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June 2019

Dark Souls: Remastered

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Developer: Virtuos
Release Date: Oct. 19, 2018

About Andreas Salmen

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Switch Review - 'Dark Souls: Remastered'

by Andreas Salmen on Oct. 23, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Dark Souls: Remastered allows players to explore the twisted ancient land of Lordran in the first title of the action role-playing series like never before.

Buy Dark Souls: Remastered

If you're a Switch owner, chances are that you've seen a fair number of ports this year. One of the most anticipated ports is Dark Souls: Remastered . Originally promised in May, the first Souls entry on a Nintendo console was delayed until October. Now that we finally have the finished product in hand, we're evaluating whether it was worth the wait and if one of the more challenging games of the past decade works on a system that was designed to be portable.

The original Dark Souls has left an undeniable mark on the video game industry. Fans of the genre may even go back one further to Demon Souls, but Dark Souls introduced the mainstream audience to its unconventional and unforgiving world, which had a gritty atmosphere and death lingering around every corner. Seven years and a full trilogy later, Dark Souls: Remastered reminds us why the original was such a highly influential game that still holds up today. The port itself is not nearly as impressive, though.

If you haven't had the honor, let me provide a brief introduction to Dark Souls before discussing the port. For starters, we are undead — kind of. We start with creating our character in a pretty restricted creator, but generally, the selections are rather inconsequential since our visual appearance is usually under a layer of heavy armor.

We start out in the undead asylum, which is the tutorial area that's full of traps and an intimidating first boss. From the very start, Dark Souls may appear to be a bare-bones action RPG experience, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Dark Souls is equipment-centric, which means your loadout and build is what will make the most difference in the game. You have a weak and a strong attack, an optional shield, and the ability to roll and dodge out of harm's way. There are a few more moves on top of that, such as attacks from above, but these are the moves you'll mostly rely on.

While slicing your way through Dark Souls, you'll encounter an extensive number of twisted creatures that are very eager to end your life. With each kill you perform, you gain souls that can be spent as currency for gear and upgrades or to level up. It's integral for progression, and when you die, you'll lose them. You have a chance to regain lost souls on your next run; otherwise, they're gone forever, which can be a significant setback — especially in the late game. Upon your demise, you're returned to the last bonfire, a rare checkpoint that lets you rest, level up and invoke humanity (more on that later).

The reason why Dark Souls is such a terrifying, challenging and rewarding experience is the way it offers a very steep risk-and-rewards gameplay loop. The game combines enemies and level design in a way that initially feels challenging, frustrating, and almost insurmountable to the player. Every enemy and boss we move beyond is a motivating step in our in-game development that ultimately comes down to us figuring out and solving a gameplay puzzle that punishes us for every misstep. You may have heard that Dark Souls is tough as nails, and you may have been put off by that. Rest assured that it is indeed challenging, but it is fair, so it consistently delivers rewards in the form of progression that feels earned by your own sweat, tears, and broken controllers. More than skill, it demands your time to figure out how it works. The more time you spend, the more you'll get out of the experience, from pure gameplay to the dense lore that is never spelled out unless you look for it.  With that comes incredibly creative level and boss design; it was one of the best we had seen at that point in time, and in many respects, that still holds true today.

The first Dark Souls also solidified its approach to incorporate online play and community into its single-player campaign. As an undead, we can switch into human form with special humanity items at bonfires that impact our immediate health and enable us to play online. Dark Souls lets us and other players transcend into other people's games, either to help them or to destroy them. In fact, the presence of other players is an integral part of the world of Dark Souls. You'll find bloody messages left by others on the floor, blood stains that replay someone else's demise, and phantoms of people who are currently in the same area.  Taken in conjunction with the gameplay loop, Dark Souls is a fascinating game to explore, but chances are that you already knew that. What's more interesting is whether Dark Souls is still worth it and, more importantly, if it works well on the Switch.

The mere fact that the Switch version of Dark Souls: Remastered was delayed significantly had some people worried, but thankfully, it worked out in its favor. We have to assume that there were reasons for the delay, so the finished product is as solid as it can be. It just doesn't shoot for the stars.

The remaster on the Xbox One and PS4 are the ones everyone will be looking at in terms of raw power. The Switch version does not feature 60fps and improved graphics. In fact, it is pretty much the same game we played years ago on our last-generation hardware. Some fans weren't pleased with the remaster on other consoles, so that may be a positive for the Switch version. If anything, it's an authentic experience with almost no differences except the resolution and frame rate. Dark Souls on Switch runs 1080p/720p in docked and handheld mode, respectively, with a target frame rate of 30fps. The original release was a mess in the frame rate department, especially the infamous Blighttown area. The Switch iteration massively improves upon this, with 30fps being achieved most of the time. There are some noticeable drops in performance, but it never gets unbearable or unplayable.  As a result, Darks Souls: Remastered on Switch isn't really a remaster, but the version we had hoped for eight years ago. That's certainly not a bad thing, but it also doesn't add much in terms of gameplay or visuals to significantly transform the experience.

The Switch adds one feature by design: portability. Dark Souls: Remastered can be played in portable mode, as long as you aren't logged into the game servers. Putting the game into sleep mode and waking up will cancel your connection and send you back into the main menu, which can be annoying when you just wanted a quick drop-in/drop-out session. Once we're playing offline, putting the system into sleep mode works more reliably, but sometimes, it seemed like some parts of the game continued to run in the background for a bit. Again, it's not necessarily great if you want to take the game out and about, especially when everything can kill you with a few precise strokes. That doesn't take away from the fact that it's great to be able to play a game that's as addicting and demanding as Dark Souls on a plane or train, especially when the above-mentioned factors are kept in mind. It surely isn't the best way to play the game, as the Joy-Cons and screen brightness (which we had to frequently adjust) can make portable Dark Souls a nail-biting experience. Portable console or not, this title is still best enjoyed on the large screen with a Pro Controller. It's nice to have the portable options, though.

There are more things that don't add to the experience in a good way. The sound in the remaster on Switch is weirdly muffled on many occasions, probably due to compressions to keep the game under 4 GB. It's great for internal storage, but bad for sessions with headphones or any decent sound system. This is probably the most notable downgrade, even from the original, and you will have to decide how bothersome it'll be for you. It doesn't destroy the experience, but it's not great.

The next minor gripe would be the controls, which are consistent with the original PlayStation button layout. This means A is used as the "back" button, and B is used to confirm in menus, which goes against pretty much any other game and Nintendo controller conventions. It's unintuitive and confusing, but it's nothing major since any in-game button can be remapped — except the menu controls.

With that said, let's recap what Dark Souls: Remastered on the Switch is all about. Dark Souls is still a great game that offers fun and challenge in abundance. It hasn't aged perfectly, and it shows its age here and there, but that doesn't take away the impact it had on the industry and the great world and gameplay it has brought us. If you haven't played a Souls title yet, be aware that you may or may not be a fan of this type of game.

On the other hand, the port for Switch is OK. It doesn't do much, and it does even less if we look at it as a "remastered" version. The game hasn't been remastered on the Switch; it's been ported. It looks and feels like the original did, with some quality of life improvements to enhance performance and resolution. In the end, the fact that it looks closer to the original may even be the reason to like this iteration better than the others, but it surely isn't anything to write home about. The degraded sound and button confusion don't do it a lot of justice, either.

All in all, Dark Souls: Remastered on the Switch is a solid port that presents a modern classic to a new audience. While this version is an overall good showing, it falls short in sound quality and lacks any significant improvements over the original. Most will get this for the sake of playing Dark Souls in the restroom, and there is no valid argument I can bring against that.

Score: 8.0/10

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