If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last decade of gaming, it’s that all games are Dark Souls. Cuphead is Dark Souls. Any title that’s roguelike is Dark Souls. I mean, hell, anything remotely difficult is Dark Souls. The Dark Souls community has effectively created a fog of intimidation that turns off more “casual” gamers. This, I can’t stress enough as a massive Souls fan, is idiocy. Gaming is like everything else: It can be learned. The Dark Souls series is a self-contained kind of difficulty that requires self-contained practice, even for the most veteran of gamers, and those of us who love action RPGs, from Final Fantasy to Skyrim, should not be disheartened by the muck surrounding it.
So when the Demon’s Souls remake was announced for PS5, I nearly leapt out of my chair in excitement to play it again (and while actually playing it, I did leap out of my chair). Demon’s Souls was the first game in the Souls saga, released in 2009, and while loved, it was notoriously difficult. This remake was developed by Bluepoint, the folks behind the Shadow of the Colossus remake, from FromSoftware’s original blueprint. The long short of it is that this is one of the best gaming experiences out there and should be experienced by anybody who wants to experience it. By no means is Demon’s Souls easy—it’s still hard as hell, like all Souls games are hard as hell. But there’s more to it than that.
The similarities between Dark Souls games and retro titles is, I think, drastically overlooked. Most retro platformers and Metroidvanias saw you dying and replaying to learn the levels. You were forced to do run after run, and that repetitious practicing of combat, platforming (or whatever gameplay style it was), enemy and trap placement, and secrets helped create both exponential difficulty and replayability. It’s no secret that the Souls series was heavily inspired by Castlevania. Yet the gameplay still gets misconstrued. The Souls titles just require similar determination as the retro era, where losing doesn’t make you feel defeated but rather invigorated to get better, to fight the bastard who killed you.
The Demon’s Souls remake expands on that vengeful nature with the souls-echo idea. When you die, the souls you gained by killing enemies are held by the enemy who killed you, or put on the spot where you died to be reclaimed. If you die again without reclaiming those souls, they are gone for good. It stunts your growth, and the further you get in the game, the more souls it takes to level up and buy gear, forcing players to stay alive longer and hold onto those precious souls to get stronger. It’s an addicting gameplay model, and a cruel one. By not doing well, you completely stunt your ability to get better through in-game power-ups. But it also forces players to simply learn the game, like all those retro titles before it.
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Demon’s Souls creative director Gavin Moore made another good point about the remake: the difficulty of the Souls games isn’t really what frustrates people. It was the interminable wait caused by loading. And I have to say, he’s exactly right. One of the key reasons old cartridge games, while difficult, weren’t nearly as frustrating was the non-existence load times. Technology wasn’t as advanced, but that simplistic nature allowed for speed. Now with the PS5 and the solid state drive, you rapidly reanimate in all your vengeful glory. I’ve played every Souls game to its bitter end, so I may not be representative of some of you who are just getting into the series, but in my experience, short load times lowered my nerd anger—nothing like the rage quits of Dark Souls 2. With the remake, you’re right back in with fire in your belly and red in your eyes, ready to enact your revenge while using what you learned from the last trip.
On a design note, Demon’s Souls is the prettiest game I’ve played on the PS5 yet. Spider-Man: Miles Morales looked great, sure, but when you’re throwing magic down a corridor in Souls, the light effects shine on every section and every texture in a much more beautiful and realistic way. Demon’s Souls also utilizes the DualSense controller and 3D audio to give the player slight advantages, like tracking enemy location by sound. Not that these advantages make it easy—if I haven’t been clear yet, it’s not an easy game—but the refined features and controls and polished gameplay arguably make it feel like the best Souls game yet. It is just too damn good for anyone to miss out on.
Being “a Dark Souls game” shouldn’t imply a barrier of entry, including for Dark Souls games. Perseverance, resilience, and a lot of patience are what it takes to “get good” at any game, and the Souls series is no different. As long as you’re enthralled by the world (which you will be), and as long as you familiarize yourself with the robust move set, you’ll be rich with souls. I believe in you, PlayStation believes in you, and the entire kingdom of Boletaria believes in you. Demon’s Souls, like the rest, is hard, but just think: It can’t be as hard as actually pronouncing “demon’s souls.” Souls games, and Demon’s Souls in particular, are for everyone.
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