Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is one of those must get games on my list due to my From Software fandom. I love their games. I was fascinated by the Souls Saga, the Dark Souls trilogy, and Bloodborne is still for me one of PS4’s best exclusives. One questions lingered my mind after Sekiro was announced to be such a departure from the Dark Souls franchise. Is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice going to be up to the Dark Souls standard? Is it as hard as they claim? After playing it for a vast number of hours, I have answers to my questions. But, one new debate has now overruled all those answers: Is an easy mode needed?
Sekiro, The Lone Wolf
From Software is a Japanese based studio. Dark Souls had a lot of western influence, but such is not the case with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. One of the first things you notice when Sekiro starts is how much the studio enjoyed working in the cultural details that tie together the cohesive Japanese world and lore that bring Sekiro to life.
The story is clear and told in a very entertaining pace. Just like in other From Software games, you need to be attentive to details and even eavesdrop on conversations from enemies to puzzle together the big picture of what’s happening in the Hirata state, the initial point for this story. Long gone are the days in which you needed to figure out your character’s motivations from cryptic NPC dialogues as you did back in the Soulsborne games.
The initial moments of the game give us a surviving child after a war zone scene. A prominent shinobi, The Owl, forgives his life, adopt him and name him the Lone Wolf. As the years pass, the now adult Lone Wolf is given to
I won’t go over the story that much, barely the first hour. But, if you want to experience the game without a spoiler, go ahead and skip this paragraph. The whole idea behind the Shadows Die Twice moniker is that you can be brought back from death. The story revolves around this mysterious ability and how Kuro’s kidnapping is related to all this. Oh, by the way, when trying to rescue Kuro from being taken away, you lose your arm in a fight. That’s why you get your prosthetic arm.
The Shinobi Path
Sekiro’s gameplay is as punishing and rewarding as From Software is famous for. You use your katana to deflect an attack. You can also dodge incoming attacks, but that won’t help you defeat an enemy as much as deflecting. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice departs from the Souls saga considerably in the gameplay department. This time around, there’s no stamina bar. You get to dodge and attack as much as you want.
To replace the stamina bar, there’s a posture bar. This bar indicates how open an enemy is to a deathblow. Once the bar is filled, posture is broken and you can asses a fatal deathblow that will deplete the HP bar of an enemy completely. Bosses and mini-bosses have more than one bar, sometimes they even have several fight stages with additional bars in each phase.
Tools worthy of a Shinobi
This mechanic takes some time to master. The learning curve here is a big one for most players, but it is oh so rewarding! The fluidity from blocking an attack successfully, to getting a hit in and finally barring the enemy’s retaliation is as smooth as silk. Just dodging won’t do here, you must face even the biggest bosses and use their deadliest move against them to break their posture and lead them to their eventual demise. The amount of enemies and their variety is welcomed. The way you approach each of them varies considerably, which avoids you getting bored of doing the same thing over and over again.
As you progress in the game, you will also get shinobi tools for our prosthetic arm. This tools add small yet satisfying gameplay variations and will make your playthrough a lot easier if you use them appropriately. Many enemies are weak to specific shinobi tools, depleting their posture bar much faster or opening them for more powerful attacks.
The World of Sekiro
The 16th-century fictional Japanese setting is superb. Every detail is crafted with care. Visually, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a stunning showcase of Japanese culture. Every area you discover has its own charm and enemies. Even though the game has some real cruel bosses that will take several (if not dozens) attempts to beat, exploration of each area is always entertaining, and there are enough secrets and NPC quests to keep you invested in the game.
It’s a shame that there’s no photo mode for Sekiro, as you will be amazed a multitude of times with its gorgeous environments. The world around you feels alive, and the level design is terrific. You truly get that sense of an expansive and massive map, with no loading between areas. Even when you fast travel, loading times are bearable and better than they were in previous From Software games.
Sound design is in the same quality level as visuals. The environments feel alive and cohesive to the visual fidelity. Just as with the graphical section of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the sound mixing for every new area of the game and enemy is different, making the experience a gratifying one even from an audio perspective. Audio here plays a massive role in battles. All the audio queues are on spot! The sound of steel clashing together and the particular sound that the danger kanji makes when it appears on screen to indicate an impending attack are essential to master your deflection and dodging skills.
An almost perfect presentation
The only spot that blemishes the spectacular presentation of this game is its framerate in consoles. I was saddened to see that my experience with the game on Xbox One X matched the findings that Digital Foundry pointed out in their video. They gave an in-depth look at the console versions of Sekiro and discovered that the game suffers from frame drops and frame pacing issues on both PS4 and Xbox One.
This makes the game less fluid on occasions. It is not unplayable by any means, and since it is an unlocked framerate, it hovers a bit above 30 most of the times. Although, these drops do impact gameplay, mainly because of how precise your dodges, counters, and deflects need to be.
Does Sekiro need an easy mode?
The game is a challenge indeed. So was the intention behind the design of its creator, Hidetaka Miyazaki, had when he envisioned the project. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has a learning curve that matches and even outsells those in the likes of Dark Souls. But, similarly, it is also as rewarding or even exceedingly better in that sense that other games from Miyazaki.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will pose a challenge for most gamers, that’s a fact. It isn’t the kind of game that will appeal to all players, and that’s ok. The fact that Sekiro has no co-op and how it approaches leveling is undoubtedly the most highlighted factors that make it harder than the Soulsborne series. Still, even with these limitations, the game throws many techniques and prosthetic tools that you can utilize to overcome the lack of the mentioned before elements. It is a trade-off that takes time and patience to adjust to, but it is also one that’s achievable.
This debate will always be divisive, due to the many angles you can approach it. The game will be a different game with an easy mode, at least so thought its creator. That won’t stop many requesting for an easier difficulty and even going as far as feeling entitled to it.
My personal experience with the game has been not a frustrating one, but rather a challenging one. In this discussion surely everyone has a voice and I can’t say there’s a wrong side of the argument. I believe that difficulty and how you overcome it is a personal matter rather than a flaw in game design, at least when we refer to this case in particular.
As a From Software fan, this game has delivered and exceeded my expectations in almost every regard. The animations and gameplay style are addictive. Sound design is superb, and the Japanese delivery with subtitles is pure audible enjoyment. Learning and mastering each of the techniques, tools, and stealth approaches is a challenge, that albeit hard and patience consuming, reward you with such a great feeling of fulfillment that few games can nowadays deliver. It is a close to perfect package that is only brought down by technical issues present on consoles and some occasional camera issues. All I can say is, Miyazaki-san,
If you’re into Sekiro, here’s how it surprisingly helped me with my day to day anxiety!