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Demon's Souls (PS5) - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Mostly faithful recreation of one of my favorite games
  • Retains controversial features that give Demon's Souls its unique charm
  • Short load times
  • Improved visuals and 60 fps
  • Ease of use improvements
  • World tendency is not skewed by the server average
  • "Fractured World" sort of allows left-handed play
  • Faces look better

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • New visuals have implications for lore
  • No option for original soundtrack?
  • Misses some opportunities for improvements
  • Can't view list of my messages

Overall Impression : B
A faithful recreation that does miss
some opportunities for improvement

Demon's Souls (PS5) - cover

Developer:
Bluepoint Games
Originally Developed by:
From Software
Publisher:
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Platforms:
PlayStation 5 (via retail disc or PSN digital download)

MSRP: $70 USD

Original release date:
12 November 2020

Genre:
action RPG

Player(s):
single player, with asynchronous online multiplayer

Play time:
40+ hours

ESRB Rating: M (for Mature, 17+) for:
Blood and Gore, Violence

Official site:
www.playstation.com/en-us/games/demons-souls/

I was finally able to get a Play Station 5 for Christmas. It wasn't easy. I was on a Sony waiting list for months before finally getting the email invite to purchase one. When I booted it up on Christmas Day, I tested it out by playing a few hours of the included Astro's Playroom, while I waited for my first batch of digitally-purchased games to download and install. One of the first of those games was Bluepoint's remake of Demon's Souls.

The original Demon's Souls for PS3 is one of my favorite games ever, so my expectations for the remake were quite high. I was certain that a recreation as faithful as Bluepoint's Shadow of the Colossus remake would be good, but I also felt that Demon's Souls offered a lot more opportunity for improvement compared to the much simpler Shadow of the Colossus.

Technical improvements streamline play

Obviously, the visuals are dramatically improved. There's cloth physics, weather and particle effects, really good lighting, and all the other "next-gen" bells and whistles that one would expect. But the new hardware doesn't only allow visual improvements; it also allows for some technical improvements that do dramatically improve the gameplay experience. Perhaps the best of these technical improvements is the faster load times given by the use of a solid state hard drive.

Dying isn't as much of an inconvenience thanks to faster load times.

Quicker load times make a world of difference. Obviously, it's helpful to only have to wait a few seconds before getting back into the action after dying, rather than having to wait a whole minute to try again. But the quick loading also helps with other activities in game, such as farming. Bluepoint added the ability to warp from an archstone to any other unlocked archstone in the same world, including the one you are standing at. This allows the player to reset the current level, which can be very helpful for farming certain enemies for experience or item drops, and the loading only takes a few seconds. Barely more than sitting at a bonfire in Dark Souls!

The quick load times are also useful for things like reloading the game to refresh crystal lizards, or to trade items with Sparkly the Crow.

The smoother, 60 frames per second framerate also helps make the action feel much smoother, which might hopefully spare players from having to suffer as many deaths from mis-timing dodges and parries or from mashing a button too many times and queuing up the wrong action. The game looks and feels faster and smoother, while still maintaining the slow, weighty, and methodical pace of play of the original.

I'm less impressed by the PvP netcode. I never had problems with lag or other network issues in the original Demon's Souls on the PS3. But I rarely invaded and wasn't very good at PvP, so I might not have survived invasions long enough to realize if the original netcode was laggy or unresponsive.

I've experienced a lot of lag and other network issues during PvP.

In this remake, I'm trying to make more of a point of playing the PvP more. Not only am I engaging in more invasions with the Black Eye Stone, but I'm also reviving to human to play through most levels in the hopes of encountering some invasions from other players. I'm not being invaded a whole lot, so I'm assuming that PvP isn't very active in the remake -- or maybe being on Pacific time means all the invaders are already asleep by the time I'm able to play the game later at night. But when I do have PvP encounters, I notice a lot more lag and questionable parries and backstabs than I remember seeing in the original game.

