Sekiro: First Impressions

I need to unlearn everything my Dark Souls III playthrough taught me. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a different beast altogether. Anyone following my various ramblings on my blog might remember that Sekiro was one of my Four Picks for 2019.

We should be afraid. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a brand new IP from the developers of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and from the released screenshots and trailer, FromSoftware seem to be sticking to what they do best. This means complex one-on-one combat and more-than-likely dying. A lot.

Rendermonkee, Four Picks for 2019

Complex one-on-one combat and dying a lot were fairly safe assumptions, but FromSoftware have surprised everyone by implementing a combat system that’s not only unlike their staple back catalogue, but in many ways rewards a fighting style that is alien to most ‘Soulsborne’ players. For those coming into Sekiro fresh from recent journies through Lothric or Yharnam may well spend their first hour or two ‘untraining’ themselves. Sorry, but dodge-rolling and invincibility frames may have helped under a blood-red moon, but this is 16th century Japan. Your opponents expect you to look them directly in the eye during battle.

I’ve struggled. I spent six weeks grinding my way through every Dark Souls III boss in preparation for this game, only to find those preparations largely useless. Sekiro relies on the art of parrying to the point where it almost feels like a ‘binary’ process. At the moment of the enemies ‘down-swing’ you need to hit your deflect button ricocheting their blade away from you, damaging your opponent’s ‘posture’ and possibly opening them up to a counter-attack.

I’ve had one or two issues with the combat so far, but it’s likely more to do with my inexperience than a criticism of the gameplay. With FromSoftware‘s Dark Souls and Bloodborne predecessors, it felt like we always had a few ‘options’. Keep your distance, observe your opponent and decide on the best course of action; parrying? dodging? range? magic? two-hand? full-armour? no armour? Etc…

Sekiro grants us very little in the way of customisation. Whereas previous FromSoftware games have allowed us to build our character around our gameplay preferences, Sekiro expects us to conform to its rules. This creates a much more refined and focused experience but I’ve yet to decide whether its a system I actually ‘like’.

One of the earliest stumbling blocks is Lady Butterfly, an opponent who had halted my progress until I stumbled across an alternate route allowing me to progress, level up and add one or two extra skills to my repertoire. Ultimately, and as is always the case with FromSoftware, Lady Butterfly was defeated by persistence. Every defeat isn’t a loss, it is a step closer to victory and this is something understood by every soulsborne player.

A couple more bosses later and the world seems to have completely opened up with a variety of paths to explore. It’s a shame that many players I expect will lack the endurance to see beyond the linearity of the first few areas. Speaking of which…

Shortly after the game’s release, it somewhat saddened me to read the controversial subject of ‘difficulty settings’ rear it’s ugly head, especially in relation to Sekiro. I’ve read many viewpoints about this subject, and my initial thoughts have been somewhat derailed due to the argument made around the issue of accessibility, specifically around the subject of disability.

I have no right to suggest that these games shouldn’t be enjoyed by everyone, but the enjoyment of a FromSoftware game is specifically to do with the challenge. I’ve read a post this week from someone suffering from a disability who suggested that an easy mode should be implemented so they can enjoy the game like everyone else. Reading this person’s thread, it was hard to argue against.

But argue people have done. And other people have argued back. And the whole thing has evolved into a vicious row about inclusivity and the rights of the disabled. What’s more, my own thoughts on the matter tended to fall seemingly on the wrong side of popularity, but I’ve felt silenced through a fear of being lynched by a vocal crowd all-to-eager to act as able-bodied saviours.

Sekiro, provides a tremendously difficult challenge. It is this challenge that provides
FromSoftware games their USP. The games are incredibly well-balanced, with the sense of risk-reward so strong that it keeps even an average player such as myself obsessed until every boss has been defeated. This balance isn’t something that happens by accident, and requires constant refinement over the entire course of the game’s development.

Sekiro is a FromSoftware game. We know not to expect levels of difficulty and furthermore, we were told to expect a strictly single-player experience, removing the option of ‘summoning help’ that has been a part of previous soulsborne games. Knowing all of this, if you bought Sekiro expecting something else then the fault lies with you, not a developer failing to implement accessibility options tailored to your specific circumstances (which by the way, won’t be enough for someone else’s specific circumstances).

It’s 2019, and there are zillions of gaming options. There are games to suit every type of player, and we shouldn’t expect every game to cater for every player. There is an abundance of information available online so do your research, and make an informed decision on your gaming choices before purchasing.

I’ll definitely be revisiting Sekiro as the subject for a future blog post once I’ve finished it. It might be a while yet though…

5 thoughts on “Sekiro: First Impressions

    1. Definitely worth a look. It seems to have split opinion online. I’ve read some people have returned it shortly after purchasing, and others hail it as the best From game yet.

      Its a strange juxtaposition of ‘classic From’ and something completely ‘unFromlike’. If you’re into your samurai movies though, it’s got to be one of the best examples in the gaming genre… 👍 (I’ll look forward to your 20 thousand word writeup in the future 😂).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t guarantee my review will be that long, though modern games do generally give me more to talk about than old-school ones.

        And yeah, last year, I ended up seeing a lot of great samurai films such as Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and Seven Samurai.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m disappointed in this whole debate about difficulty too.

    I am on the side of “add a easy mode or whatever” so I could enjoy the narrative. I just don’t think there’s any shame in that.

    If I enjoy the story of a game, I’m more likely to replay it again and again. That’s what I’ve done for years and will continue to do, if the option is available.

    If it isn’t, well, my money has to go somewhere else unfortunately! I have limited time to play video games and that time is diminishing, I just don’t have the time to spend an hour beating a boss that I can waltz through on easy in a few minutes.

    Liked by 1 person

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