Another recently released game and another set of memories to go with it. I guess that’s just how it goes when you play a lot of remakes and remasters these days. Apparently, the original game was free on PlayStation Plus in April of 2013, which is when I played it last. I just checked and I have no trophies for the game, so that tells you everything you need to know. Anyways, this was a game that I heard about how brutally hard and unforgiving it was, which made me a little skeptical on whether I should play it or not. I bounced off of it really hard and never went back.
I remember getting into the first level, 1-1, and making my way through the castle, and I think I went down a path I wasn’t supposed to and kept getting killed by some elite knight. I didn’t understand the game and how it was supposed to work. The loading times were shitty and interrupted the flow while increasing the amount of pain that went along with death. I attempted to have another go at it and saw that I had to start the level anew. If I remember correctly, I tried the level once or twice more and then called it quits.
Smash cut to the launch of PS5. I got platinum in Bloodborne and Sekiro under my belt, and close to getting it in Dark Souls 3 (fuck all that grinding). I can mess with some Miyazaki games, I’m down for the grind, so let’s get it in Sony! They had BluePoint slap a new coat of paint over the PS3 game and now it has some fast loading times thrown in for good measure. Of course I had to fork over 70 USD for it, which hurts a bit since I’m not for their pricing structure this generation.
Leading up to this game, I was worried that it wouldn’t have aged well, that combat and movement would feel stilted and that the level design would feel basic compared the how great Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 was. Color me surprised when this game actually felt spot-on on par with those previous games. It wasn’t much of a challenge to control my character and the layout of the levels all worked wonderfully for me.
I did have an issue with the pacing of some of the levels, it feels like the checkpoints are too far apart sometimes. I’m not sure if everybody is like this, but when I play one of these games, I have to do one pass of a level where I kill every single enemy in one go. If I run past them I get the impression that I’m missing out on the adventure and that I’m cheating in a way. Tie this with my methodical approach and you can go for an uncomfortably long stretch without a checkpoint. Other stages are much shorter or have better shortcuts in them so it eases some of the tension you feel while playing.
Okay, okay, back to the beginning. I started my first character as a Temple Knight and then restarted as a Royalty class since I wanted to try the magic. I almost beat the first ‘boss’ with this character, I got surprising close to doing it and felt pretty good about myself afterwards. I almost rolled a new character to have another attempt and to say I did it, but didn’t. I liked the character creator, you can customize a bunch of facial features and make a Finchy if you want, but I just went with a preset face and called it a day.
What you notice right away when you get into the first area is the framerate, it’s at 60 FPS by default which is really the way it’s meant to be played. It’s locked to 60 for the majority of play, with slight dips when things get crazy but it recovers quickly. If you decide to switch over and see how it looks in the graphics mode be warned that it’s going to hurt going back and forth. The framerate of the graphics mode really feels chunky in a way I wasn’t expecting, I think it has to do with switching on the fly, you notice it a lot more than if it had to stop and reload the whole game for the one change. I did some comparison shots to show the difference in graphical quality, it really does seem like it’s down to resolution (which you don’t notice) and the density in the tessellation on the height maps. The next major improvement that you’ll notice is the loading speed when you warp around the levels. It really does make the world feel more connected and allows the player to experiment more and not feel like you’re being punished so harshly from dying.
So, as a fairly experienced Souls player, I didn’t find the combat too hard in this game. The enemies and especially the bosses were more basic compared to what the other games do. I feel like that fits into the natural progression for this title though, it’s the first in the series. This actually makes it a decent starting point for other players who want to try one of these games. You can parry and backstab enemies, or shoot magic fireballs at them from a distance. I do recommend that all players look up a recommended level progression for which levels to play since the game doesn’t tell you in any way. I had a list of what the internet deemed the correct order and followed that without much headache. If you want more of a struggle then don’t look anything up on your first playthrough.
