Pt 1. A World (un)Mended
When I’d finished playing the Demon’s Souls Remake by Bluepoint Games and tried to assemble my thoughts about the game, I couldn’t help thinking about Epcot. Yes, I mean the Disney theme park with the giant golf ball. That’s where my brain decided to take me. I was six years old when I first visited the park. I can’t remember the ride’s content, but I can recall the feeling of sitting in a chair between my parents. The audience being borne along a track in the dark as animatronic people regaled us with tales of their real-life counterpart’s achievements. Am I saying the Demon’s Souls Remake is the Epcot of the series? I think so.
As a player who’s more than familiar with the original PS3 title, Remake is like an exhibition about the original events. Lovingly curated, but with the edges filed down so that what was once unruly and fringe, is now safe for wider public consumption. There is merit to this approach. Remake is putting Demon’s Souls in front of a lot more people. I know for certain my flatmate whose PS5 I got to play it on would never have played the game had it remained solely on the PS3.
The Demon’s Souls Remake being a Playstation 5 launch title means it had to have mass market appeal and act as a showcase for the new console’s abilities. I know that and it explains some of the deviations this remake makes from the original game. This game and the original Demon’s Souls are both products of their time. That’s the core of the paradox at play here. They’re the same game, but at the same time they never can be. How can you compare a scrappy rescue project sent out to die in the marketplace in 2009, to a game that’s the flagship title for a brand new console, with a major publisher’s resources behind it?
In the wake of the 2008 global financial crash Hidetaka Miyazaki took risks not afforded to him elsewhere and directed a small game about power, greed and decay. Now more than a decade on Sony have released a brand new and expensive console. While facing down another global financial crash they’ve released a new Demon’s Souls which would have been regarded as the safe choice. This cannot be the same game.
Pt 2. The Soul Arts
Nothing in the Demon’s Souls Remake has been forgotten. Every part of the game has been pored over and touched up by the Bluepoint team. Every cracked cobblestone and chipped blade has been given a new coat of high finish paint until the game radiates from your screen. The practice of crafting this remake is in direct contrast to the forgotten world which existed in the original game. You cannot rebuild the doomed kingdom of Boletaria and expect it to stay the same.
Old Boletaria was a land in decline. A place where nothing new was produced and people lived within the withering structures of what had come before, unable to stop the rot. Living through my second once in a generation global recession is making my intimately familiar with that feeling.
Let’s talk about the Nexus for a bit. Demon’s Souls’s hub that connects you to different parts of the game’s world. The Nexus is a prison which traps your soul while you carry out the work of killing demons. On a recent episode of Waypoint Radio Austin Walker described it as being akin to a forgotten cathedral. It’s old, empty, and forgotten. It has the distant majesty of something that doesn’t care whether you’re there or not. This is a place that exists on the edges of realities. The new version of the Nexus is warmer. Its structures are immaculate and the lighting is soft. The old soundtrack always evoked the act of breathing. The musical notes were punctuated with periods of silence, as if holding your breath. In the Nexus you simply existed.
The remade version swaps the simple notes of the Maiden in Black’s theme for a choir. Funnily enough, the choir evokes a church-like feeling, but it’s much more active. It turns the Nexus into more of a living place, where people might come to from time to time, looking for respite and guidance. If I’m going to accept that both of these games are products of their times, turning your prison into a haven is very 2020.