Renown as one of the toughest games of its time on PS3, Demon’s Souls launched FromSoftware’s incredibly challenging ‘Souls’ franchise. Their adoring fans would be also blessed with the likes of Bloodborne and Sekiro. The mostly unrivalled difficulty was a major hook. However, the complex combat systems and stunning (though oft dark and eery) landscapes also shone brightly.
Whilst extremely popular, with the series selling around 27 million copies by 2020, they were still mostly adopted by a niche audience who relish in overcoming the challenge they provide.
With this beautiful, faithful remake of Demon’s Souls being a launch title on the Playstation 5, it’s likely to reach a new, entirely unprepared audience.
And I was one of them.
Beauty in the Horror
There are two things that immediately stand out on launching Demon’s Souls. Both keenly demonstrate the benefits of the power that the PS5 holds.
First, the game is visually gorgeous. Second, are the astoundingly short load times. It says a lot that these gloomy, spooky and hellish environments are utterly stunning. The huge variety of enemies across the five ‘worlds’ you will explore are so meticulously detailed, a feature that I imagine brings the original to life in a way that perhaps only existed in its player’s heads back in 2009.
Each world, and even the areas within them, are substantially distinct from one another and are a joy to explore. Despite the numerous adversaries hell-bent on preventing you from doing so, exploring is vital.
The game is set as default to ‘performance mode’, maintaining 60 frames per second and despite supposedly lowering graphical output and resolution it looks absolutely fantastic. I felt no need to leave performance mode with such fluid movement that this game benefits significantly from.
Timing in Demon’s Souls is everything.
No Margin for Error
Make no mistake, Demon’s Souls is one of the toughest games out there.
Having recently played Crash Bandicoot 4, a game that despite its charm and cartoon aesthetic is also fiendishly difficult, I found myself bizarrely finding similarities between the two. Both ultimately reward precise and perfectly timed gameplay with punishing results for failure. It means that success is incredibly rewarding.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in the kingdom of Boletaria. A magical ‘deep fog’ has fallen, unleashing demons across the land. You are tasked with travelling to 5 worlds via ‘archstones’ in a central hub called ‘The Nexus’. At the end of each ‘level’, a boss must be beaten before you can progress. Killing enemies and bosses will earn you ‘souls’ that can be devoured to level up your character in typical RPG fashion, creating a protagonist that suits your playstyle – magic, melee, long-distance, or perhaps a kind of blend of each.
Death Becomes Her
The game’s most punishing feature is that upon death. You will not only have to restart the entire level but you’ll lose all of your souls. If you manage to reach that same point at which you previously perished, you’ll be able to retrieve them. Otherwise, they are lost for good. It often makes sense to go away, gain souls to level up and return to previously tough areas that you might well now be more prepared for.
For the most part though, success is simply achieved by learning an adversary’s move set and how to effectively combat it. Working this out provides much of the game’s enjoyment. Dying over and over again is typically extraordinarily frustrating in games, often causing outbursts of anger from even the best of us. Much of this frustration is moved by two factors. First, that you truly are meant to die in Demon’s Souls. It’s how you establish what to do in future attempts.
Second, is that the speedy load times help you get to repeat attempts nigh-on instantly. Much had been made of this fact in the marketing for the Playstation 5 showcasing just what this generation of games could offer. Travelling to another area when you’ve finally given up on attempting that excruciating boss is so quick that it almost doesn’t feel like a failure.
There’s a lot of choice in Demon’s Souls. As the cost of levelling up increases exponentially, you are forced to focus on specific skillsets.
I built a ‘melee’ character, throwing most of my souls into Vitality (Health, Defence), Strength (Attack Power, Defence) and Endurance (Stamina) into it. Largely ignoring the incredible potential for spells and miracles (both offering fairly similar magic abilities like firing ‘soul rays’, healing, enchanting your weapon). This character will carry over into ‘New Game Plus’. As you’ll need multiple playthroughs to acquire that coveted platinum trophy, these are important decisions to make.
The choices don’t end there either.
Without spoiling too much, dying (in human form) will affect a system called ‘world tendency’. An area will get increasingly ‘darker’, negatively affecting your power output. The more you die, the tougher it gets. When you die, you enter ‘soul form’. This won’t negatively affect this world tendency but does mean that your health is significantly reduced. Whether to risk affecting this tendency and potentially locking off quests/items that are only available in specific world tendencies, so that you can have a little more health for that difficult boss if something you’ll have to seriously consider.
When defeating bosses, you receive a consumable ‘soul’ in your inventory, different to those you receive defeating ordinary enemies. These can typically be used for spells, miracles or powerful weapons. But often one of these souls will have multiple uses, and it’s up to you which you invest it into – so you are forced to think carefully about the character you wish to create first time round.
A Glorious Start to a New Generation
Demon’s Souls is an unlikely launch title. It’s almost definitely the toughest yet! Whilst the potential new audience might give up before it really ‘clicks’, those that carry on are in for a real treat. This was my first foray into the ‘Souls’ type games. I’m here to stay. Especially when they look, play and sound as good as this.