I guess the improvement in console hardware did not lead to a smoother online play experience?

Consumables can be consumed in bulk.

The single player, however, plays very smoothly, and there are other technical refinements as well. Inventory management is simplified. Multiple consumables (such as hard soul items) can be consumed at once. Excess items can be sent directly to Stockpile Thomas from within any level. The inventory screen will show how many of a given item are in your inventory and also how many are currently stored in the Nexus. And perhaps best of all, both blacksmiths can use upgrade stones and boss souls that are still in storage! No need to grab all my upgrade stones from Stockpile Thomas before warping to Stonefang to upgrade my weapons. Though, the blacksmiths can only upgrade weapons that are in your inventory, so I do have to be sure I take those with me.

This reduces a lot of the tedium of the old inventory system, while still maintaining an absolute carry capacity for the character. I don't have to warp back to the Nexus to offload items if I become over-encumbered (and then reset the whole damn level). But I also am limited in what I can bring with me into a level. I can't carry every weapon, armor, and consumable I own into every gameplay situation, as is the case in Dark Souls. I have to prepare in advance and commit to a specific loadout, making do with what I have or what I can find within the level. This maintains the scrappier, more adventurous feel of the original game.

I am pleased, and a little surprised, that Bluepoint retained the controversial item burden mechanic.

I know that the item burden was a very unpopular feature in the original Demon's Souls, but I actually rather liked how it set such strict limits on what supplies and equipment can be carried into a level. The item burden was the one feature from the original game that I thought was the most likely to get cut in any potential remake, and I'm glad that Bluepoint found a compromise that makes the system less obnoxious, but which preserves the fundamental contribution that item burden brings to Demon's Souls' design.

Creative liberties

Bluepoint did take some creative liberties with some of Demon's Souls aesthetic design that goes quite a bit beyond simply inserting higher-poly models, higher-resolution textures, and more reflections and particle effects. In general, I don't mind superficial changes. There's some design changes that I don't like, but which I can't say are necessarily "bad". The Vanguard Demon, for instance, looks less alien and Lovecraftian, and looks more like a demon from something like Doom. I much prefer the original design, though the butt-jiggle added for the remake is very hilarious. There was also a big fuss made over changes to the Flamelurker prior to the release. I mostly agreed with these complaints, but didn't consider them deal-breakers.

The Vanguard was redesigned to look less alien and more like a generic video game demon.

I'm a bit more reluctant to accept visual design changes that intersect with the game's lore, but I didn't find much that was particularly offensive in the remake. The complete redesign of the Fat Official enemy is perhaps the most striking and poorly-considered change. The removal of the smiling mask, addition of warts and boils, and the exposed gut makes them look more like victims who are possessed and/or mutated by the demons, rather than the greedy perpetrators of violence and exploitation that they appeared to be in the original. They are simply, less villainous.

I've also read complaints about the foliage overgrowth in Boletaria Castle making Allant's awakening of the Old One seem much more distant in the past than it actually is. This critique is valid, but it doesn't bother me quite as much as Bluepoint's analogous de-aging of the Forbidden Lands in its Shadow of the Colossus remake because the original Demon's Souls was never clear on the time scale of events.

It was never clear how much time had passed since the Old One awoke.

Dialogue from Stockpile Thomas and the vendor in Valley of Defilement always suggested that it had been years since the colorless fog enshrouded Boletaria. Maiden Astrea has even had time to develop her own little cult in the Valley of Defilement. That sort of thing doesn't happen overnight. Anyway, the overgrowth of vegetation in Boletaria Castle is reasonably in-line with a timescale of years (or maybe a few decades) since the emergence of demons, and the siege probably left little time or concern for things like groundskeeping.

