Demon's Souls (PS5) review: Beauty constrained by the archaic

Bluepoint Games has taken players back far and away to a cornerstone of the Soulsborne foundation with Demon's Souls, but are some souls better left to rest?

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I must admit, I relished the opportunity to test myself against the challenges of Demon’s Souls as one of my first games on the PlayStation 5. I’ve long been a fan of these types of games and have prided myself on being able to beat them with ocassionally unintentional self-inflicted challenges. I have the patience to overcome these games, and though I didn’t play Demon’s Souls when it first came out, I had wonderful resources to go to in the likes of my colleagues, David Craddock and Sam Chandler. With their help, I took some crash courses in what to expect, and we talked about it for a while leading up to this experience. And while I can safely say that the Demon’s Souls remake on PS5 scratched my itch for a challenge and offered that challenge in one of the most gorgeous presentations of visuals and action I’ve ever seen, I can’t help but notice just how far the Soulsborne series has come from the systems present in this very early offering.

A land wreathed in corruption

For the uninitiated, Demon’s Souls’ setting takes us to the fictional kingdom of Boletaria. Utilizing the power of souls, Boleteria’s leader, King Allant woke a terrifyingly powerful being known as the Old One. With its awakening came a colorless fog to the land that brought with it horrifying demons who began to kill and devour human souls to add to their power. Humans that managed to avoid being destroyed mostly went mad and, themselves, turned into soul-crazed monsters.

Much like any Soulsborne game, Demon’s Souls picks up well after the broad strokes have played out and everything is in ruin. Players take on the role of a protagonist who pushes through the fog into Boleteria to destroy the demons and take their soul power. For good or bad is unknown, and your path is quickly shaken when a massive demon kills you and sends your broken body to a place called the Nexus. It’s there that your soul is trapped alongside the spirits of many other adventurers and it acts as your home base for pretty much the whole game. From that place to which you are now bound, you must venture forth to fight the demons, become stronger through their soul power, and confront the Old One if you wish to escape your otherwise eternal fate.

With the stage set, Demon’s Souls plays out much like most of the other Soulsborne games with the exception that this one features a sort of level selector. There are actually numerous regions you can venture into to explore and progress through in your quest, and there is no particular order in which you have to pursue them. Whether you go back to Boleteria where you kicked things off or head for the prisons in the Tower of Latria or even decide for some reason to start right in the difficult Valley of Defilement is fully up to you and I delight that we’re given such choice in the matter right away.

Moreover, these areas are all just beautifully recrafted from the original. I had to go back and have a look at gameplay videos of the original Demon’s Souls and, boy howdy, Bluepoint made each area look absolutely gorgeous from top to bottom. Even the heinously filthy Valley of Defilement at least looks like a masterfully repainted and polished turd. The even better part is that, thanks to the PS5’s hardware, it runs at a constant 60 frames-per-second without fail and there’s nary a loading screen to be found. Moving between areas takes a couple seconds of a fog wipe and - boom - you're there. And with these fantastically recrafted locations all available to explore from the start, being able to pursue challenges that cater to your class to find equipment that will help make you your strongest is excellent.

Who are you, adventurer?

Speaking of classes, we should take a deep dive into gameplay. When you begin, you make an adventurer with a specialty of your choice. Knights, Barbarians, and Soldiers have good strength, vitality, and endurance for upfront combat. Wanderers, Thieves, and Hunters pack on dexterity for fast and ranged weapons. Royalty and Magicians are built for offensive magic while Priests and Temple Knights are good for healing and buff magic. I must have spent hours in this game’s character creator as well before I ever even started Demon’s Souls because, folks, it is very good. Bluepoint did an incredible job of offering the tools to make your character as cool, freakish, or anywhere in between as you want.

Once you’ve got all that settled, the game plays like you’d expect out of a Soulsborne in progression. You cut and chisel your way through the areas, killing foes, discovering new items, gear, and NPCs to aid you on your way, unlocking shortcuts. Go far enough, of course, and eventually you'll run into bosses of varying intensity who would love to beat your brains out. As nearly always, the difficulty is intense in Demon’s Souls, and while the bosses are the star of the show, there’s no lack of traps and horrible minions on the way that will attempt to make you cry with a cheap death when you learn about them the first time(s). Then it’s on you to go from the respawn checkpoint back to that spot to reacquire your Souls (currency for leveling up and buying items from NPCs) without dying again and losing them forever. Those who have typically shied away from the difficulty of Dark Souls games are not going to find any peace in Demon’s Souls. All of that said, combat feels mostly impactful and good throughout.

