Demon’s Souls: PS5 Remaster
Stunning visuals and sound
100s of hours of longevity and replay value
Low variety of environments
Very dark atmosphere
Demon’s Souls was a little-known title when it was first released for the PS3 back in 2009—whose story you can read about here—yet it slowly grew into a cult hit. Remastering it as a PS5 launch title seemed an odd decision, as the game was renowned for being very difficult—but that’s exactly what Sony did. Now Demon’s Souls is getting the attention it always deserved.
But how does the PS5 upgrade compare with the original, and is it worth having?
What is Demon’s Souls?
Demon’s Souls is a dark, atmospheric, single-player role-playing game with many classic fantasy elements. There are knights and dragons, castles and magic-users, and scores of undead and otherworldly creatures that you can’t quite understand. It tells the tale of a world long dead, where only strange stragglers survive and eke out an existence in the hope that a saviour will come and restore the light.
That saviour is, of course, you—if you’re good enough.
Demon’s Souls is considered by many to be one of the toughest games out there, with plenty of supporting evidence. It is unforgiving. There are no difficulty settings to allow for weaker skills, and you will need both patience and dedication to play the game.
There’s no denying the fact that you will see the famous words “You Died” many times before you get to grips with the game, and plenty of times after that.
But is it worth the frustration?
Demon’s Souls is a game where you improve in a slow, incremental way. As you defeat enemies, you gather souls—an in-game currency that is used for everything from levelling up to buying more arrows. When you die, your souls are dropped on the floor, waiting for you to get back and pick them up. Die a second time before recovering them, and they’re gone forever.
This simple system of soul-dropping and recovery is one element that makes the game so frustrating but also so encouraging. The levels can feel very long. There are shortcuts you can unlock to bypass some of the sections, but dying at the far end of a level and being re-spawned at the beginning can be soul-destroying (pun intended). You wake at the very start of the level knowing that if you fail to repeat your progress a second time, everything you worked for will be gone.
It’s even worse when you consider the main health system, where you have to eat grasses to heal. If a run-through took up a large chunk of your healing herb reserves, it may be impossible for you to even consider a second go.
On the upside, if you do make it—you get everything back plus the new souls you made on this second run-through. Picking up a dropped puddle of souls at the end of a long run can feel like winning the lottery—a sudden rush of riches that you have no idea what to do with. The cautious among us may consider returning to The Nexus, a central sanctuary where you can level up and restock to make sure those souls don’t go to waste a second time. But this will reset the level, putting you right back to the start and having to attempt it all a third time.
It may seem a little crazy, but Demon’s Souls reminds me of arcade-style games of yesteryear. Imagine something like 80s ZX Spectrum masterpiece Manic Miner, or even Super Mario Bros. In those games you had three lives, and any failure to complete the game with these few chances would put you back to the title screen. There were no save points to remember your progress, and each time you booted it up, you were as fresh as your very first go.
In a way, Demon’s Souls presents a similar feel. If anything, it is more forgiving as your level progress and equipment are happily preserved, but the level and the enemies you have defeated are all brought back anew.
With each run-through, however, comes an intangible, unseen bonus—your own skill. You know where the enemies are and what their patterns of attack will be. You are better at parrying and timing your attacks, and you know just how far the dragon’s fiery breath will reach. You may not have a statistic on the screen detailing your personal XP, but you are building those points nonetheless, making each attempt a little better than the last.
The feeling is exhilarating.
Demon’s Souls is not just known for its difficulty — its bosses are have also helped catapult the game into prominence. The very first time you see the massive, imposing form of the Tower Knight, you realise there’s so much more to this game than the shambling nature of the zombie-like dredglings.
It looked stunning in 2009. It looks equally stunning today.
The Tower Knight takes the concept of a boss fight and ramps it right up to eleven. You will die on your first attempt, and you will probably die on your second, third, and fourth. Like the rest of the game, this enormous demonic adversary pulls no punches.
And like the rest of the game, when you do finally vanquish him, you swell with a mighty feeling of accomplishment.
Demon’s Souls is one of the most rewarding games ever created. It’s not just a sense of ‘oh, I got onto the next level’ or ‘another boss fight down’—each victory over a end-of-section demon is a true moment of glory. You will relish in that sense of personal achievement. You have conquered where others have failed. You know that hundreds, if not thousands of players, have quit the game never to come back at this very moment. Not you. You are magnificent!
There are few games that leave you with that sense of elation.
The Tower Knight is not alone, of course. There are many boss demons in the game, and each one offers that same adrenaline-fuelled rush. And each one will kill you—multiple times—and then force you to make another run through the level just to get back to that spot to try again.
Swords and Sorcery
Picking your character class in Demon’s Souls is more impactful than in many other games. The game plays out very differently based on this decision, with magic-using classes a complete contrast to the physical warrior types.
By choosing a wizard, for example, the very first dredglings offer a much greater threat than if you are melee-based and able to simply ward off their attacks with a default shield—whereas the pure power of a fully-stacked magic user later in the game makes even the most polished tank jealous. Miracle-based characters can heal themselves, which is invaluable and results in substantially fewer deaths, and so on.
