I know there are wolves down the hallway, but I can't see them. I know they're there because they killed me, last time, costing me a couple thousand souls I would've loved to use to level up my fresh Demon's Souls (opens in new tab) wizard. There's a whole pack of them, but all I can see down the hallway is a flickering torch on the wall carving out a small patch of light in the darkness. I could cheat by turning the brightness on my TV up, but Demon's Souls looks too good for me to stoop to that trick. Dreading what I can't see beyond the torchlight is a big part of the fun in the PS5's outrageously pretty remake.
I reviewed the PlayStation 5 from the perspective of a PC gamer last week, and we also reviewed the Xbox Series X, which currently doesn't have much to offer PC gamers that you can't already get on PC. The PlayStation 5's controller delivers on the hype, and with the SSD, it is very fast to load and resume games. But the real draw of any Sony console is its exclusive games, and that means Dark Souls. After playing the console launch games, Demon's Souls is the only one that I feel like PC players are really missing out on.
Back in 2019, I wrote about using the RPCS3 emulator to play Demon's Souls on PC, with a 60 fps patch in place to improve the game's framerate. It was impressive performance for a PlayStation 3 emulator even with frequent stuttering as it cached shaders, but after seeing the Demon's Souls remake in motion, it's hard to go back. Actually playing it cements how much more fun the Souls games can be when they're built for a smooth, consistent 60 fps, something developer FromSoftware especially struggled with in Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne.
The Demon's Souls remake is built for 60 fps, and runs at 1440p on the PS5. I'd love to be able to output that resolution natively to my gaming monitor (opens in new tab), but upscaled to 4K on my TV, it still looks phenomenal—especially with HDR enhancing the light and shadows.
Fans are already scrutinizing developer Bluepoint's artistic decisions in the remake, pointing out how certain architectural changes affect the ambiance, or how character designs miss the essence of the originals. That discussion will probably last years, and I'm sure there's both good and bad in an adaptation this size. For me, it's the audio that sticks out—enemy grunts and yells sound weirdly over-aggressive, weapon sound effects feel overdone, and the bombastic orchestral score doesn't seem like a good fit for this austere remnant of a world.
But those are nitpicks of what I still think is the strongest game in the next-gen launch lineup.
The Demon's Souls remake isn't just a prettier version of a unique RPG. The lighting adds so much to the atmosphere, making it more foreboding to inch forward through the darkness. Whatever bit of ambiance the remake loses from tweaked architecture it gains back in the awe of looking up at an imposing castle of this fidelity. And the heart of the Souls games has always been how they balance lonely exploration with the camaraderie of other players' messages, ghosts, and summons. This release offers Demon's Souls the opportunity to come alive again with millions of new players.
That's something an emulator can never match, and the original's servers shut down in 2018. Bluepoint knows this is important, and it shows—one of the most significant changes in this remake is upping the online player count from four to six. My limited experience with multiplayer so far has been smooth, and I'm guessing Bluepoint rebuilt the netcode from scratch to take advantage of today's hardware. That's a true blessing.
Looking at Demon's Souls among the other games available on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X today, it's ironic that it still stands out as bold and different, perhaps as much as it did in 2009. Maybe not in exactly the same way—it's not a revelation after a decade of the Souls' series influence. But it does stand out. It lures you in with all the trappings of a Sony exclusive: the spare-no-expense graphical detail (have you seen this character creator?), the photo mode that will spawn months of user-generated art and advertisement. It is the showpiece game that says this is next gen.
But what lies beneath, unlike the usual flashy launch game, is an RPG that makes Dark Souls look forgiving.
Warp points are rare. Death is more penalizing. First-timers will yearn for more fast travel options or an easier way to level up when you're loaded with souls. Dying means making the same run through the exact same path again and again.
It's amazing that this is Sony's showpiece game. In 2009, Sony didn't even want to publish Demon's Souls outside Japan (opens in new tab)—a game its own studio collaborated on! Now, a decade later, it still feels like an anomaly, but this time with Sony's backing.
One of the flashiest features of Sony's new console UI, for example, is the ability to load straight into a specific mission or level from the system menu. Pack-in platformer Astro's Playroom doesn't want you to spend a second walking to a level when you can just pull it up from the menu, but Demon's Souls will knock you down and tell you to do the same damn thing again until you get it right.
Compared to the empowering Spider-Man: Miles Morales or the grandiose Assassin's Creed Valhalla (which lets you press a button to have your horse automatically gallop to the next destination), Demon's Souls remains wonderfully out of step with the mainstream. Hopefully a PC release someday guarantees that its multiplayer will stay online forever, and that the remarkable work that went into remaking it holds up as PCs become capable of running games like it at 4K, 120 fps and beyond.
For more than a decade now FromSoftware's games have been beloved and influential for their design in spite of their technical issues, and without the draw of cutting-edge graphics. This remake, for the first time, offers both, and it's exciting to think of how many new converts to Souls it will create. Demon's Souls is the raw stone that FromSoftware chipped away at for years, further refining its ideas and smoothing over the worst snags. Now Bluepoint has come along, changing the stone from granite to jade to ensure that even without a decade of sculpting, this game still glistens.