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Demon's Souls Review: Pretty Evil

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The Demon’s Souls remake has launched alongside Sony’s PlayStation 5. Developers Bluepoint Games and SIE Japan Studio have given FromSoftware’s 2009 powerhouse a fresh coat of paint, returning fans to the title that birthed the Souls series, with Sony Interactive Entertainment keeping its place as the remake’s primary publisher.

Combat in Demon’s Souls is not for the faint of heart. The original was not known for its merciful AI and the PS5 remake solidifies that sentiment. From managing stamina to blocking, parrying, and timing attacks, players will notice the brutality with which their foes confront them. Enemies wield a variety of weapons, ranging from swords and polearms to bows and firebombs, as well as magic.

Veteran fans seeking an experience like the original Demon’s Souls should be sated with the PS5 remake. Combat maintains the uncomplicated yet nuanced flow from 2009, with proponents of melee having to rely on proper timing to parry and deal devastating ripostes that can one-shot most regular opponents. This counterattack strategy is critical to surviving for those who take on the Thief role - one of nine classes - which specializes in flanking melee attacks and bow usage.

Despite carrying over the original’s combat system - something that should neither surprise nor disappoint fans - the remake does not improve upon the janky combat flow. Fight paces vary, with some AI attacking swiftly while others are slow but powerful. However, the game has a way of ruining what feels like sound reflexes. What seemed like a perfectly timed parry, for example, is often overridden for reasons that could be attributed to the game not registering the command given - resulting in the AI ignoring the attempt and dealing massive damage. For all the user error in the world, one enemy overriding a parry despite the same kind of foe succumbing to it - with no noticeable difference in input timing from the player - is a source of aggravation that plagued the original Demon’s Souls and continues to haunt the reimagining.

The camera in Demon's Souls can be equally unwieldy, sometimes causing users to lose sight of their character or their enemy. This wonky occurrence can be jarring and cannot always be solved by pressing the command to re-center the camera, especially if backed into a wall, which can obscure incoming attacks and result in death.

The parry system and uncooperative camera are small prices to pay for an otherwise intriguing combat experience, however. Demon’s Souls encourages strategic battle practices, as dying forces players to start at the beginning of a zone, where they will have to fight through all the enemies they already bested. While shortcuts can be unlocked, there is no escaping refighting previous adversaries upon a player’s demise - only reducing the amount of them in the way.

Heedless of the inconvenience and gamers using best practice to stay alive, Demon’s Souls still has a way of forcing countless deaths upon its users. Whether taking a wrong turn into an enemy that is too powerful for a player or falling off a ledge into a bottomless pit, death is going to happen. It is simultaneously irritating and interesting, because it mandates players change their tactics - or pay more attention - when navigating the world, looting corpses and finding new weapons and armor through which to sort and bear against enemies. It’s also advisable to pay attention to the suggestions scrawled in blood from other players when connected to the game’s servers, as the community loves to give itself a heads up when enemies are lurking nearby.

The default sorting method for weapons and equipment is easy to understand, if a bit cluttered. Demon’s Souls will automatically sort new pieces of gear players acquire into categories, but there are no subcategories for each major section. While there are no subcategories to separate each type of weapon or armor, players will notice the in-game algorithm places gear of a similar type next to each other, automatically listing them from most powerful to least powerful and starting anew with the next implied subcategory.

However, wielding weapons that require higher stats than what players possess will render them ineffective, at least until requisite attributes are improved. A scrawny thief would have difficulty swinging a claymore in real life, and Demon’s Souls reflects that. Sticking to what a class uses best, at least in the beginning, makes for a better experience through Demon's Souls' already-ominous journey.

The haunting realm of Demon's Souls resides somewhere between gloomy and dismal, marred by gore and scarlet puddles left behind in the wake of an apocalyptic war. It is in this portentous light that Demon’s Souls on PS5 shines over its previous iteration. The augmented textures, stark colors, and crisp clarity of the graphics are far improved, making Demon's Souls a fitting early representation of the PS5’s promise. The Demon’s Souls photo mode also gives fans the opportunity to capture the game’s most beautiful or terrifying moments to showcase the stark contrast between the remake’s visuals and its predecessor’s.

Couple the augmented visuals with the grim foreboding of the in-game ambience and subtle musical hum lurking in the background and Demon’s Souls returns with the fury and sound of a banshee resurrected. Sword clashes and shield thwacks, while underwhelming compared to the sharp clangs and thuds experienced in the Final Fantasy VII Remake or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, complement the bleak doom-filled environment that comes natural to any Soulsborne endeavor. Likewise, explosions do not offer the raucous cacophony of Sekiro or Ghost of Tsushima, but they deliver enough of an impact to achieve their desired booming effect.

Demon’s Souls PS5 returns to the difficult strategic combat of the original and maintains its resolve in forcing players to figure things out on their own. Graphically, the remake offers a stellar reimagining of the 2009 classic while delivering a bittersweet audio experience. As a launch title for the PlayStation 5, Demon’s Souls has something to offer both Soulsborne veterans who want to see an old favorite shine and newcomers looking for a gritty, sometimes disheartening experience that demands perseverance.

Demon’s Souls is available now on PlayStation 5.
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