Opinion

“Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Is Not A Souls Game. Hear Me Out.”

 

EarthMage.png “The following is a contributor post by the Off-Centered Earth Mage.”

Stop what you’re doing! Don’t close the tab! Put the mouse down and trust me for a few moments. To give some background here, I have not only played earlier Souls-like games from Demons Souls to Dark Souls 1-3 and Bloodborne, I also own way too many various versions and editions of each title but over the past number of years I’ve spent a huge portion of my gaming experience pouring hundreds of hours into each title. This is in no way an attack on either Sekiro itself or the SoulsBorne series. I love these games and I breathe these games. However, since the release of Sekiro, I’ve found myself hearing in almost every discussion variations of “This is a worthy entry into the SoulsBorne series” as well as “This game is bad because it’s not similar enough to the rest of the series.” I have a huge problem with this. Whether a positive or negative comparison, I feel that to compare every game to the SoulsBorne series is only harming the industry. And here’s why.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice deserves to stand on its own two feet. Where do I even begin? There’s the truly innovative and realistic-feeling combat. Never before, at least in my own gaming memories, do I remember a more accurate depiction of sword on sword combat. The ringing of steel on steel, the historical accuracy of blocking and deflecting, the importance of whittling down your opponent’s posture before going all out for their Health. The list could go on and on. So why then is this innovative brand new IP being compared to an entirely different series of games, albeit by the same developer? Because that’s the easy thing to do.

I’ll be the first person to admit that Sekiro shares multiple similarities to the SoulsBorne series. The UI is incredibly reminiscent of Dark Souls and Bloodborne. You have your stock of one-time-use items: damage buffs, health buffs, and so on and so forth. You have your health bar and you have your quick item wheel. You even have your in-game currency. But there is so much more that Sekiro brings to the table. For one, if we look at the general gameplay, if you come at Sekiro the same way you’d play any of the SoulsBorne games, save maybe certain aspects of Bloodborne, you’re going to die. You’re going to die so much more than twice.

Sekiro’s combat is a whole other beast to anything we’ve seen before. Rather than dodging around the enemy waiting for an opening or tanking some light attacks to make space for your own heavy attack you must instead plant your feet in front of your opponent, head down, focusing on every single aspect of the fight that lies ahead of you. You must be able to switch between blocking, dodging and rolling all on a hair trigger. Treat every, or even more than one, engagement the same way as the last and you’ll surely regret it.

Taking a step back from combat for a moment, I’ve been seeing a lot of hate for the apparent “lack of customization” compared with FromSoft’s earlier titles. However, I believe this to be entirely intentional. Quite often in the SoulsBorne series, I found myself putting, or more so having to put, far too much time and effort into upping my stats, changing my gear from weapons to armor to armor sets to this buff and that buff. For me, I always ended up getting an armor set I liked and a weapon I found myself feeling attached to and sticking with that set throughout the rest of the game, regardless of stats. Although I appreciated the freedom of playstyle and fashion sense that this brought, I often found myself longing for a simpler customization model. This is where I believe Sekiro truly shines.

Let us for a moment compare Sekiro to 2018’s God of War. I know, I know, two completely different games. But as I said before, trust me. Sekiro’s main character, similar to Kratos, uses the same weapons throughout the game. In Sekiro’s case, the one-armed Wolf has his Katana (a weapon we know he has a close relationship with) and the Shinobi prosthetic. Much like Kratos and his Leviathan Axe, there is a slew of upgrades and skills made available to us throughout our journey. I absolutely adore that idea of “This weapon is mine and mine alone. It is an extension of my arm and of my Mind.” I find that with the SoulsBorne series, and don’t get me wrong here, I also love this frame of mind, we are often given a myriad of tools and weapons to play with. Dozens perhaps even hundreds of different combinations to find the perfect style of play for the individual gamer. My question is, why can’t we have both? Perhaps it’s possible that the here’s your world here’s a hundred weapons and pieces of armor go-have-fun-style of game simply wouldn’t be nearly as effective in Sekiro.

