Demon's Souls Review: The Only Way to Play

Demon’s Souls was seemingly for many players a blind spot in their memorable experiences with [...]

Demon's Souls was seemingly for many players a blind spot in their memorable experiences with the Souls franchise, a game that got passed over whether it was because of lack of interest initially or difficulty in going back to it after playing Dark Souls and newer games. For another devoted and passionate portion of the community, it was the start of their Souls journeys and a game that earned frequent spots on wishlists for remakes. The Demon's Souls remake on the PlayStation 5 manages to accommodate both ends of the spectrum by accomplishing exactly what a remake should hope to do: create a reinvigorated experience that attracts newcomers and still manages to feel like you're coming back to something very familiar.

As someone who was uncomfortably in the camp of those who hadn't completed the original Demon's Souls despite tearing through the other games in the franchise inside and out, the Demon's Souls remake is able to complete the final piece of the puzzle. I can't speak to what it's like to return to the game after playing through it several times to appreciate every area that's been relit or grievance that's been addressed, but I know well the plight of wanting badly to play the original but not enjoying it enough to do so. With some clunky camera angles and a lack of omnidirectional rolling, it had a certain unrefined nature to it that'd leave some players longing for the evolutions of the series.

In true Souls fashion, the remake alleviates many of these sorts of issues while still leaving the onus on players to master Boletaria and conquer the obliqueness on their own. While players can of course summon friends and consult countless troves of information online that weren't available years ago, you still have to actually put that assistance to use. You can read or watch about the Flamelurker or the Swamp of Sorrow as you want, but you still have to best those imposing parts of Demon's Souls through practice and patience.

That feeling of accomplishment in Demon's Souls on the PlayStation 5 stands out as one of the best parts of the remake, one that was built-in from the start and has now been unlocked for a new generation. Even though your Souls instincts may kick in as you time your invulnerability frames perfectly and fish for backstabs, Demon's Souls presents a whole "new" set of attack patterns and enemy encounters for players to master.

There's a certain exciting, sometimes anxiety-inducing feeling of returning to a game like Demon's Souls where you mechanically understand what needs to be done but still don't know what awaits you in a new level. A close cousin to that feeling is the frustration and gradual learning experienced by ramming against an obstacle until you conquer it be that challenge a puzzle or a tricky boss. Above those and second to only the feeling of triumph is the freeing enlightenment of losing all your souls outside a fog wall and finally being released from a rigid state of determination so that you can experiment and probe for weaknesses.

Those varied level options and the choose-your-path element of Demon's Souls shine brighter than ever in the remake with every world imagined better than ever before. Demon's Souls allows you to quite literally explore other options better than you could in newer Souls games through the use of the different Archstones and worlds accessible from near the start. After reaching the mandatory roadblock after the Tower Knight in World 1-2, I returned to the first world as soon as possible and finished it before even touching the third, fourth, or fifth worlds. That seemed like the "right" route to take which, upon looking online, made the revelation that other players had followed completely different paths even more impactful. There's a level of freedom in Demon's Souls' divided world that's not found in other Souls games where it feels like there are far fewer progression routes.

It can't be overstated how much a fresh coat of paint, better sounds, and new features supported on the PlayStation 5 do for Demon's Souls as well. Every enemy and boss fight is detailed in a way that any future Souls remakes or other projects should look to imitate, and characters players create are finally not hideous molds of clay. The PlayStation 5's immersive 3D audio lets you hear parts of Boletaria you may not have ever heard before and will heighten your senses to the threats around you. Haptic feedback on the DualSense is a nice touch for moments like dragons flying overhead, but the adaptive trigger use is a bit of a letdown. It's true that you'll more often than not be hitting the shoulder buttons and not the triggers to attack, but things like shield parries or heavy attacks with weighty weapons would've been the perfect opportunities to use that feature better.

The Demon's Souls remake may flip perspectives on the Souls series once you've finished it. Instead of being a game that's tough to go back to, its polish and refinement will make it hard to return to Lordran or Drangleic even if another game still ranks higher than Demon's Souls. Completing the first playthrough is really just the start of Demon's Souls, and with more replayability than ever before, it's going to keep people dancing between the Archstones for a long time.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Demon's Souls is now available on the PlayStation 5. A review code was provided by the publisher, and it was reviewed on a base PS5.