Obviously I don't have a problem with Bluepoint adding some lip syncing and facial animation for character dialogue. That's a welcome change. What is weird, however, is that they didn't add lip syncing for the Monumental or Candle Maiden. Considering how important these characters are as deliverers of exposition, this cannot possibly be a mistake or omission by Bluepoint. So are these characters communicating with the player telepathically? Were they always supposed to be telepathic? If so, was there ever any lore that explained this? I certainly don't remember these characters being telepathic in the original.

The Candle Maiden does not have lip-syncing animations. So is she telepathic now?

Missed opportunities

While Bluepoint hit a home run with most of its technical improvements to Demon's Souls, they sadly missed some prime opportunities for improvement and refinement of From Soft's original, somewhat clunky design. Yes, we can now warp to other archstones within the same world, without having to go through the Nexus, and yes, we can send unwanted items directly to the stockpile at any time. But there are other foibles of the original design that still aren't ironed out. No surprise, a lot of the lingering problems are still associated with crystal lizards, upgrade stones, and world tendency.

In the original game, there were some Crystal Lizards that had the potential to fall off of cliffs after they are killed. Not only can this still happen in the remake, but there is the added problem of lizards occasionally falling through the floor geometry, even if there is no cliff at all! The stones don't even re-spawn at the lizard's spawn point when I re-load the level. Ugh! This issue was solved by Dark Souls, by just automatically giving the upgrade stones to the player when the lizards are killed. Why couldn't the lizard stones just go straight to my inventory after I kill it? Or heck, just go straight to the stockpile and spare me the step of having to do that manually!

Grass still needs to be farmed

And on the topic of inventory management and the stockpile, why not clean up the healing system a little bit so that it doesn't require so much farming? This is one area in which I would be perfectly OK with some redesigning of the original game.

Perhaps the Crescent Moon Grass could act like Estus from Dark Souls or Blood Vials from Bloodborne, such that you get a set amount of them (maybe 20) whenever you leave the Nexus. Other grasses could heal more HP and be dropped by enemies or found as loot in levels. This would potentially retain the requirement to stock up and manage your advanced healing supplies with regard to weight burdens, but spare players from having to go back to Boletaria to farm for crescent grass.

Farming grass is still a tedious necessity.

Or alternatively, eliminate grasses as loot altogether, and have all the grasses automatically refresh whenever a level is re-loaded, like Estus. Maybe the player only starts with a pouch of 25 Crescent Grasses. Then, in each of the five worlds, there could be "Grass Pouches" that, once collected, permanently add access to pouches of the higher-level grasses. Maybe a pouch with a limit of 20 Half Moon Grasses could be found in Stonefang, a pouch with a limit of 15 Late Moon Grasses could be found in Latria, a pouch of 10 Full Moon Grasses could be found in the Shrine of Storms, and a pouch of 5 Dark Moon Grasses could be found in the Valley of Defilement. Further, there could even be loot later in each world that expands each pouch and grants access to 5 additional copies of the respective grass. That way, farming for grass is eliminated from the game, but healing potential still increases as the player progresses through the game, and the various grass types from the original game are retained.

World tendency is still counter-productive

World tendency screen is still just ambiguous enough that I can't tell if I'm pure white, or pure black, or not. I thought I was close to pure white in Stonefang, so I defeated the Dragon God in soul form, only to return to the Nexus, kill myself (just to be sure I didn't die in Stonefang), then return to Stonefang with the intent of picking up the Dragon Bone Smasher, only to have the path to the Dragon Bone Smasher still locked.

I also would have preferred if the current world's tendency were displayed on the main screen, similar to the player's character tendency. Maybe have a world tendency indicator in the upper right corner, with the current soul count? Or put something in the bottom right corner, which is currently unoccupied.

I still can't tell if World Tendency is pure white or pure black. This looks pure white, but apparently it isn't.

And while I would want world tendency to be retained in the remake, I would also honestly be open to some revisions to how the world tendency mechanic works. Perhaps world tendency only shifts towards black if the player kills NPCs or is killed by an NPC or black phantom, and not if the player dies in human form by other causes. That way, the game wouldn't so strictly punish players for using human form during the levels. Then players maybe won't stay in soul form all the time to avoid black world tendency, and more players would be more open to PvP.

