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More than 10 years ago when developer FromSoftware’s Demon’s Souls was in the final production stages, it was so difficult that when the then president of Sony first played it, he thought it was because it was just rubbish, labelling it “an unbelievably bad game.” according to an interview with Game Informer.
Cut to today, and the notoriously challenging PlayStation 3 adventure has ended up being the forerunner to an entirely new genre, the Souls-like. From FromSoftware’s own Dark Souls and Sekiro games, to the likes of Nioh and The Surge, the lasting legacy of Demon’s Souls sparked a change in the landscape of gaming.
With the release of the PlayStation 5 heralding the dawn of a new console generation, it seems only fitting that this influential game is revisited and reinvigorated via a ground-up remake.
Demon's Souls on the PlayStation 5 is a masterclass in remakes
For the uninitiated (which is likely to be few of you, by now) Demon’s Souls is a third person action RPG set in a medieval fantasy world, focusing on tough melee combat where even the most basic enemies can cut you down in a couple of strikes. Progress relies on the utmost patience, with dodging and attacking both limited by a stamina bar.
Healing items are thin on the ground, and death causes you to lose your current tally of unbanked Souls, the item earned by killing enemies which serves as both the game’s currency and XP. You'll also be kicked back to the start of the area, but if you can return to where you died without kicking the bucket again, you can reclaim your lost Souls. Losing your life will also cause all non-boss enemies to respawn, forcing you to improve your skills rather than simply employing brute force.
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Players can choose from a variety of pre-set character classes at the beginning, each with unique strengths and weaknesses in different attributes. You can choose a more defensive style, or lean toward magic use, or even just attack strength. Some are trickier to use than others, meaning those who are just starting out and want a slightly – and I stress ‘slightly’ – easier ride can find something they can work with.
The game takes place in the kingdom of Boletaria, a formerly prosperous but now ruined land plagued by demons after its ruler fooled around with dangerous magic, reawakening an evil entity called the Old One. Your nameless, customisable protagonist enters Boletaria to stop the legions of monsters and defeat the Old One, encountering all manner of undead nightmares along the way.
More than just a makeover
Much of this remake remains the same mechanically, but there are some changes that affect gameplay. The encumbrance system returns, limiting the amount of items players can carry easily. In the original game, healing items were not affected by this, but the remake now attaches a weight to them, meaning you’re unable to hoard crazy amounts of life restoring consumables.
Speaking of consumables, you can now use items called Grains, which grant temporary protection from negative effects like bleeding or poison. These additions in tandem mean the remake further enhances its ‘tough but fair’ approach, hampering you in one regard but giving you a potential (if fleeting) advantage in another.
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What really stands out about this new and improved Demon’s Souls is that the power of the PlayStation 5 helps the game shine in a modern light, with graphical presentation that is positively gorgeous. The original’s atmosphere is magnified tenfold, with crumbling spires, decrepit crypts and fetid swamps recreated in magnificent detail, whether you’re playing in the game’s Performance Mode (60fps with dynamic 4K) or Cinematic Mode (30fps with native 4K).
The amazing haptic feedback of the DualSense controller – something I praised in my review of the PlayStation 5 itself – is put to good use as well, with the nuance vibrations of the joypad helping you to time deflective blocks.
Enemies and bosses have undergone redesigns, some of them drastic, some strange, but all of them steeped in high resolution textures that makes great use of lighting effects.
As challenging as ever
The PlayStation 5 remake of Demon’s Souls is a welcome return to an influential classic that may have passed many by the first time around. Not only does it do justice to the vision of the original release, it also serves to showcase the potential of Sony’s new console.
Easily the best looking launch title for the machine, it sets a new bar for all the remasters and remakes that are now part of the annual release schedules.
The groundbreaking core of the game remains as engaging as ever, tweaked to feel more up-to-date with modern sensibilities. Whether you missed the original, played it to death or simply want to see where all the Souls fuss started, this is worth your time.
Demon’s Souls is out now on PlayStation 5 for £69.99