die where it all started
Played on: PlayStation 5
Platforms: PlayStation 5
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Bluepoint games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Released: November 12, 2020
It’s no secret how much of a souls-like fan I am. I play all the titles from the exceptional ones to the exceptionally bad ones and every clone in between. You can even find several reviews for these types of games written by me at CGC. In these reviews, you will see that I love the methodical combat, the dark worlds, and the sense of perseverance souls games teach you. Not to mention all deep lore and cool fantasy weapons. The reason I am telling you this is because I have a shameful secret. A secret that when shared with souls fans is always met with the same reaction. So here it is, all the time I have spent with games in this sub-genre I have never played the originator, Demon’s Souls. (Cue shocked expressions). Until Now!
With the release of the PlayStation 5 came the release of Bluepoints Demon’s Souls remake. As someone lucky enough to nab a PS5 at launch, the first thing I did was download this legendary souls game I had heard so much about. Let me tell you it does not disappoint. All the deep lore you have come to expect from a souls game is present and the methodical combat is as good as it's ever been. Bluepoint has done an amazing job visually overhauling this now 11-year-old game and have given people like me the chance to play the game that most would argue started the soul’s genre, making it what it is today. Now that I have completed I can tell you that those people are undeniably correct.
The easiest souls game?
It’s no secret that souls games are tough. Their combat is punishing and their narratives are often obtuse and confusing. While some of this is true of Demon’s Souls I would say that this is one of the easiest in Fromsoftware’s long-running soul’s games. Don’t get me wrong when it comes to this type of game easy is a relative term. You will still die a lot and face what seem like insurmountable monsters of all shapes and sizes. However, unlike other titles, you are free to tackle Demon’s Souls whatever way you wish. This is thanks to the game having 5 distinct areas that you can travel to from the hub world known as the Nexus.
Once you have gotten through the opening hours of the game you are free to access each of these areas in any order you like. Each area then has four sub-areas that you must work your way through in a more traditional souls fashion of battling many enemies to eventually face a boss. As a result of this structure, I never found myself beating my head against a wall when it came to progression. If an area or boss was proving too challenging I could simply adventure off in a different area until I levelled up or found better gear. There was no feeling of being “stuck” and if I did have to change areas I still felt like I was making progress.
When facing bosses in Demon’s Souls there is even sometimes an easy option. Due to the original game being sort of an experiment for what bosses in video games could be there are often strategies that can be employed to help you easily defeat them. The hardest part can be figuring out these strategies because of course each boss is different and some don’t have any at all. This did lead me to find many of the boss fights that the soul’s franchises are renowned for a bit disappointing from a gameplay perspective. The built-in exploits take away the heart pound rush of finally defeating that tough adversary.
The hardest souls game?
Now that we know all the reasons the game could be considered the easiest let’s look at all the ways Demon’s Souls keeps the trademark difficulty this genre is famed for. Anyone familiar with this franchise will know exactly what I mean by bonfires. For those who don’t, bonfires are checkpoints that offer a brief respite from the hordes of demons that have a passion for separating you from the world of the living. They are your respawn points after death and when used they resurrect all the enemies you fought so valiantly to kill. What makes them difficult in Demon’s Souls is the lack of them. Each area only has one at the start and one after each boss is defeated. This led to many occasions where I was just outside the boss arena only to be killed by a well-placed enemy and be right back to square one. Which meant quite a long battle back to A) claim my dropped XP which disappears if you die before picking it up and B) fight the boss. This can become quite frustrating if you are dying to a particularly difficult boss repeatedly. There are shortcuts that can be unlocked in some cases but these can be few and far between.
The second difficulty elephant in the room is something called world and character tendency which is Demon’s Souls version of an absolute morality system. Kill bosses and banish online invaders (more on this later) and your world shifts towards white world tendency making enemies easier but decreases loot and XP drops. Do enough of these tasks and you reach a pure white world tendency making the game easiest it will be and granting access to some previously locked areas. The inverse of this is black world tendency. If you die too much in human form or kill NPC’s your world slowly shifts from white to neutral to black and eventually pure black which will make enemies much tougher but increase the rewards. What makes this system so difficult is that in true souls fashion it’s never explained to you and very little is done to help you keep track of it outside of a little symbol in the pause menu that is whether some shade of black or white. With varying levels of world tendency, it can be hard to tell how far white of black you have by looking at the symbol. This means especially for non-seasoned veterans of souls games that they could start having a very difficult go of things quite early on and not even realise it.