There are storyline impacts, too. Characters will turn up in the Nexus for you to speak to, but may decide you are not worthy of their time if you’re the wrong sort. The priests want to speak to those with a dedicated level of devotion, and you have to wonder if the magic-enthusiast sat there with his books would be more genial if you had a wand yourself.
In this dark game, you latch onto every clue and every word spoken to better understand what’s going on. So knowing that if you had certain skills, certain characters would talk to you can add to that level of frustration.
Of course, it also adds to that level of immersion that Demon’s Souls carries so well.
Upgrading to the PS5
Everything said so far could just be a review of the PS3 2009 original, though, so what is it that brings Demon’s Souls to a new generation of technology and a new generation of players?
The most obvious thing is the graphics. Demon’s Souls is a very visual game, with cinematic sweeping landscapes, glorious dragons and tight dungeons. But it is also very dark.
Generally, it’s a lot easier to see graphical improvements in a game when it’s a sunny day, the grass is moving in the breeze, and up close, characters’ skin tones and texture are close to photo-realism.
In contrast, Demon’s Souls can come across like standing in a dank cellar.
But what a cellar!
There was a moment in a dark tunnel where I realised that the bricks on the wall looked utterly real. Not slightly realistic, but completely real, as if I were standing in a castle. My dim light picked out the pits and roughness of the stone and I could almost feel that tangible sensation of putting my fingers on the cool rock. Light was breaking through a crack behind me, and there were ray-traced reflections in the puddles on the floor that were no doubt affected by my shining armour.
Memory is a funny thing, and the mind can convince you that something was better than it was. Such is true with the original PS3 Demon’s Souls look. Once the graphics caught my attention, I started to look closer; significantly improved character models, better lighting everywhere, intensely detailed textures.
And then I went back to look at the original.
Suddenly I saw how blocky and brown it all was. Where the PS5 version has a beautiful castle of moss-weathered rock, the PS3 is a dingy flat brown. Where the PS5 has delicately engraved chain-mail armour, the PS3 has a lot of dingy flat brown. Where the PS5 has skin tone and texture, the PS3..? Dingy, flat brown.
The Demon’s Souls remaster is lovely to look at, a true adventure in a detailed fantasy world. Yes, it is atmospherically shadowy, but that’s the setting for the game. Graphically, it’s fantastic, a feeling only doubled when you do die, and spend a little time in the warm, candlelit, cathedral-like Nexus. If I have one complaint, it’s with some of the NPCs who speak with you. The lack of detailed facial movement and other new-generation aspects remind you that it’s just a low-importance computer game character. Otherwise, it’s visually stunning.
Graphics aren’t the only upgrade. The original game featured long loading times that are now gone. Frustrating dodge controls are massively improved by a smooth rolling motion and more realistic staggered animation. Demon’s Souls hasn’t been lazily ported; it has been lovingly re-crafted and polished.
Black Phantoms and Messages – Playing Online
Demon’s Souls is, at its heart, very much a solo game. It is engrossing and absorbing, certainly nothing you want to ruin by hearing chatter in a headset. The online functionality of the game was always a little strange and remains so.
By activating the online mode, it’s possible to get others to enter your game to help you (sometimes very useful given its difficulty), but in doing so you also invite ‘black phantoms’—players coming into your world to assassinate you! Killing a black phantom is rewarding, and this PvP aspect does add a dimension for those looking for more longevity. But I wouldn’t recommend it for most players’ first playthrough. Unless of course, the difficulty of the game isn’t enough to keep you struggling.
In both cases, communication with the other players is limited to simple waves and gestures—hardly likely to solidify long-term friendships.
Another online addition is with messages. Here, players can leave notes on the floor that appear as glowing red marks for others to read. Usually helpful hints, such as ‘hidden area to the left’, can be a little annoying, cluttering the landscape with glowing red patches. As a pretentious writer, I had a particular distaste towards them as there’s no quality control for grammar or proper capitalisation. Seeing a badly spelt message missing punctuation in the midst of this polished game was too much to bear, and I found myself switching off the online mode fairly swiftly. For those hoping for a few helpful clues though, the messages system is a nice touch.
Summing Up Demon’s Souls
There are players that will hate Demon’s Souls and players that will love it, though very few will sit in the middle. If you like dark, difficult challenges that provide hundreds of hours of play value—while steadily improving personal skill and character statistics—then Demon’s Souls might be a contender for one of the best games you will ever play.
If you prefer to relax among vibrant environments while you play, then Demon’s Souls is not for you. It may share the same RPG tag as series like Final Fantasy and Zelda, but it’s as far from those games as can be, offering a much grittier experience that will definitely push you to the edge.
This PS5 remastering is a strong upgrade over the original. It’s a shame that there’s nothing added to the first version in terms of levels or gameplay, but it is the definitive way to play this incredible game and well worth the price of entry.