The one surprising thing I found about this game is that the bosses are not as difficult as I thought they would be. There are no crazy beasts that jump around the map, taking huge swipes and shooting electricity out of their body like in other Souls games. You get a fairly basic set of boss encounters, a good deal of which I beat without dying. There were a couple that took me a couple tries, but nothing as hard as some of the bosses in the other games. If you last played Sekiro and still had nightmares over some of those boss encounters, this will feel like a stroll in the park. It felt a little refreshing to have a game in this series not be as difficult as one would expect, but perhaps that is more up to my knowledge in the games and not a blanket statement.
The player progression is another area that felt good for me, as it does in the other games in the series. It’s the best feeling in the world the first time you go back to world 1-1 and just run through it one-hitting every enemy. You feel like your character is really getting better and stronger, you almost want to just clear out every enemy just to feel a little sense of satisfaction over your power curve. The levels themselves hold many secrets, with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. You’ll always be rewarded for going out of your way to explore a section of the map. Weapons can be upgraded at the blacksmith and I did this a few times, you just need the right pieces of stone and a little bit of souls. I don’t see myself going all out with this game to get the platinum, mostly because I’m not sure how hard it is to flip the world tendency from the white that I have it. I looked up the requirements for some of the trophies and I feel like I don’t have it in me to do the grind required. It’s not overly hard or complicated, just a bit more than I’m down for right now.
The graphics in this remaster are just top tier. While they don’t rely on ray tracing for shadows or reflections, you don’t really miss them. It feels right that they clearly meant for the 60 FPS mode to be the default that everyone should experience. It makes me wonder what I was missing out on the other Souls games I played on PS4 that were capped at 30, perhaps they need to be patched or remastered as well. Each world is beautifully created, featuring massive amounts of geometry and some really great lighting. It sets a mood and grounds the world in a way that was impossible on the older hardware. I was constantly tapping the left side of my touch pad to pull up the photo mode and capturing images of the architecture.
The inclusion of the photo mode is something that really does need to be talked about. I mean, it’s a great feature that every game should have, but it’s a little controversial to have it in this one. For one, it pauses the game, something that wasn’t possible with the PS3 version. Secondly, it allows you to do things on your journey that, maybe, isn’t how you’re supposed to play. When I was getting deep into a level and starting to get nervous about dying and losing all my souls, perhaps I would just go into photo mode and move the camera around in front of me to get some intel on what’s lurking around the next corner. Hey, the game allows you to do it so you can’t fault me for using the tools in the game to play the game. It might not be in the spirit of the game, but I’m not hurting anyone so who cares.
Living in my new place, I recently got an Sonos Arc sound bar with rear speakers, so I now have an Atmos sound system in my living room. I also received the new Sony Pulse 3D headset and played the game with both. The game has some really impressive audio, if you’d like to experience a cool bit then just get to the part with the red dragon on the bridge and hear his wings beat as he goes over you. The sound design is great, and wearing the headphones allowed me to pinpoint enemy locations and to track their movement in 3D space with relative ease. I don’t think the full 3D Tempest audio is at the level promised by Mark Cerny right now, the only adjustments you can really do in the system have to do with height. It does sound good though, I just wish we had some way to map it to our own ear profile like was hinted at in the GDC conference. Perhaps I’ll review those setups later, but the audio itself was really good and did a great job at immersing me in the game world while also helping me survive my runs.
Final Score 9.3
This game was better than I thought it was going to be. It held up surprisingly well over all these years and the subsequent games in the genre. The extra layer of polish and shine that BluePoint applied really creates a standout launch game for the PlayStation 5. If you can deal with a game that might not be the easiest, watch some videos and check some guides before jumping in, it’s a rewarding and satisfying experience. That is where these games shine, the feeling you get from exploring a world and besting the boss at the end is unparalleled in gaming today. This title respects you as a player and it knows that you can get better if stick to it and try again and again. If you give up, like I did all those years ago, then you’ll just say how hard it was. If you keep at it and persevere then you’ll say how great you were at it and how you bested it. You will feel accomplished and satisfied in a way that is hard to match in any other games released today.