I can't say all good things here. Even Dark Souls players and especially newer ones might find themselves annoyed with a few of the now-archaic systems that Bluepoint chose to preserve in this Demon’s Souls remake. First and foremost are the curatives. It is my firm regret to inform all returning players of Demon’s Souls that Grass curatives are back. That is to say, there is no persistent healing item like Dark Souls’ Estus Flask or Sekiro’s Healing Gourd here. Just expendable Grass curatives that you must keep well stocked in your inventory at all times. And oh, how spoiled we have been in recent FromSoftware games! Here? Well, did you hit a hard area and expend your healing items? Awesome. Pause your progress for long stretches of time and spend it in an area where you can grind for more Grass curatives and Souls… to buy more Grass curatives. It’s annoying to say the least and with all of the better options for healing systems that have been explored in Soulsborne games, it’s annoying that this is one of the things Bluepoint kept fully intact.

Another intact point of contention is the complete lack of any kind of selling system for your items. You can find all of the Mail Breaker daggers you want in the game. It won’t make a lick of difference because all you can do with them is drop them or store them. There’s no selling items in this game, so collecting multiple instances of spare equipment is unnecessary - especially armor because you can’t upgrade it. Rid yourself of the anxiety of leaving massive amounts of extra gear sitting around. Bluepoint made sure you’d continue to do that a lot.

And you can’t even tell me that Bluepoint needed to keep these things intact because, to their credit, they have made improvements to Demon’s Souls beyong the visual and performance upgrade. For those who have played before, you may remember the limited inventory system. It’s still here, but the pain point has been smoothed. If an item will put you over your weight limit, you can teleport various gear back to your storage guy in the Nexus without going back. In this way, you can pick and choose what you currently need to carry or send away and go sort it out later instead of making multiple trips, which is just fantastic. Also, Demon’s Souls is bristling with secrets, and some of them are quite new. One new secret makes a particularly tough area all the easier, and another was an outright mystery where the community banded together to figure it out. These are awesome and fun additions Bluepoint made. And it makes the crummy things they left intact stand out all the more.

Plenty of Soul, just a few unnecessary Demons

As far as an action-RPG goes, Demon’s Souls is as tough, but rewarding as I’d expect a Soulborne game would be. Bluepoint did an incredible job of pulling this 2009 title into 2020 and giving all the gloss and polish the PlayStation 5 can wring out of it while still playing perfectly smooth and mostly free of loading. The combat feels tight and impactful, the area selection is delightful, and the character customization looks better than ever even by current Soulsborne standards. Smoothing out inventory systems and adding some more secrets is also a delightful plus.  Even so, I just wish Bluepoint had gone all the way in inviting some improvements into the game’s archaic systems. Grinding items in a Soulsborne is just annoying and not being able to sell anything kills me inside. But if you can get past those things, Demon’s Souls is mostly on point as a high-quality upgrade to one of the foundations of this genre’s legacy.


This review is based upon a purchased digital copy of the game. The Demon's Souls remake is avilable on the PlayStation 5 now.

News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. When he's not handing out beatdowns in the latest fighting games, exploring video game history, or playing through RPGs with his partner, he's searching for new food and drinks in the constant pursuit of good times with good people inside and outside the South Texas area. You can also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

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Pros
  • Beautifully recrafted environments
  • Strong, responsive combat
  • Awesome character customization & progression choice
  • Excellent new secrets
  • Some great mechanical improvements
  • Near zero loading or performance stutter
  • Still a challenge for fans of the genre
Cons
  • Really annoying systems left intact
  • Grinding for curatives wastes lots of time
  • Still no way to sell items
  • Still unforgiving for non-fans of the genre
From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 20, 2020 6:10 AM

    TJ Denzer posted a new article, Demon's Souls (PS5) review: Beauty constrained by the archaic

    • reply
      November 20, 2020 9:36 AM

      Great review, TJ. I admit to being surprised that more fans of Dark Souls seemed not to bat an eye when Bloodborne regressed to consumable healing items. It was one of Demon's Souls' more annoying systems that I was glad to leave in the past. While I still don't like it, I'm more forgiving of its presence in this remake because it is, after all, a remake. I can see how an Estus Flask-like system might hurt the flow of Demon's Souls a bit, and I would have been in favor of Bluepoint overhauling it. I also hoped other systems like the still-largely-inscrutable World Tendency given a touch-up as well.

