This year’s remake of Demon’s Souls was mostly well-received, which makes sense. The game is a visual and technical powerhouse on the PS5, and an impressive opening salvo from Sony going into the next generation. For anybody looking for a lavish and uncomplicated launch game, it’s one of the best ones out there.
But for me, Demon’s Souls was a bit of a disappointment. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t play a ton of it, and wound up spending more time watching my girlfriend do it instead. That might come as a surprise, especially from a big Souls fan, but something about the way Bluepoint handled the 2009 classic didn’t sit right with me.
I think it ultimately boils down to the overall look of the game, really. The combat is fine and all, if a good deal less nuanced than the original, but the aesthetic makes exploring Boleteria less engaging than it originally was. It all looks very expensive and has pretty particle effects, sure, but every creature and every locale has been redesigned to look like something out of a cheesy mid-aught’s Burton movie. Ominous mystery is thrown out the window in favor of generic baroque fantasy and lit up by tacky bloom effects that completely erode the look of the original. The game I fell in love with in college and whatever this is are two different things, in my mind.
To me, the appeal of Demon’s Souls lies in how foreboding and impenetrable it feels, which the aesthetic plays a huge part in. There’s a drab ugliness to it that makes you feel downright unwelcome, yet entranced by just how corrupted everything is. You hate to look at the world, but you can’t help but wonder what’s lurking behind every jagged edge of every low-poly corner.
By contrast, the remake throws the visual kitchen sink at the player and tries to fill them with a sense of wonderment at the world. The PS5 Demon’s Souls grabs players by the arm at every turn to look at glitzy in-engine cutscenes and complex models of boring monster redesigns, all while asking “isn’t this cool?” with a breathless fervor. Bluepoint is obsessed with making the player feel like they’re playing a serious, expensive game for big boys, and seemingly doesn’t understand how childish that makes the overall package look.
That’s why I hope the prospect of remaking Souls games starts and ends with Demon’s Souls. No, really – if somebody so much as touches a single part of Dark Souls, I’ll absolutely lose my shit.
The idea of a “better” Dark Souls just sounds bad on a conceptual level. What is Dark Souls without its bad physics, its wonky character models, its muddy textures, its confusing progression, its impenetrable stats or its infuriating difficulty? Much like we shouldn’t go back and try to “improve” movies by adding in new effects, we shouldn’t just assume that something is better if it looks newer or feels more modern. More often than not, new things will look and feel outdated within a few years of release, meaning that the consistent pursuit of making them feel new again is ultimately a fruitless one. Imagine tweaking a single thing about the tense Kapra Demon fight, or making Blight Town more well-lit and easier to navigate. It would ruin key moments of the game where technical limitations actually work in its favor.
I’m not saying this to gatekeep, or to say, “you haven’t beaten the real Dark Souls” to people who enjoy a potential remake. Instead, I’m suggesting that remakes like Demon’s Souls often undermine the artistic integrity of the original. It’s not like a remake of a movie, which is often pitched as a new take on an iconic work, but never a replacement for that work. In gaming, however, companies love to sell gamers on the idea that new is best and old is for last-gen chumps. The consequence of this is that the new thing gets pushed more and more, while the old thing is slowly pushed to the shadows instead of being held up as the classic it is. That’s criminal, and an insult to all the hard work that went into making the original.
Games are art, not just an interchangeable product.
But I could definitely see a remake like this happening to Dark Souls. Actually, it already kind of happened with the base game, when Bandai Namco took down the original Prepare To Die edition from Steam and replaced it with Dark Souls Remastered. That was a smaller slight, sure, but it still walled off players from experiencing the original PC version in all of its weird, buggy glory – not to mention the fantastic mods people had come up with. It was kind of insulting, especially considering how much of the Souls community arose out of 4Chan and the PC gaming community.
That’s why the prospect of a remake worries me to no end. As time goes by, this industry will continue its quest to make the old obsolete and preoccupy us with newer things. However, some things shouldn’t be touched, and if they are, it should only be done with the simultaneous preservation of the original. If there’s eventually some expensive, soulless (heh) remake of Dark Souls made for a more casual audience, I sincerely hope it’s handled better than Demon’s Souls has been. People should be able to play a new version of something side-by-side with the original. If they can’t, then the publisher is complicit in the erasure of history.
Isn’t it a better idea to preserve something like Dark Souls as is, learn from its strengths and weaknesses, then make something new? I’d say it’s worth a shot.
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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.
She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.
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