The Remade Demon’s Souls’ Soundtrack Is (Mostly) Good Enough For Me

The Remade Demon’s Souls’ Soundtrack Is (Mostly) Good Enough For Me

Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s ongoing hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-arse sounds they make. Today we take a trip into the Nexus to compare a classic’s iconic score with the newfangled revamp that attempts to build on it.

For my money, the single brightest spot of the PlayStation 5’s aggressively OK launch lineup was Bluepoint Games’ long-rumoured remake of Demon’s Souls (playlist / longplay / VGMdb), which, outside of certain aesthetic concerns, largely succeeded in honouring the spirit of From Software’s genre-sparking 2009 PlayStation 3 gamechanger. It’s a great game that’s captured me for 70 hours and counting.

Speaking of aesthetic concerns, let’s talk about that controversial new soundtrack. Shunsuke Kida’s original PS3 OST (playlist / longplay / VGMdb / previously on Morning Music) was remarkable for its sparse simplicity. For example, the tense “Fool’s Idol” is little more than a piano melody backed by strings, briefly spiraling up into madness before returning to its origin. Or consider Kida’s famous use of silence in the classic Nexus theme, “Maiden in Black.”

From Software / IvanIMG (YouTube)

Incredibly calm, evocative, almost meditative, this track made a huge contribution to selling the Nexus as a liminal purgatory between worlds, a place of respite for the traumatized, first-time Souls player. Let’s compare it to the remake’s “Maiden in Black,” arranged by Bill Hemstapat and orchestrated by Jim Fowler:

Bluepoint Games / Original Soundtrack (YouTube)

It’s very different, much busier and centered around a chorus (which has a beautiful moment at 1:10 which I always look forward to). The plucked strings don’t appear until three minutes in, and those remarkable silences are now more implied than actually present. This is still a great piece of skillfully composed music, but if we’re going to pick a definitive track for the Nexus, the considerably more distinctive, memorable qualities of Kida’s win me over.

You’ll notice a pattern throughout each soundtrack. Kida’s is minimalist and unusual…often plain, occasionally even a little ugly (he loves those farty horns). Meanwhile Hemstapat’s more bombastic arrangements could be called maximalist, with a more “typical” epic fantasy sound that tends to omit Kida’s most idiosyncratic elements. Each remade track features so much added material it’s sometimes difficult to notice elements of the original tracks they’re ostensibly based on.

In a few cases that might be for the better. I would argue that the very basic-sounding “Leechmonger” boss theme, for example, was not a highlight of the original score. Since I don’t find much to appreciate in the old track, I enjoy Hemstapat’s energetic, dramatic take on the encounter; check out the intense surge at 0:51.

Bluepoint Games / Original Soundtrack (YouTube)

I also really love the first 30 seconds of the new “Fool’s Idol,” which accompanies the boss’s dramatic descent with a heavenly new orchestration and vocal. But the rest of the track’s a wash. It’s fancier and sounds fine, but fails to leave as much of an impression as Kida’s creepy, unadorned minimalism.

Bluepoint Games / Original Soundtrack (YouTube)

Other tracks are more successful at forging their own identity. Kida’s “Flamelurker” was unusual for its plodding, simple melody, an odd but interesting match for one of the game’s fastest, toughest demon encounters. Hemstapat’s “Flamelurker” launches right into bombast that seems more obviously fitting for the fight, and adds a pleasing new theme at 0:43. Only at 2:30 does Kida’s melancholic melody appear, heavily orchestrated, before blending back into the new one. More than many tracks in the remake, I find “Flamelurker” a great fusion of old and new.

Bluepoint Games / Original Soundtrack (YouTube)

We could go on and on, the two soundtracks trading blows, but the patterns are clear. I enjoy much of what Hemstapat and co. came up with for the remake; it’s mostly well-suited to the remade game and some of their innovations and flourishes work well. But I also feel the loss of some of the defining sounds, and the lonely atmosphere they contributed to, that made Demon’s Souls, well, Demon’s Souls.

I find myself in a bit of a Nexus-like liminal space, pulled between old and new. Luckily, I’m not too bothered. At risk of disappointing with an anodyne conclusion, the remake’s music has enough of its own merits that I don’t feel overly distraught with the reimagined soundtrack’s changes…and yes, shortcomings. I would certainly have been interested in a more faithful take on Kida’s score — would it even be possible to substantially update its sound while retaining the weirdness? — but on the whole, what we got is pretty good too.

That’s a wrap for today’s Morning Music! How long will it take for someone to mention Lady Astraea in the comments? I’m starting my stopwatch… now. Say hi down below, and I hope your week goes well!

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