Thankfully, Bluepoint does seem to have removed what I consider to be the single, dumbest design decision in the original Demon's Souls. Bluepoint's remake no longer resets the player's world tendencies towards the server average when you boot the game. That was such a dumb idea, and I'm glad it's gone. The original design made the already-confusing world tendency mechanic even more needlessly confusing, it took control of world tendency away from the player, and it heavily encouraged players to play offline if they want to get to pure white or pure black.

Also, it would be nice if the archstone menu or world tendency screen would have some indicator of the online activity level in each world, and whether or not I'm likely to find multiplayer opportunities at my character's level.

Movesets are still limited

I also would not have been opposed to back-porting some of the combat and control improvements that had been made in later From Soft games. I honestly don't see any reason why this remake could not have included the falling plunging attack that was added for Dark Souls. There's probably only a handful of places that it would even be possible to use, and I highly doubt that it would break the game in any way. There's also the charge attack that was introduced in Bloodborne and Dark Souls III, which I feel would work just fine in Demon's Souls.

More importantly is that I wish bows had been made easier to use so that pure ranger classes are more viable. We still can't move while aiming, the lock-on range is still pretty short, and backpedaling can cause the lock-on to go out of range and turn the character around to expose their back to attack.

Bows are still not viable as a primary weapon.

There could also have been better dual-wielding mechanics, and maybe the option to play left-handed.

And there's still some lingering issues with enemy A.I.. The crossbowmen in Boletaria, and other ranged enemies, still don't pull out a dagger or shortsword to defend themselves at close range. I can run right up to them and kill them between reloads, and they won't do a thing about it.

Thankfully, the remake includes omni-directional rolling. We're not locked into 4 directions when rolling, as was the case in the original, which means I'm less likely to roll into an attack or off a cliff.

Plays better, but doesn't sound as good

Honestly, there's not a whole lot about Demon's Souls gameplay to complain about -- at least, nothing that wasn't also a complaint in the original game. The improved framerate and quick load times also are a huge improvement in playability. I'd hold this remake up as being just as good as the original, if not for one big complaint: the soundtrack. The original Demon's Souls soundtrack is outstanding, and is still probably my favorite soundtrack from a FromSoft game. This is a soundtrack that I will actually listen to in my car.

Unfortunately, the remake also redid the soundtrack. They didn't just re-record or remix the original soundtrack either; it's completely new music. It retains a lot of the musical themes and motifs, and so the tracks are usually recognizable -- barely. It just isn't as good. Maybe it's nostalgia on my part? And even if it were as good as the original soundtrack, it wouldn't matter because I can never hear it. The boss music is completely drowned out by the cacophony of battle. I even tweaked the audio settings to so that the sound effects are half volume, while the music remains full, and I still barely hear the boss music. Do these settings even do anything? I honestly can't tell.

I tweaked the audio settings, but still can barely hear the soundtrack behind the cacophony of boss battles.

I feel like, since Shadow of the Colossus was such a simple and elegant game to begin with, Bluepoint was able to remain more faithful without the remake feeling as dated or unrefined. But Demon's Souls is a much more complicated and experimental game. It's warts and blemished are more noticeable, and date the game a lot more than the relatively few warts and blemishes of Shadow of the Colossus. If Bluepoint wants to keep doing remakes of beloved classics, whether it's Metal Gear Solid or Silent Hill or Twisted Metal or Gran Turismo or whatever their next project happens to be, I think they need to feel more free to address complaints with the originals, and improve the games in the areas where they can use genuine improvement. Remaining faithful to source material does not mean replicating it exactly (warts and all), it means preserving the feeling of the game and staying true to the original design philosophy. As long as you do that, tweaking some clumsy mechanics here and there won't make the remake bad.

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