Demon’s Souls is an ideal showcase for the PlayStation 5’s pure technical prowess, but there are many gamers out there who may never experience the beauty that this challenging game has to offer.
Dark Souls is credited as the game that popularized the Soulslike genre that provides tough-as-nails, methodical third-person melee combat in an intriguing, lore-heavy world. But Demon’s Souls is the all-important forerunner — and it’s never looked or felt better than on the PS5.
You play a hero sent to the fallen kingdom of Boleteria, where dark magic has unleashed an evil being called the Old One that has placed the land in a "Deep Fog" where soul-eating demons now roam. You're tasked with slaying the broken King Allant to pacify the Old One and restore a sense of normalcy. But the bulk of the gameplay involves a cycle of death and rebirth created by the dark magic that permeates the experience.
Demon’s Souls doesn’t have a bombastic, cutscene-heavy narrative. Instead, players have to explore the grim world and bask in its faint lore. They can shape their experience with the World Tendency system, which can make the game harder or easier depending on player choices and actions. But only the occasional cutscene and boss fight pushes the story forward.
At its release, the original Demon’s Souls had technical problems, but many Soulslike fans hold it in high regard, sometimes even over Dark Souls. As such, it’s the perfect candidate for a remake that makes some quality of life improvements and redoes every asset from the ground up.
Bluepoint delivers with some incredible visual enhancements but has kept the gameplay faithful with only a few minor tweaks. But it’s still a struggle to see everything it has to offer, especially if you usually bounce off FromSoftware games quickly.
I've played other Soulsborne games, but this was my first time playing Demon’s Souls. By the end of the adventure, I was deeply impressed. But I was also exhausted enough to wonder why I kept going.
Tried and true
Demon’s Souls is a straightforward remake that plays as you remember it with the same structures. Much like Bluepoint’s previous remake, Shadow of the Colossus, there’s little deviation from the original here — outside of a strange locked door and a couple of other small tweaks.
Longtime fans will marvel at seeing how Demon’s Souls plays into the PS5’s strengths. All the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways the gameplay has been reworked to suit next-gen are a marvel.
It’s a medieval world that will consistently pique your curiosity while rewarding you for investigating its darkest corners. Every area in the game is intricately designed with interconnected corridors that reward exploration by opening shortcuts. Because if you die without unlocking that shortcut, you can stand to lose a lot of progress.
Like other entries in the subgenre that the original helped create, Demon’s Souls is overwhelming and inaccessible. Combat is slow-paced and relies on razor-sharp reflexes for timing. If you aren’t blocking at the right moment or if you use an attack when you shouldn’t, you will die. Then you'll have to spend however many minutes you need to in order to return to that exact moment, hoping you can finally do it correctly.
If you’ve played Dark Souls, Bloodborne, or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, this is the OG. And if you’ve never liked those games, Demon’s Souls won’t make things any easier for you. According to The Washington Post, Bluepoint refused to craft it with an easy mode because developers didn’t want “to add something that would fundamentally alter its balance.”
Some quality-of-life improvements make this Demon’s Souls outshine the original. Not having to return to the Nexus, Demon’s Souls central hub, every time you want to fast travel and a photo mode with plenty of options are welcome changes. There’s also the Fractured World mirror mode, which flips the entire world into a reflection of itself. For hardcore fans of the franchise, this disorienting option is an enticing one that'll make the experience feel even more fresh.
Demon’s Souls is crushingly difficult, especially when you’re first starting out and haven't adjusted to the game's combat flow. You can, however, do some grinding to level-up your character enough to make it a bit more manageable. It's easier to do than in some other Soulslikes, which certainly helps.
The open-ended nature of progression as you unlock more areas means players can see only a bit of each area in increments. For skilled players, it's a thrill that might not take a ton of time. But for the unskilled and/or uninitiated, it can be a lengthy and grueling experience. Any gamers who can’t “get good” will inevitably “get out” rather quickly.
It’s a shame too, because this is the PS5’s standout game and one of the few truly next-gen Sony exclusives.
A beautiful beast
Demon’s Souls is an utterly stunning game from a visual standpoint. The PS5’s added teraflops and ray-tracing make even the dourest areas jaw-dropping, and it all runs at a smoother framerate thanks to the system’s SSD. Even combat is a little more exciting thanks to the DualSense’s haptic feedback and adaptive that give more detailed vibration and resistance.
Players can choose between modes that emphasize resolution or framerate. While you might want to use the resolution mode when you first arrive at every area to see its beauty in as much detail as possible, Inverse recommends playing on performance mode as the buttery-smooth 60 frames per second option improves gameplay without drastically downgrading the visuals.
Early Souls games are known for some of their technical jank, but Bluepoint’spolish has gotten rid of that here. The PS5’s SSD drastically decreases loading times, so deaths can be a little frustrating as you don’t have to experience a long loading screen as punishment. That doesn’t make the game any easier, though.
While Astro’s Playroom makes an argument for why the DualSense is next-gen, Demon’s Souls demonstrates how the hardware itself is a step up. It’s the most impressive next-gen game from a technical perspective, so it’s a shame that it’s so tough that most casual players will never see some of its most beautiful areas.
Demon’s Souls hasn’t become any more approachable over time. For dedicated Soulslike fans though, this is one of FromSoftware’s strongest games. The series started on a high note, and that note is still being held over 11 years later, with the help of Bluepoint.
As a Demon’s Souls first-timer, it was fun to marvel at all of the game’s gorgeous vistas and smooth gameplay, but also immensely frustrating as I died over and over. Fans could argue that’s part of the appeal, but know that this stunning experience is one you’ll have to really work at.
Demon’s Souls will really click with some people who like a challenge, or for anyone desperate for a PS5 technical showcase. For Sony loyalists who already love Soulsborne games, it’s a dream come true. Bluepoint Games is the king of remakes, and it’ll take a fight as difficult as a Demon’s Souls boss before anyone can dethrone them. Inverse can’t wait to see what Bluepoint will do next on PS5, especially if it’s with a game that more people can easily enjoy.
Demon's Souls is available now for PS5.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)