Back when I played Demon’s Souls for the first time, like a lot of folks, I didn’t really understand it. It wasn’t until Dark Souls (when the genre became a true breakout hit) that I internalized just how much I love these games. Yet I never went back. I knew that it was in many ways the most experimental game in the series. I knew I missed a lot from my first time — as I barreled and cheesed my way through the experience without stopping to explore. But I’ve always had a tough time replaying the same old games when I have new ones always building up on the horizon. Inexperience kept me from appreciating Demon’s Souls on PS3. Guilt kept me from giving it another chance.
The PlayStation 5 remake, naturally, reopened that door. It’s not the exact same game. Much ink has already been spilled about why just looking different makes it a unique experience. And that’s perfect for my purposes. It’s a marquee launch title for the hardware: a brand new game. I don’t feel bad about hunting down all the old secrets I skipped. More importantly, at least in my early hours, this is a new chance to tackle the game in wildly different ways.
The classic “sword and board” method of Souls games is still there. You can take a rapier and a shield and do just fine — as I did back in the day. But sorcery, miracles, ranged builds, and a plethora of weapons to try in both one- and two-handed styles are also available. The progression systems in Demon’s Souls encourage various combinations, too. Even if you use melee weapons, the Crescent path of upgrades makes you do more physical damage with your magic stat. So you benefit from working yourself into a sort of battlemage.
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And now? Now I’m way more prepared to experiment. It’s not just because of experience with other From Software games, either, or a desire to break free from the very singular way Sekiro forced me to play last year. I’ve gone full circle, baby. Now Monster Hunter is informing the way I play Demon’s Souls.
Prior to Monster Hunter World, the Souls games actually felt like a slightly more surmountable version of the Capcom series. Both require you to learn a particular, massive creature’s attack patterns. Both emphasize animation priority (i.e. getting locked into an attack and unable to dodge or block). If anything, I credit Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne with acting as my gateway drug to the even more esoteric Monster Hunter franchise.
On the other hand, the single-player series gives you more granular ways to overpower obstacles. You can farm the Shrine of Storms for an hour and simply become too hard to kill. You also only need to beat each boss once. The dump truck-ass monsters of Monster Hunter must be felled over and over again. And you can’t get stronger until after you carve them into armor.
Spending a few thousand hours hunting Rathalos, Tigrex, and various Elder Dragons honed my patience for memorizing boss fights. Many Demon’s Souls enemies now seem trivial by comparison, which yoinks me out from behind the safety of my old Heater Shield.
From Software has forced this move before. Such as in the aforementioned Sekiro. Bloodborne did it before that, and famously poked fun at shields with its useless incarnation in that game. But this motivation usually comes at the cost of variety. Sekiro gives you a single sword and a handful of techniques to use it. Bloodborne eventually added more viable builds, but required The Old Hunters expansion to get there. Demon’s Souls, comparatively unrefined as it is, lets me fire magic missiles and turn invisible as much as my mana bar allows.
My desire to poke at every missed nook and cranny of Demon’s Souls might have already pushed me into more unique builds as I dismantle the many bosses in my way. But Monster Hunter did more than just hone my skills. It made me bored.
It’s a live game, after all. Getting tired of the same old thing is almost inherent to that pseudo-genre. It happens to everything from Warframe, to Destiny, to Granblue Fantasy. I know because I play all those games. I love them! I also recognize their weaknesses. Monster Hunter has become one of my absolute favorites in the field specifically because it does a great job of sidestepping this issue.
The latest games sport 14 different weapon types with entirely different play styles for me to master, swap to, and keep things fresh against the same old beasts. Switching from the relative safety of an exploding lance, to a party buffing machine that bonks enemies with bagpipes, to a Charge Blade that requires a degree in thermodynamics makes big changes much easier to swallow. And the endless nature of the live game gave me the runway to learn that Demon’s Souls can’t on a single, scripted playthrough.
Now I’m rocking a bow, spells, miracles, a spear, and a greatsword. Though I doubt it will take me thousands of hours to figure out a more specific build this time around.
Practice made me ready to hang up the sword and board. But boredom prepared me to try new things. It’s cemented the fairly faithful Demon’s Souls remake into a brand new game for me. I don’t feel guilty about how much fun I’m having at all.