REVIEW – A game with legendary difficulty and unique atmosphere, the very first instalment of the horror-horror Japanese Souls games, Demon’s Souls was released back in 2009. Now, only on PlayStation 5, we can relive what it’s like to die again and again in a new-generation revamp of the first in the seminal Japanese RPG series, in a reimagined version of the familiar dark medieval fantasy setting.
It was a bold move by Sony to release the very first instalment of this niche (relatively narrowly known and loved), hardcore, Japanese role-playing series as a single exclusive title at the launch of PlayStation 5. (Spider-Man Miles Morales and Sackboy: A Big Adventure were also released for PS4/PS4 Pro. ) 2009’s Demon’s Souls created a genre of its own: games like Souls, which are extremely dark, sinister RPGs with a slight horror element, designed specifically for masochists and hardcore gamers. These games are designed to test both your patience and your nerves – it takes real Japanese restraint and samurai patience to rise to the challenge.
What makes Demon’s Souls “cruel”?
The rule of thumb in Souls games is that you can die very easily: a single blow from certain monsters can bite the dust, or at least do a lot of damage. If our hero gets better, we are returned to the very beginning of the map or a particular stage, and all the monsters, except for the major bosses, are revived, and we lose our “experience points” (or in this case, the souls we have collected, which allow us to evolve) at the point of death. If we return safe and sound to the point where we were restored to better health, we get back the souls we lost, but if not, we have lost them too.
To add to the challenge, the developers have designed the extremely tough boss fights along with the same logic, meaning that if you die in them, you’ll also
you’re back to the beginning of the map and have to fight your way through the army of resurrected monsters, who will be waiting for you in the same place you’ve been waiting for.
In other words: the player’s nerves are being tested by these Souls-like titles, which require incredible patience and an equally high tolerance for monotony due to the repetitive elements. In addition, in many ways, the very first Demon’s Souls was one of the most difficult of these titles due to its often cramped locations and camera angles.
Demonic beauty – with compromises
What FromSoftware (or now Bluepoint Games, the team that ported the game to PlayStation 5) used to do to keep you hooked despite the tough challenges and make you try to fight the same monsters over and over again is the incredibly sombre atmosphere of Demon’s Souls. Undead medieval soldiers, knights and other monsters must be slain one by one in the vast courtyards, narrow corridors, stairwells and cauldrons of a vast, ancient castle, healing themselves with various herbs in the process. Even though the game is only 1440p on PS5 (which is kind of funny, because even most of the newer games on the previous generation PS4 Pro can do 4K), it’s still detailed and beautiful.
I did regret that the game doesn’t even have ray tracing, after all, it’s a big new feature for the new generation of consoles, and would have looked really nice in certain locations where, for example, water surfaces or polished armour reflect the environment. Let’s hope that Sony will remedy this in a patch afterwards.
On the negative side, the game’s design is also a bit dated (after all, not much has changed apart from the graphics), and that includes a lot of things that have improved a lot since 2009, both in the Souls series and in the video game world in general. For example, artificial intelligence (even the living soldiers who retain their humanity behave in an amazingly brain-dead way), the somewhat muddy animation of our heroes, the occasionally annoyingly badly positioned camera views, and the way in which mages can fire spells, which often get stuck in knee-deep obstacles. The developers could have done with some tweaking…
If you can take on the challenge…
Demon’s Souls has a very compelling, sombre dark fantasy atmosphere, artistically stunning visuals that will captivate those who can get past the deliberately unfair rules, the genre’s often repetitive gameplay and the patience of a Buddhist monk. This is an obviously hardcore game for the hardcore gamer core…
+ Next-gen visuals
+ Super-fast load times
+ Atmospheric locations
– Extreme difficulty may deter many
– Clunky lock-on system
– Can feel overwhelming
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developers: Bluepoint Games, Japan Studio
Genre: Souls-like action-RPG
Release date: November 12, 2020