      All that said, as someone who cherishes the original Demon's Souls for the breath of fresh air it offered way back in the hazy days of 2009, I respect Bluepoint's commitment to restore rather than recreate the games they bring back to life. Demon's Souls is Demon's Souls, for better or worse. Or, perhaps more appropriately, for better and for worse. I'm thoroughly enjoying it, warts and all--nearly the same words I said when the original took over my life for several months--and on and off again ever since, much like its successors--11 years ago. :)

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        November 20, 2020 9:44 AM

        I didn't touch on it either, but better indication of the World Tendency state would have been nice in the UI. That tiny little eye in the upper left is hard to read, save for the most extreme changes.

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          November 20, 2020 9:56 AM

          Yeah. Bluepoint said in a pre-release interview that they made World Tendency "slightly" more comprehensible, emphasizing "slightly." If you open the menu and go to the WT option, you can tell if any World is Pure White if the ball representing that world glows with a golden aura, or is black with cinder-like particles swirling around it.

          But it's still a hard thing to pick out. I play on a 55" OLED, and I still have to sit forward and squint. My wife and I even playfully argue, "Is it black? Yes, but is it black-black? Do you see cinders? Because I don't see cinders. Is that a--no, I don't think that's a cinder."

          But it's something!

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        November 20, 2020 11:12 AM

        One day I hope you play BB as Arcane. Your drop rate goes through the roof and you’re constantly swimming in blood vials. ;)

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          November 20, 2020 11:24 AM

          What's the most newbie friendly way to play BB?

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            November 20, 2020 11:42 AM

            Arcane

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              November 20, 2020 11:46 AM

              game is just as fun that way too?

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                November 20, 2020 1:00 PM

                Most fun, also more keeping with the lore. Best flashy particle effects, highest loot drop, because the stats for Arc also up your drop rate substantially, and it smashes bosses.

                Some people love Ludwig, but they’re also the same people who often criticize Bloodborne combat as feeling samey or boring. You won’t run into that with Arcane, with the different elemental weaknesses and all the crazy Hunter’s Tools.

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                  November 20, 2020 1:03 PM

                  Hmmmm, excellent, I'll give it another go whenever I finish Demons Souls

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              November 20, 2020 11:50 AM

              false

              2h axe. str. spin to win

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                November 20, 2020 12:19 PM

                This is correct.

                It's not the most *fun* way, but the Axe can take you through the whole game if you upgrade it and yourself accordingly.

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        November 20, 2020 11:40 AM

        I like eating grass,

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        November 20, 2020 11:48 AM

        I've only seen Vinnie from giant bomb play demons years ago. I also thought the health being a consumable, kinda sucks

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        November 20, 2020 11:52 AM

        I will say in regards to healing, it’s actually relatively easy at least to farm it now. All you have to do is:

        after you beat tower night on 1-2, warp to that arch stone then go backwards and kill the two blue eyed knights. They will drop 2-3 mid grade healing items a piece every time. Then reload arch stone and repeat. In 10 minutes you can have 40-60 healing items. Because of fast loading, while annoying, it’s trivial to stock up.

        Personally I prefer and respect Bluepoints decision to keep things at a minimum in terms of things they added. Estus flask would have broken the game’s balance too significantly

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          November 20, 2020 12:47 PM

          I completely agree with trying to keep much of the game's originality in check and not break it too much, but I also can't look past any amount to stopping my progress to farm consumables when they themselves introduced solutions to issues outside of healing.

          I think there is definitely a fine line between choosing what to fix and what not to, but I also think once they start fixing broken things, they also have to take responsibility for the things they didn't choose fix.

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            November 20, 2020 12:54 PM

            All to say, would I have complained if it was the EXACT same? Yes. But it would have been with the caveat that I understand that's just the way it was and they remained faithful.

            Once they fixed inventory, I felt right to say, "Cool, why not fix healing too?"

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          November 20, 2020 4:40 PM

          The fast loading really takes a lot of the curse off of how it was on PS3.

          Its almost like Celeste or Super Meat Boy or Doom Eternal. Yes they're challenging but the time penalty for dying doesn't exist, you just jump right back and try again

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        November 20, 2020 2:17 PM

        I was thinking a flask-like thing with a few charges that heals as much as the Half-Moon Grass would be fine except that would have a huge downstream impact as you potentially accumulate a ton more grass due to not using it as much. It should remain precious to a degree. I think the better solution is simply providing players a minimum stock of grass, perhaps in the form a charitable NPC in the Nexus. I'm talking like 3-5 Crescent-Moon Grass and 1 Half-Moon Grass, max. Just enough to get people on their feet again if they use it all.

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      November 20, 2020 9:49 AM

      Good review! I agree with the gripes for sure.

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      November 20, 2020 11:49 AM

      Nailed it.

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      November 20, 2020 4:25 PM

      It's nice to see reviews that are offer both high praise and constructive criticism. Good write-up!

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