Genre: Action RPG

Developer: FromSoftware

Released Date: February 05, 2009

Score: 9/10




Review Overview:

Before Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro there were Demon’s Souls; the game that gave new meaning to grind, challenge and death. In early 2009, the rumors quickly spread of a game so hard, so unforgiving, and so terrifying that only true hardcore gamers should even consider attempting the challenge. 

Demon’s Souls brought back a sense of accomplishment to gaming that many old school gamers had been missing. It probably was a gamble, at a time where the merging of cinematic storytelling and games were taking off like never before. But Demon’s Souls did not make us all die, over and over, in vain.

The game is rated 89/100 on Metacritic. Both Gamespot and PC World named it «Game of the Year», while IGN, GameTrailers, and RPGamer awarded it best RPG of 2009. The ratings went as follows: 9/10, 100/100, 9.4/10, 8.9/10, and 5/5. Are you not enticed yet? Then prepare to die!




Plot:

Demon's Souls Review screenshot

The convoluted story in the Souls-series has been heavily discussed since the days of Demon’s Souls. The dialogues are sparse, and the storytelling hints are far apart, but these are not the main driving force of the game. The main attractions are the grind, the pain, and the purge of mankind.

The lore is quite intricate, though, for those who take the time to explore it. In the Kingdom of Boletaria, the oldest demon in existence was in deep slumber. Its unfathomable power caught the attention of King Allant. In order to quench his ever-growing thirst for influence and domination, he went forth and awoke the old one.

The power of old one feeds on the souls of men. To the mad king, the cleansing of souls appeared equal to divine intervention. The suffering of man could not end until the servants of the old one had devoured every last human soul. As such, a colorless fog covered the land, and with it came an armada of demons.

Enter The slayer of Demons. Mankind’s last hope is a relentless fighter, whose sword-wielding skills can only be matched by your button-bashing precision. That’s right, you are the savior of Boletaria, the butcher of beasts and the pacifier of ancient evil. 

Your goal is to lull the old one back to slumber, and this can only be achieved when all the demons have fallen. But let’s get back to the beginning. How can demons be slain when the very first enemy of the game is tougher than most final boss fights?




Gameplay:

Demon's Souls Review Gameplay

The immediate attraction of Demon’s Souls was its difficulty. Not only were all enemies tough as nails, but the save points felt virtually nonexistent. For every defeat you had to start over at the beginning, with all enemies re-spawned. Some semi-bosses would be gone, but skeletons, undead ghouls, dogs, hard-hitting knights and fatty jesters would test your patience.   

To top it off, the currency of the game is the soul count of the demons you slay. When you die, the souls you have gathered are dropped on your spot of death. You have one single chance to pick up these souls in your next run, or they are lost forever. 

If you have gathered a substantial amount of souls you can choose to return to the starting hub and spend your earnings on upgrades. Progressing in the game will unlock more upgrades of armor, weapons and abilities. 

The RPG-element is key, but not as prevalent as in Dragon Age or the Elder Scrolls-games. The leveling system is simple compared to many RPGs, but it can still be leveled to great advantage for those who take the time to learn its intricacies.

In-game you have no time to stop and think. Demons attack on sight, with no mercy, whatsoever. The sooner you learn to block and dodge the better. Countering can also be effective, but that the more technical maneuvers became more fun to play around with in the Dark Souls games.

The controls in Demon’s Souls will definitely feel clunky for those who played Dark Souls first. It can be very frustrating at times when the controls are less responsive than ideal for such a challenging game. 

An especially vexing example is the Flamelurker-fight. It had yours truly cursing for hours, not just because I was an underpowered newb, but because the camera angles around the pillars made me constantly lose sight of my enemy. 

Clunky controls aside, Demon’s Souls is still one of the best PS3-exclusives ever made.

The layout of the world feels confusing at first, but as soon as you understand the main concept of the design, it is far less complex than later games in the Souls-series. The previously mentioned hub, or starting point, is called The Nexus.

In the Nexus are five archstones that serves as portals to five different parts of Boletaria. These are the main areas of the game, and they are festering with demons and bosses just waiting to tear you apart.

In short, the gameplay can be frustrating, but the story builds suspense and variety makes sure you never grow tired, even when enemies are hammering down on you for the nth time, at the exact same spot. The game rewards persistence, and it makes you feel powerful by offering tiny rewards as you chop your way through Boletaria.




Design:

Demon's Souls review design

The enigmatic storyline is there for all to see, but to be honest, it passed me by on first play-through. The experience and atmosphere in itself were enough to keep me immersed, which says a lot about the quality of the design and gameplay.

The five main areas create a great variety of pain and agony. They are all wonderfully designed, they all add a unique flavor to the game universe and offer new levels of frustration for each unlocked path.

*** Spoiler – World layout ***

Without spoiling too much, there is one huge castle (easily my favorite), one underground cavern, one labyrinthine tower/dungeon, one destroyed fort, and a valley so vile and poisonous that even the controller seems to get virus-infected. 

