System: PlayStation 5 | Released: November 2020
Developer: BluePoint Games | Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
Hours Played: 30hrs (60% Completion)
Difficulty (noun) - 1. A thing that is hard to accomplish, deal with, or understand.
Throughout the decades, there have been numerous titles that have tested even the most experienced of gamers. In the 80s, you had the likes of Ghosts 'n Goblins & the original Metroid. In the 90s, you had Ecco the Dolphin & Battletoads. At the turn of the millennium, one series has become renowned for this accolade; FromSoftware's Souls series. This anthology of action RPG games boasted a challenge rarely seen in games previously & offered fans of the genre a playground that will test their skills & their patience.
Now let me start by admitting an honest truth; I've never played a Souls game before. I'm aware of the reputation surrounding these selective works & whilst I'll gladly admit that I am prone to dying in video games, I never understood the appeal at the time. Maybe I wasn't dedicated enough & saw the game for its infamous reputation of repetitive deaths. It's thanks in part to studio BluePoint Games & their recent work in remaking this game that it became more appealing at the start of this new console generation; one that would provide more power for this game to truly flourish. My perspective as a new player may be different from other reviewers who may have played the original, but I hope this is an intriguing take from someone who is finally taking to the diving board and plunge into one of FromSoftware’s shark-ridden pools.
Today, we are covering an entry that welcomes honoured knights & magicians back into a revamped version of their former stomping grounds whilst introducing new gamers into its sense of challenge & accomplishment that it's been credited for. Welcome to my mid-game review of the 2020 remake of FromSoftware's 2009 action role-playing video game; Demon's Souls. Let's dive in!
The premise of this game puts you in the shoes of a hero, destined for the desolate Kingdom of Boletaria. In past times, a type of magic known as the Soul Arts was exploited across this land, which in turn awakened an ancient entity known as The Old One; a demon of immense power, who possesses the power to create other demons capable of consuming the souls of the living. This led to the ignition of an event of destruction; causing the region to be covered with a deep sea of fog, almost wiping out the entire region.
As The Old One entered back into a deep sleep, some of the survivors were appointed as Monumentals; acting as guardians to warn those in the present of these events, so that the past could not be repeated. However, the efforts were deficient as King Allant, the current ruler of Boletaria, restored the use of the Soul Arts and with this act, The Old One would awaken & its demons would once again roam the lands. As the hero, it is your duty to pass through five unique worlds, encountering a deep variety of enemies of various strengths, sizes and species with your goal to assassinate the King & lay the Old One to rest.
At the start, the game presents an initial offering of customisation; allowing you to design your character in a variety of ways & choose a class that suits your desired playstyle. Although certain classes will give you certain advantages & disadvantages in terms of strength and defence, it will be the your use of weapons, magic & the ability to defend yourself that will play a crucial role in terms of your progression. For each enemy you eliminate, you will acquire a specific number of Souls which acts as the game's currency; allowing you to upgrade your stats & buy items from various merchants dotted around each of these realms.
You can also collect various items from certain fallen foes; offering aid, temporary ailments & a variety of weapons to use in attack or defence; from the front line to in the crow's nest. The respawning of common enemies also allows players to grind sections to gain Souls, but luckily the major actions & demons do not reoccur in these segments. I found that grinding was a crucial part of my progression & often, I would revisit sections that I knew I could obtain a large number of Souls in a quick amount of time.
Each area eventually lead to an encounter with a boss demon of great strength and often a challenge to overcome. I found that conquering a demon that's ultimately stronger/more powerful than you with the capacity to kill you in a couple of hits, the success in these circumstances creates one of the most gratifying experiences I've felt in gaming. It occurs on numerous occasions and never feels old. I feel ashamed in hindsight to overlook this aspect when initially judging the game & will ultimately regret not playing this original game when I had the chance.
However, the remake is able to boast a beautiful array in terms of its presentation. Whether you explore its deep caverns or fortified castles, there is a notably vast increase in detail & textures that gives these worlds a sense of realism & a denser sense of atmosphere. Coupled with its capacity to fun at 60FPS with an option to play in 4K, I rarely saw any drops in frame-rate apart from the starting point of one particular world, of which it quickly recovers after a few seconds. The smooth framerate makes responses satisfying to press & to witness. The use of operatic music and solid voice performances from NPCs further magnified this display of action in a glorious way. Although this is not an excuse for me to not play this game sooner, I'm glad I got to experience it in this vibrant & exquisite form.
To highlight the notoriety of the game's difficulty; let's just say that for a first-time like myself, I often found it to be quite unforgiving at times. I lost count of the number of times I've died when encountering an enemy that was way stronger than myself & must at least be in the 3 figures as of writing this review. For those not familiar with the major catch of the Souls games, let me clarify this as a precaution. Although you can collect Souls to help improve & upgrade aspects of your character, you will lose all of them if you die. Collected 10,000 Souls? Once that HP bar of yours reaches zero, gone...well, not exactly. The game offers you one chance to reclaim these Souls, but you'll need to revisit the place you died (marked as a bloodstain) and collect them. If you die before you get there, they are lost forever.