Is it really so bad that the One-armed Wolf has only his Katana and the transportable toolbox that is his Shinobi prosthetic? Is it really so bad that we’re not roaming the land searching for the next best armor piece or the next best weapon? I truly believe it’s not bad, not bad at all. I think that to automatically lump Sekiro in with the SoulsBorne series purely because of a shared developer as well as similar mechanics is a huge slap in the face to the team behind this beautiful and challenging experience. Not every combat- and exploration-oriented experience has to be “SoulsLike”. I hate that word. Imagine going to so much effort, putting your sweat and blood into creating such an experience, all for it to be seen as little more than an almost copy of something that came before? I’m not saying that this isn’t a compliment in a way. I know gamers who when they say that Sekiro to them is SoulsLike they’re actually saying that Sekiro to them is as enjoyable and worth as much to them as a series that they’ve come to love over the years. So, of course, there are two sides to the conversation.

Now for the big one. The question as to whether Sekiro needs a difficulty setting. This particular little argument has been taking the internet by storm since release. The same argument has cropped up all the way back to Demon’s Souls and in my own opinion always will with games like this.

There are a couple of things I think we need to consider here. Firstly, it needs to be said that the developers’ own vision for their games must be respected at all times. It is not a sign of disrespect to gamers to not include a difficulty setting. I honestly believe that it is never meant in that way. However, I completely understand the argument that a lot of genuine fans of FromSoftware are struggling to get through Sekiro whether it be due to having a busy working life or just not having enough time to sit down and play something so challenging. One of my close friends spoke to me the other day about this. He told me that he had played every single FromSoft game all the way back. With Sekiro however, he now has a family of his own and a full-time job. He told me that the only reason he would ever ask for a difficulty setting in FromSoft games is so he can experience something he loves without spending hours on the same boss or the same area due to difficulty. There is definitely something of note here. To simply respond with the whole “git gud” thing, I find that is as damaging to the genre as putting any game even slightly similar to the SoulsBorne series in the same boat.

So where does this leave us then? Are we to forever worry about voicing our opinions upon the release of a game? Are we to forever lump anything even remotely similar to the SoulsBorne series into the same boat? I believe that this is something definitely worth talking about. If you’ve gotten to the end of this, let us know your thoughts down below!

 

The Off-Centred Earth Mage, known as Thomas Kearns-Horan in some parts of the world, or The Vague Maker of References in even darker places,  can be found in any second-hand bookshop, game store, and occasionally the odd forest. Check in on his escapades here @thomasK_H for a bit of a laugh, and the odd dog photo.

 

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11 replies »

  1. When people refer to Sekiro as a “Soulsborne”, they’re referring to the Soulsborne as its own (sub)genre, and I would agree that it follows very much the same style of gameplay. Where I differ from a lot of people is that I played Sekiro very much the same as I play other Soulsbornes—aggressively, without using a shield. So, to me, Sekiro plays very closely to others in the genre. I don’t think anyone is arguing that Sekiro is part of the Souls narrative universe or the Souls IP.

    Personally, I don’t think it should get an easy mode, but I do think it was actually a tad too difficult. My problem with the game’s difficulty was that it demanded the player master the mechanics of every individual boss—the player is forced to memorize every boss’ every potential attack, with almost no room for error. This is much the same way I felt about Cuphead being overly difficult. One thing I loved so much about other Soulsbornes was that it was always possible to defeat any boss on the first attempt, without ever having seen that boss before. Most bosses were previously designed in such a way that every action had a reasonable tell. This time around, bosses seem to be deliberately designed to mess with your expectations. I still had a ton of fun with the game, but I felt the satisfaction for defeating the malicious enemies of Sekiro wasn’t much greater than the easier ones in other Soulsbornes. To me, that’s the major distinction between Sekiro and other FromSoftware titles: it’s just much harder.

