REVIEW: Dark Souls Remastered

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

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Dark Souls Remastered | Title Screen
Title Dark Souls Remastered
Developer FromSoftware, Inc.
Publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment Inc.
Release Date October 19th, 2018
Genre Action RPG
Platform Nintendo Switch
Age Rating M for Mature
Official Website

Similar to other games that have been remastered, this review will primarily focus on the aspects of the new version that have changed from the original. I will briefly address the game itself for any new players still out there, but the focus will be on which version of Dark Souls is the best to play, and what the Nintendo Switch version brings to the table.

But first, a little history. Dark Souls is the second entry in what is now called the Soulsborne series of games. The game is the spiritual successor to the PlayStation 3 exclusive Demon’s Souls. That first title was co-developed by Sony Japan Studio along with FromSoftware, but Sony did not feel confident that the hardcore style of the game would appeal to Western markets. So, the job of localization and publishing fell to ATLUS USA. While initially considered a failure, online buzz picked up enough steam to eventually reach major games press coverage. It was only after that point that Bandai Namco approached FromSoftware with the idea to create a new series that would be cross-platform and feature multiple entries. Dark Souls was the result of that new direction, and it represented a watershed moment in gaming for many people.

Dark Souls Remastered | Age of Fire

And so the Age of Fire was born.

As someone who grew up with an Atari 2600, arcade cabinets, and eventually an NES, difficult games were an expectation. There was a time when if someone suggested that they were able to beat a game, your standard response was disbelief until they could prove it to you firsthand. Needless to say, gaming went in a different direction in the modern age. This was especially true by 2011, when this game was unleashed on a largely unsuspecting population. Suddenly more difficult experiences returned back into fashion, largely because of that massive adrenaline rush that comes from being able to best a real challenge.

But that was only the drug that got you in. Once into the Souls-like experience, people found a deep and vivid lore waiting for them. Many people (myself included) consider Dark Souls II to be a bit of a misstep and Dark Souls III to be a return to form, but for a lot of Soulsborne fans a remaster of the original game has been extremely high on their wish list. FromSoftware finally answered the call this previous year, and with the success of the Nintendo Switch, it was also announced that a port would be arriving for the portable console.

Dark Souls Remastered | Die

Prepare to die, many times over.

More than likely you already know whether this game is for you. But, at the same time, new converts to this series are made every day. I’ll briefly go into what the major hooks are for the game. The first thing you should know is that there is no major story to the game, but there is a ton of lore. In other words, your character is not on a guided quest that you are moving along to typical narrative beats and structure. You can go pretty much anywhere you want until you meet up with a door that you are missing the key for. Some directions you can go will have far more difficult enemies, but none of them are impossible. (Hence why this game is a speedrunner’s dream.)

Along the way you will find many different creatures and items that have major backstories you can piece together by gathering all the associated items and reading their descriptions. You can also infer a lot of events by building architecture and enemy placement. There are a few NPCs scattered around as well, but anything they say is very vague and cryptic. That being said, the community has spent years piecing together all the lore, and the world story it tells is very fascinating.

Dark Souls Remastered | Friend

The difference between friend and foe is a razor’s edge in this world.

The other aspect of the Soulsborne series of games that is widely known, and also misunderstood, is the difficulty. Even for myself, I will often just warn people that the games are difficult, although that is seldom the whole story. That is just the easiest way to warn people that they need to be vigilant when they play the games, and that they may not be for casual gamers. What they really are is more methodical than difficult. There are ways that you can make it more difficult for yourself, by either being underleveled or by engaging in risky combat tactics. But really you can just sword and board (one-handed sword with a shield) your way through 90 percent of the game.

That is the most boring way to play for most people, so it’s more fun if you find a fighting style that you will enjoy. You just have to be prepared to lose lives every now and then by either engaging in risky behavior, or learning enemy and boss patterns. You may lose souls that you were stockpiling, but you will never lose any levels you have already gained. Just have the patience to allow the game to teach you how to play it. And that is the secret of these games; you can’t really rely on your skills from other games to get you through. It’s training, but the training is worth it.

Dark Souls Remastered | Graphics

Even on the Switch, the graphics upgrade is noticeable.

I personally like Dark Souls III the most out of this direct series, but Bloodborne is my favorite FromSoftware game, and one of my favorite games of all time. I still would have given the game either 4.5 or 5 stars back when it was originally released. That being said, the original Dark Souls has not aged quite as well as we might have liked. Of course graphics have gotten a lot better over the years, but the FromSoftware physics engine has also really improved with each release in this franchise.

The largest problem, prior to the Remaster, is that the game was relegated to the previous generation consoles and a very shoddy PC port. So it was not very easy to continue to play, even beyond the dated aspects. The graphics have received quite a decent overhaul, enough to definitely earn the remastered moniker, but not enough to be called a remake. The physics seem to be slightly improved, but backstabs are still extremely easy to get, and corpses on the ground still have a habit of sticking to your character. But, as I said, the largest issue was the convenience of having the game working well on current generation systems and PC.

Dark Souls Remastered | Sorcerer

I decided to start with a sorcerer for the first time in this game.

With the Switch version, we also now have the coveted ability to take our Soulsborne on the go. That is a really quality addition that is difficult to put a price tag on. It will probably ensure that this version is my most played version of Dark Souls for the foreseeable future. I do also have the game on PC. It was a fairly minor cost to upgrade to the remastered version, after all. And it is noticeable in some of the graphics and animation where they had to cut corners on the Nintendo Switch in order to keep the framerate up, but there were two major issues I had, which will definitely bring down the overall score.

The first issue I noticed, and others online have also picked up this one, is that there is a slight, noticeable delay between many inputs and the actions on the screen. This was slightly noticeable with heavy attack, but extremely noticeable with sorcery spells. I chose a sorcerer this time because it’s a very quick way to burn through the game if you know how to play it. This mostly worked, but there were quite a few needless deaths I had due to my spells having up to a couple seconds of delay. That may not seem like much, but that is huge in a game like this. The other issue I had was that the game is pretty dark on the Switch, much darker than it is on PC. This was true in docked mode, but it was especially bad in handheld mode. Normally I can get by okay, but there were certain sections of the game where it was almost impossible to play in handheld mode and I had to wait until I could dock again.

Dark Souls Remastered | Definitive

Not the definitive edition, but portability is very nice.

These issues do lower the score a bit and affect my overall enjoyment of the game. That being said, the portability factor is a huge one. Is this the definitive version of Dark Souls? No, I would say that belongs to Dark Souls Remastered on PC (or maybe current gen consoles). But if you just want to go through the game for the 20th time and you want to do so on the go, this is a really quality release. I can’t recommend it for PVP due to the lag, and you would generally not want to do that on the go with WiFi anyways. So this is a great release, as long as you know what you are getting. It certainly justifies the full $59.99 price, but I don’t think that I can recommend paying for the Nintendo Online service just to PVP in this game. What I can recommend is taking this game on long trips, like I did a couple weeks ago, and just soaking in that glorious Soulsborne horror while you are sitting in bed.

Review Score

Review copy self-purchased.

About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.