This aspect, coinciding with my first demon encounter, acted as a metaphorical & physical blow to the head; teaching me a sobering lesson that introduced me in this game's philosophy. The fact is you will die...a lot, but each loss & failure is a chance to learn why you died & how to better yourself so you can confront the same situation in a different & likely more efficient way; projecting a rather empowering message that I admired. The game's way of teaching through experience almost forced me to improve the way I played the game without it feeling like a forced course of action or inflicting a sense of FOMO. There were numerous times I would willingly grind through previous parts to harvest Souls & even die in the process, but these acts of dedication are the catalyst to some of the most satisfying moments in the game in the form of these David Vs. Goliath style boss battles. Entering the unknown and learning how these worlds work helped keep me on the toes whilst maintaining my interest throughout.
The game also incorporates a number of features that help evenly balance the experience. First, you can only hold a certain number of items & equip a certain number of weapons via a weight system. If you want to hold that almighty shield and wield that menacing sword, you may want to consider a lighter weapon, upgrading your stats or finding an item that can apply an ailment that can allow you to use this effectively. Archstones are setup at the start of each section; allowing you to reset a level or to travel to other worlds. However, this form of travel is usually done via the game's game's hub, known as The Nexus.
Acting as a sort of purgatory, The Nexus allows you to interact with varying NPCs that have survived with some offering the ability to store your items, trade items, repair your equipment & even teach you certain acts of magic. It's a stunning, dimly-lit gallery that while only acts as a pit stop, it will feel like home after a while. Boss demons will also drop precious souls that you can trade in for high soul currency or you can use them on weapons or for unlocking special magic spells such as the ability to regenerate health or prevent specific enemies from seeing you.
The most intriguing of these aspects is a mechanic know as World Tendency, bundled in with its unique online features. This game mechanic essentially acts like a karma meter; where your actions directly impact your character & each of the worlds. The tendency ranges from Black to White; the former offering tougher enemies with a increase in Souls earned for each kill whilst the latter allows easier enemy encounters with less Souls per kill. Certain actions (such as killing an NPC or dying yourself) will cause a shift in the World's Tendency and create tougher circumstances for you to try and pass through to the next boss demon; your max health can be altered, areas of the map can also be unlocked under specific tendencies, stats can be automatically be applied with a small multiplier (positive and negative) & various stronger unique enemies can appear. Your choices matter, so you must think wisely before jumping forward into specific encounters. Your life could depend on its outcome.
Whilst in the game, you can also take on one of two forms. The first is Soul Form. When you die, this is default form you will play in. Your health bar is cut in half & if you play online, you can be summoned into another person's game but you won't be able to summon other human players into your game to assist you. In Human Form, you are able to reap the full benefit of your health bar & as aforementioned, you can summon help from other human players in the game's online mode. However, you can also be ambushed by other human players who are playing online.
For a first time player, this was intriguing but a little daunting. I did experience dying in human form a couple of times, witnessing how the swift in Tendency affected my game and I liked how it directly impacts your gameplay experience. However, I felt I was already chucked in at the deep end when learning to play and whilst I slowly learned how to swim, I didn't want a new flock of hungry sharks circling beneath me. As a result, I decided to play it safe and find ways to safely enter Souls form. I didn't want my death to make the world even harder and was content with working within the reduced perks of Souls form. I acknowledged that the cost of death in Human Form is a huge weight but if anything, the restrictions of the Souls form only added a greater sense of challenge. However, so does Human form with a greater risk of a shift in the World Tendency as a result of your actions.
On reflection, I would be more open to playing more in Human Form on a second or third playthrough; thus creating a sense of replay value.
Demon's Souls provides a formidable RPG experience that stays true to its testament as one of the most challenging modern video games & is a worthy remake of its former entry. Unfortunately, I have yet to complete this game as of writing this review (only clocking in 30hrs), but I don't see this game faulting any time soon as its measurable aspects have remained consistently positive, potent & effectively balanced. The world is dense, full of life & gorgeous to experience; even when its circumstances are forbidding & despairing. It provides a sufficient level of customisation and progression that while does require a heavy use of grinding and learning, it keeps you on your toes & ensures that the payoffs for your efforts are greatly rewarded; both in game and in personal experience. Even though the game does not utilise ray-tracing, it still looks flawless & handles the output of 4K & 60FPS standards effortlessly, further radiates the sheer destructive beauty this world offers.
If you are in the state I was previously & felt hesitant about diving into this franchise, I would highly recommend checking out this title if you have recently acquired or are planning to buy a PS5. It will provide you with an ample amount of gameplay time & an experience that will naturally knock you down a hefty amount, but will provide you with a sense of accomplishment that only a rare selection of games can provide.