Games

'Demon's Souls' on PS5 Feels Like an Authentic Next-Gen Souls Experience

It's not made by FromSoftware, the original developers of 'Demon's Souls,' but you could have fooled me.
November 12, 2020, 6:43pm
A screen shot from the PlayStation 5 video game Demon's Souls.
Image courtesy of Sony

I've run across this same bridge a dozen times now, and know the layout by heart. I don't know if I'll be able to beat the boss that's at the end of this bridge, but first, I need to get there. Run forward before the dragon swoops in, head down the stairs to the right, and fight the surprisingly deadly wolves hiding in the pathway underneath. Then, start sprinting again, brushing past the debris and corpses, and keep to the right, all while staying one step ahead of the fire breathing dragon who's right behind you. That's when it happens: a spare arrow clips me, briefly stunning me in place—but long enough for the dragon fire to destroy me. 

My character falls to the ground, all of my souls lost, and the loop starts again.

This is a story I could have told in February 2015, back when I played the original Demon's Souls by FromSoftware for the first time as a preparation for Bloodborne, and it's a story I can tell again in November 2020, on my first day of playing the remake of Demon's Souls developed by Bluepoint Games. There are notable differences between these two versions of Demon's Souls, mostly in terms of aesthetic and technical fidelity, and you can debate how faithfully or well this adapts the original game's vision. But if the question is whether a developer not named FromSoftware could convince you it made a legitimate FromSoftware game, Bluepoint…seems to have nailed it?

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There's a lot I still don't know. I've only played a few hours of the PlayStation 5 exclusive, because Sony only provided access to the game when it went live for PS5 owners in New Zealand. (For series fans: I've felled Tower Knight and moved onto the second archstone.) 

But damn if this doesn't feel like Demon's Souls, an accomplishment in and of itself that feels like a magic trick. Part of what happens when you revisit an older game is having to confront the reality of the time it was developed in, realizing your imagination had been filling in serious nostalgia gaps. How you felt was informing your too-rosy remembrance of what it looked like. Here, Bluepoint tries to bridge that gap with an updated presentation that makes Demon's Souls truly feel like a 2020 game worthy of being a next-generation launch title. 

What I've been most curious about when it comes to Demon's Souls is what Bluepoint decided was worth tweaking. Demon's Souls, even compared to FromSoftware's other games in this style, is full of creaky design decisions. There's a reason Dark Souls was the breakout success—it streamlined a lot of what was being tested out here. But Demon's Souls remains the favorite of so many Souls diehards explicitly because it's rough around the edges and undeniably ambitious. The remake arrives in a post-Dark Souls world, though.

Would Bluepoint feel compelled to make it more like its popular successor? Would they, for example, decide to tinker with the original game's obviously unbalanced and overpowered magic?

The answer, at least so far, seems no. 

I was able to kick ass and chew Boletarian bubblegum with my Soul Arrow magic in the original Demon's Souls and that's true in 2020, too. Rolling a royal class, one of the game's handful of magic-based characters, starts the game with an overpowered missile that lets you take enemies out from a distance, fundamentally altering a game that most people think about in terms of getting close and blocking. Nah, son: I shoot arrows made of magic and watch fools scream in agony. It only made sense to roll the same class in the 2020 version and see how much had changed, and again, it feels like I'm cheesing through the game.

It feels so good, and has extra oomph on the DualSense controller's haptic triggers.

Maybe all this changes over time, I'm not sure. The extent of what Bluepoint has changed will be something to be mined and learned from hardcore fans in the days and weeks ahead, but as someone who's loved these games for years now, this game feels like the real deal.

You still, for example, have people leaving shitposts:

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You will still walk into hilarious scenarios where enemies rip you to pieces:

You will still encounter invisible friends nudging you in the right direction:

You can still accidentally hurt an ally and nearly turn them into an enemy:

I've also seen tweets like this going around recently, examining Bluepoint's art choices:

It's hard for me to speak to this. Even though I only played Demon's Souls in 2015, that's five years ago. That's long enough for a lot of the details to be fuzzy, and I'll leave people better equipped than myself—such as those with a legitimate sense of taste in art—to dissect the choices being made here. But what I've seen so far looks fantastic. It looks like Demon's Souls, albeit one infused with a little Doom-esque design in some of the boss designs. It works for me, though I suspect it will end up proving controversial with some longtime fans.

What I think is clear in the hours I've played, however, is Demon's Souls has an opportunity to be appreciated by a huge number of people who never had a chance to play it, who either have no way to play the PlayStation 3 version because they do not have access to the hardware, or do not want to play it because the servers were turned off. Both are fair points.

A lot of people hopped on the FromSoftware bandwagon after Demon's Souls had already left the station. This is an opportunity for an underrated masterpiece to take its rightful place.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).