The final nail in the difficulty coffin is weapons, how enemies react to them and their upgrade paths. While Demon’s Souls is fairly streamlined in terms of gear when compared with other RPG’s its upgrade systems are not which you can see in the charts below. First, off the bat, there are 12 different upgrade paths using the 12 different types of stones. If that wasn’t already enough only certain weapons will benefit from certain upgrade paths which are up to you to figure out. This can lead to wasting a lot of the finite upgrade material. Not to mention some very select weapons require the souls of special demons that only appear in pure black world tendency. So, good luck if the weapon you like is one of them. On top of all this, each weapon does a certain type of damage like blunt, piercing or magic. Certain enemies are weak to precise types of damage to a fault. Meaning if you have a blunt weapon in an area where the weakness is piercing it’s going to up the difficulty as your damage output will be minimal. If you know how the system works you can take advantage of it but I imagine Demon’s Souls remake will be a lot of players first time delving into this game and this information is not displayed in some handy tooltip.
Bluepoint has done an amazing job visually improving Demon’s Souls world to a level a renaissance master would be proud of. However, they have still kept it a bleak and harsh place that can feel lonely and overwhelming. What better way to get over this despair than with a little help from friends. Fromsoftware’s class asynchronous multiplayer makes a shining return here allowing you to summon a friend or a helpful stranger to aid you on your quest to battle your way through the once-mighty land of Boletaria. Players can leave a summon sign in an opportune location that struggling adventurers can use to call them to their world in the form of a blue phantom. This can give you that much-needed edge in a tough area or just have a more experienced player point you in the right direction. There must be a catch right? A game that is notorious for its difficulty can just let you summon all the help you need. You’d be right there is a catch.
First off you have to be human to summon players. What does this mean? Well in Demon’s Souls every time you die your body goes into ghost form which cuts the length of your health bar half, yes you read that right HALF!! That might seem harsh but one advantage of this is dying in this form does not turn your world tendency black. So how do you become human again? It’s easy, well not that easy. You need to kill a boss to regain your humanity or use a rare finite item. You probably think that’s a pretty big catch to getting some much-needed assistance. However, much like a late-night infomercial would say “but wait there’s more”. When in human form not only can you summon help but you open yourself up to players invading your world in the form of a black phantom. You then have to fight for your life against in my case a player who was almost always more skilled and had much better equipment. Should you fail you would die in human form thus shifting your world tendency black and upping the difficulty requiring you to summon more help. You can see where I am going with this.
The prices we pay
Bluepoint has taken the blueprint for what has become an entire genre of games and brought back to life in a way I could have never thought was possible. Visually it's one of the most stunning games I have played in my life without compromising the dark bleak fantasy world that the game is known for. Every little detail is on show here right down to knights in heavy armour trying to catch their breath after a barrage of huge sword swings. The gameplay remains largely unchanged to stay faithful to Fromsoftwares original vision right down to its little eccentricities.
To me, Demon’s Souls at its core is a game about the prices paid for decisions made. What do I mean by that? Well, the narrative which I purposely stayed away from in this review because part of the fun is deciphering it for yourself deals with consequences to the actions of people who thought they were doing great things. So what price did Bluepoint pay? They paid a creative one. They had to accept that this wasn’t their game to make the way they saw fit. They had to make sure they stayed true to what was trying to be achieved in the first place and become a vessel to breed new life into this wonderful game which they did masterfully. They have the price of having recreated an amazing game only to have locked behind a single platform that so many people can't get access to.
What price did I pay you might ask. Did I get too greedy fighting a boss and try to rush in for the finisher only to be put down like a fly buzzing around them. You’re damn right I did. Did I pay a heavy price for this? You’re damn right I did. Did I summon help? Of course. Did I get invaded for the privilege of using this help? Of course. Did this invasion affect my world tendency making the game harder? Definitely. Did I, the player, have a choice in the use of these mechanics? Definitely. Was it up to me to evaluate the price and decide if it was worth it? Yes. Finally was the Demon’s Souls experience worth it. Yes, every goddamn day of the week YES!!
Play this game if…
You like difficult but highly rewarding combat
You like dark fantasy worlds
You enjoy breathtakingly beautiful environments
You enjoy deep lore to discover.
You are a new player or returning veteran of the series.
Upgrade charts are taken from Demon’s Souls wiki
All other images are taken from the Demon’s Souls press kit here
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