Unlike a lot of other fans of the Soulslike genre, Dark Souls was not my first foray into FromSoftware’s pitiless, enigmatic world of death and resurrection. I can legitimately say that Demon’s Souls was my first Souls game, and boy did it make an impact. There weren’t many guides out there, and the bizarre, confusing, and undeniably unique gameplay mechanics and lore system were something else, to say the least. I had no idea what “soul form” was, or why summoning worked sometimes and not others, or why Black Phantoms were sometimes NPCs and sometimes other players. The drip-feed of cryptic conversations with NPCs and arcane, obscure lore descriptions was a welcome refresh from poorly acted, tropey cutscenes, and the sheer depth of mystery — both in story and gameplay mechanics — had me hooked. And don’t even get me started on World Tendency (what a whacky mechanic). Suffice it to say, when Bluepoint studios officially announced that their top-to-bottom remake of the game would be a PlayStation 5 launch title, I knew I had to get in on the ground floor to experience it all over again in glorious 4K.
And holy hell, did this game ever exceed my expectations.
So let’s get this out of the way now. Bluepoint’s Demon’s Souls remake is, barring a few little changes here and there, the same game you remember playing ten years ago. So much so that during my initial session, the lyrics to Celine Dion’s legendary 1996 smash hit “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” began playing on repeat in my head. It’s actually amazing how drilled it into my head certain sections were — remembering enemy locations, shortcuts, even items — depending on the area of course. I could probably play all of Latria, from start to finish, blindfolded, and it’s been a decade. On the other hand, it was clearly evident which levels I struggled with or spent more time in, because the Shadowmen world was like a brand new experience. This is also a testament to FromSoft’s brilliance in refusing to include or implement any kind of mini-map system, and Bluepoint’s adherence to this design philosophy. Sure it’s a bit annoying sometimes, but it actually allows you to immerse yourself in the (absolutely stunning) world rather than watching a tiny icon move across a 2D plane in the corner of your screen. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that yes, this is basically a 1:1 remake of an old game — with a caveat.
That caveat being, Demon’s Souls is a 1:1 remake of an old game, but one that is the best looking title on consoles and, in the opinion of this reviewer, the most visually impressive console title ever. And it’s a launch title. In order to properly take advantage of all these neat visual flairs, I did invest in a new television with HDMI 2.1 and 240/120Hz refresh rate. I wanted to experience this game at its best, and boy howdy does it melt the eyeballs. As is becoming increasingly common with console games, players are given the option to play in “performance” or “cinematic” mode. The former trading some visual fidelity for faster frames, and the latter chugging at a choppy 30 fps but with sharper textures and better lighting. Of course, there isn’t that much of a difference aside from the framerate, which means that like me, most players will spend basically the entire game in performance mode. If you want to enjoy the photo mode and get some beautiful screens, then a framerate won’t matter. If you’re trying to handle multiple attacks at the same time while rolling, dodging, blocking, and healing… you’re going to want performance mode. The team at Bluepoint also offers several colour and filter options, so those that want the classic “green and bleak” look of the original can rest easy. However, I cannot overemphasize how good this game looks. The lighting and colours are unbelievable, going from the eldritch green glow and haunted, apocalyptic skies of Latria to the red and orange deserts of the Digger King had my mouth agape. The textures, rain, and weather effects in the Shadowmen realm make you feel like you’re in Northern Europe on a blistering spring day. The particle effects, whether it be a flaming log along a path or spellfire from your catalyst, look fantastic.
I know I keep hammering this home, but as a guy who never really cared about visuals (I’m primarily a console guy and play lots of Indies), it was such a standout aspect I can’t stop talking about it. Sony needs to buy Bluepoint studios ASAP and get them working on more titles. The sound design is also incredible, and the rumble effects on the DualSense make casting feel like you’re actually summoning and hurling balls of kinetic energy at your foes. The entire audio-visual experience, combined with the new controller, give players of Demon’s Souls a top-of-the-line AAA experience with none of the now-iconic jank and AA of the game it was based on. And the icing on the cake? The load times. I go from menu to hacking up enemies in less than 15 seconds. This became all the more obvious when I started getting into the classic Souls grind of hopping between levels and the nexus in my hunt for items, souls, and NPCs to talk to. I used to dread finding out I needed to go back to the nexus and then back to another level to get something, and then do it all in reverse to return to where I needed to be. Thanks to the PS5’s lightning-fast SSD, this has become a far less tedious process — which is great for a game in which you’ll be dying over, and over, and over, and over again. I have my phone ready with Instagram loaded to kill time between loads…but by the time I put the controller down and pick it up, everything is loaded and ready to go.
I was going into this game with a clear bias, but that bias swings both ways. I was already a massive fan of the original, so I knew I was going to like it. However, remasters and remakes are often shallow, surface-level polish on an old framework. They often look or run better than the original, but it’s usually just “better framerate and resolution support”. So while I knew I was going to enjoy the actual gameplay, I wasn’t expecting much from an audio-visual standpoint aside from “It’s Demon’s Souls, but you can play it on a 4K TV with a better framerate”. What I got was the best looking console game I’ve ever played, and one that can easily stand toe-to-toe with the best the PC world has to offer — and I can play it on a big-screen from the comfort of my couch. Bluepoint knocked it out of the park so far the ball killed someone in a distant suburb. Sony needs to buy the studio yesterday, and god help them if they aren’t already working on a Bloodborne remaster. This game is a must-buy, it’s the second best launch title EVER behind Mario 64, and is absolutely, in my opinion, a system-selling example of what this new generation of consoles brings to the table.