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    • Heya buddy great to hear from you!

      I have to say I agree wirh you on a lot there, some I don’t. Just for the sake of clarification, it’s not that I believe people are saying that Sekiro is part of the Dark Souls or the Bloodborne Universe, it’s that I’m sick of every game these days being compared to Dark Souls or being called a Souls Like because of similar mechanics, style of gameplay, combat system etc. One thing that really gets me is that it seems like any game even remotely similar to Dark Souls, and I’m talking remotely similar as Hollow Knight, is seen as a Souls Like and it can at times become a conversation along the lines of “Well this new game is doing these things that Souls did years ago let’s talk about Souls now and forget about individuality that this game brings to the table.”

      Don’t get me wrong, Sekiro is similar to Souls and it would be wrong of me not to say that. However, I truthfully feel that the combat in Sekiro is far more rewarding than Souls ever was as well as the general gameplay.

      As you said yourself. In most Souls titles you could rock upto the next Boss fog walk, and beat the boss on the first try. Now here’s where I do have to disagree with you. You can one hundred percent beat a lot of bosses in Souls on your first go. The enemy tells and attack patterns are far easier to read. However, my main issue with Souls in as much as comparing it to Sekiro is that you can practically grind out lesser enemies and drastically over level your character to God tier and with a little bit of skill walk through most enemies and bosses. Where as with Sekiro and this is just what I’ve found from my time with the title, you can’t do this. Yes you can upgrade your health and your attack power, but it takes a good bit of time to do this. You literally have to beat mini bosses and bosses to do this.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Souls fan boy. But I truly think that Sekiro does something for combat and even general gameplay that Souls just didn’t do for me. Going back to Dark Souls 1 and 2 it was nearly always block, walk around to the right of the enemy, slash repeatedly at their back until they drop and you’re set. That’s a very broad statement and I’m not taking anything away from Souls in any way I truthfuy am not. But in Sekiro, there’s this huge importance on Skillful and intelligent yet at the same time highly aggressive combat. Every attack has an appropriate reaction whether its jumping over or away from slash attacks to using the Mikiri Counter on thrust attacks or even tanking out regular heavy hitting “Unblockable” Attacks with the ock and deflect mechanic.

      As far as easy mode is concerned and I don’t think this is something I mentioned in my piece but I may have. I truthfully believe that accessibility in Gaming is an amazing thing and I mean that. Only the other day Cory Barlog, the man behind 2018s God of War weighed in on the debate and said that accessibility would never be a hinderence to his Games. However, I truthfully believe that in a Game like Sekiro, if you were to chsngr the difficulty level or alter the challenge any amount, you’d be changing the experience too much. I’m all for difficulty setting in Games. At the end of the day being an adult knowing you probably won’t finish the next big Game because of your college, family and relationship commitments etc etc is soul destroying. At least for me. But even so, I don’t think Sekiro would benefit from a difficulty setting. At the end of the day every enemy is beatable, every attack has its appropriate response and above all eske, every challenge can be overcome.

      Sorry if this came across as a rant! Definitely not intended I truthfully love to discuss this type of stuff and your comment was so appreciated you have no idea!

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      • Hey no problem brother, my comment was mostly a rant itself!

        Just as a disclaimer. I have beaten Sekiro. Every challenge can be overcome, yes. But my point was that the frustration and stress demanded of the player for every mini-boss and boss encounter far outweighed the amount of satisfaction I got from defeating them… upon every victory, it wasn’t reward I felt, it was relief. I think that giving the player the option to grind some extra levels to make things a bit easier for them was a good idea, because regardless of the player’s levels or armour, the game would still provide ample challenge.

        Of course, it all comes down to personal preference. I thought Sekiro was too difficult, to the detriment of my own enjoyment of it. It demanded mastery in place of skill. It didn’t matter how much health or healing items I had at my disposal, because battles ended either one of two ways: being completely obliterated without a chance, or having claimed victory without ever healing. Mastery over skill.

