“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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