*** Spoiler end ***

For a game being released in 2009, the attention to detail is great. Textures on rotten wood walls, vile waters and moss-covered castle walls make the allover atmosphere shine like no other game on the PS3 console. 

Which area of Boletaria you like the most is of course a matter of personal taste. Arguably, the castle, the destroyed fort and the dungeon tower made for the most epic fights, while the underground levels took gaming frustration to new levels.

Demon’s Souls never had that open world feeling that came with the Dark Souls-trilogy. That being said, the somewhat linear layout in Demon’s Souls does complement the old school level of difficulty like a charm. 

Back in the days of early PC-gaming, there were no open worlds. We rarely even finished the games. We didn’t play to win, we played to be entertained by the atmosphere, the gameplay and the challenge. In this way, Demon’s Souls pinched a nerve of nostalgia in many gamers, and will probably be remembered for it for longer than most other games on PS3 (with a few obvious exceptions). 




Soundtrack:

In line with so many Japanese game developers before them, FromSoftware went above and beyond with the score for Demon’s Souls. The most impressive part is how much trouble they went through to make something that gets so little playtime. 

Immersion in horror comes before art, so to speak, as there is little music played during gameplay. The intro and the sparse cut scenes are magnificently scored, as well are some key moments of the gameplay and every boss fight. 

The sparse use of the score only strengthens its impact when it finally appears. The contrast between constant fear in numbing silence, and epic brutality in total terror, makes all boss fights feel like monumental moments in gaming history. 

The music in itself is orchestral in nature, with violins, horns and choirs taking the lead. The occasional use of pipe organs and other flutes makes for variation in just the right places. As good as the score is, the involving gameplay will probably make you oblivious to most of its nuances. Listening to the music in its own right thereafter is an added value to the Demon’s Souls experience that is well worth checking out.




Demon’s Souls – PS5 Remake:

Demon's Souls Ps5 Remake

We’ve already graced on the topic of the differences and similarities between Demon’s Souls and the Dark Souls trilogy. Recently it was announced that a remake of Demon’s Souls is in the works for PlayStation 5. This is of course the most exciting news since the invention of peanut butter, but will the game maintain its distinctive character?

From the look of the promotional footage, it is clear that Demon’s Souls will be reshaped in the popular Dark Souls mold. On the positive side this will definitely enhance the visuals, and almost assuredly improve the clunky control problems of the original. Hopefully, the world will also be expanded in some areas that were previously locked, but hinted at expansion in backstory and bonus content.

Demon’s Souls purists might feel some anxiety by the fact that the remake is not made by FromSoftware. Instead, the rains have been handed to American company Bluepoint, who was responsible for the remake of Shadow of the Colossus for PS4 in 2018.

The immediate warning signs for the Demon’s Souls remake is that the trailers seem to reveal a crisper, brighter and more realistic version of the game. So, what is the problem? Well, Demon’s Souls was kind of fantasy nightmare. It was gloomy, grim, and downright depressive at times. The atmosphere is what made the game so memorable, and any tampering with this might alter the overall mood and the gaming experience. 

It is hard to put into words, but even though Dark Souls is brimful of haunting ghouls and terrifying monsters, the action is cranked to the max, while the slow churning build of anguish is toned down. I still maintain that Demon’s Souls was the hardest game in the Souls/Borne-universe, but this might stem from my growing experience with the game mechanics from game to game.

I will say this: The world in Dark Souls 3 came the closest to recapturing the atmosphere from Demon’s Souls. There was just something about the layout and the design that made it feel like the series had come full circle. As such, there is hope that the upcoming remake will be just as graphically glorious as the trailer indicates, while still keeping the original spirit of Demon’s Souls intact. 

Ever since I first played the original Demon’s Souls, however, I have missed that feeling of playing a game that was perfectly balanced between old school gaming difficulty and new school gaming entertainment. Hopefully, the remake will provide the best of both worlds: The atmosphere, balance and hardship from the original Demon’s Souls, and the visuals, gameplay, and entertaining action from the Dark Souls trilogy.




Conclusion:

Demon's Souls

Demon’s Souls should never be forgotten! It was the linchpin that unleashed one of the most engrossing game series in recent times. Outdated graphics and clumsy controls aside, it still holds up amazingly well. The atmosphere is one of a kind, so is the layout of the game, and the design of the various areas easily competes with the most creative design ideas in the Dark Souls trilogy. 

Demon’s Souls is without a doubt worthy of a remake. It deserves to be played till your fingers bleed and your eyeballs dry out in despair from being slayed and slammed so hard that your controller starts to give up. It has a soul that can never be purged, no matter how many times you kill or are killed. Prepare to be all-consumed by the darkness of Demon’s Souls!




Endnote:

Thanks for reading this review on Demon’s Souls. Check out Japanese Cinema Archives to find more reviews by Robin. Paprika – Anime Review is recommended for fans of Satoshi Kon, while Metropolis – Anime Review offers an in-depth analysis of Rintaro’s spectacular vision from 2001. That’s it from me. I wish everyone reading this article a great day!

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Robin Syversen
Editor at Japanese Cinema Archives. Write blogs about movies, anime and sometimes games from Japan.