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  2. Really enjoyed reading this, and looking forward to playing Sekiro soon (once I finish Division 2). I’m a big fan these so called ‘Soulsbourne’ games, having played through Dark Souls 1 and still chipping away at the brilliant (and underappreciated) Nioh. From what I’ve read and heard, it sounds like while Sekiro draws some similarities, it’s its own animal that puts combat reaction timing on the forefront. This alone makes it unique. And while I don’t necessarily have a problem with labeling games similar in nature to the ‘Soul’s-style’ of play and difficulty, you have to give credit where credit is due when it comes to notable differences. And it sounds like these exist in Sekiro in a number of ways.

    As far as the difficulty goes, I also think that the creator’s wishes should be respected and if they intend the game to be very difficult or time consuming, then so be it. Every game can’t be for every gamer, and even if they devolved Sekiro into a simple QTE game, some would still complain. The publisher likely realizes that the difficulty may cause lower sales, but I respect that they if they did realize this, but still respected the vision of the creators, then this is something that should be praised and appreciated.

    Not everything need be sanitized or simplified for mass consumption.

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    • Hey buddy glad you enjoyed it!!!!! I’ve actually grown my opinion the past few days. Cory Barlog the God of War fella commented on the whole accessibility thing saying that it would never stop his vision coming into a game. He also said however that he’s not saying that FromSoft have done anything wrong. Now following on from that i talked to a friend of mine recently and he has some really interesting views on the whole difficulty thing.

      He comes from the side that he has a family, full time job and a kid and all that. He said he’d love it if he could make games easier so he could get through them. He said though that in a game like sekiro it just wouldn’t work. I’m not forming this point well but it’s been a long day so just bare with me 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been really enjoying Sekiro Shadows Die Twice, although of course I’ve died much more than twice so far LOL! The game reminds me a lot of Tenchu: Stealth Assassins from back in the day, with the whole stealth and grappling hook thing. Sekiro is tough, but once you get to grips with the very different combat style you have to use compared to other FromSoftware games, then it really kind of opens up the world of Sekiro to explore. Does it need a difficulty level? Well, it wouldn’t bother me, I like the challenge you get from FromSoftware games, but if it enables people to enjoy the game more than why not? Sekiro takes time to master, but once the combat clicks you feel like a badass Ninja! Also, you don’t have to take on every boss or mini boss right away to progress, so if you are stuck, go explore another area, level up a bit, and then go back for another go.

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  4. So I haven’t played any Soulsbourne or Sekiro, as they’re not for me (which is what I think some people should see when it comes to asking the devs to put something in it [difficulty setting] that was not part of their design and vision, evidently), but my question is “Have the devs said anything about Sekiro’s place in the Soulsbourne universe?” If so, that rules out and in a lot of things.

    Beyond that, it sounds like the games (from your description) are generally similar but not identical in detail, which should be expected, yet their general similarities and the fact they come from the same developer should at least make comparisons more viable and understandable than calling Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us, or Mega Man 2 the “Dark Souls” of their respective categories. This piece didn’t really touch on that particular abuse of “everything is Dark Souls” but that is definitely a comparison I cannot abide.

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    • I guess for me, the annoying part is that the devs themselves have said from day one that Sekiro is a brand new IP. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a tonne of similarities. Even down to the UI and the Hud. But for me, that’s not enough to lump it into the same boat as the souls games. To be honest, I felt the same exact way as I did with Bloodborne. Bloodborne, while more similar to the Souls games than Sekiro is, was still seen by the devs as a brand new IP from day one and they said that themselves. I could 100% write another piece talking about how everything nowadays is compared to the Souls series or is the souls of their respective genres.

      Sorry for the rant 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh if that’s specifically what the devs said, then no argument. I’m a firm believer in the creator setting the definitions and parameters for their own creations. I don’t see how you can get a more fundamental interpretation of any work beyond that.

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