There is something about this game that I’ve never felt before from SoulsBorne games. The first time I played through Sekiro it was a horrifying nightmare fest of death and destruction.
Every six seconds it felt like my skull was getting flattened by almost anything. But I persisted. Why? Mostly because I loved the music, the setting, and the story. Everything beyond the gameplay.
But does that mean I thought the gameplay was bad? Not at all! I didn’t get it at first but I was intrigued. Something about it spoke to me. It worked for me in a way that Souls games just never have. I felt something on a level beyond Bloodborne (which I also liked).
Something was budding for me. Deep in that dirty soil I could sense the arrival of something beautiful. A blossoming that beckoned me. I knew if I kept with it I’d be in for something truly special.
The first run was rough, it felt like it was taking days to finish the game. Each boss was a journey and some of them seemed impossible. Fast forward a week or so and now I find myself beating it in a few hours.
Everything about this game clicks for me. I love Sekiro the Shinobi of the Divine Heir, I love the Carpenter, I love all the merchants, I love most of the bosses. I love basically every song in this game, every zone, and every little touch that speaks to me without me even recognizing it.
Each playthrough I find something new. Each playthrough I realize something different. It is an onion of spectacle that keeps unraveling and I’ve savored every bit of it. Sekiro shines on a level that I feel most FromSoft games could only dream.
This game proved to me that From is not incapable of making a parrying system that isn’t hot garbage. I don’t say that lightly, I try never to speak ill of mechanics in games if I can help it. But look at the videos of how people figured out parrying in Dark Souls 1. They would stand on an elevator and parry a wall then count the number of frames it sparked off the wall.
That is not good to me. You shouldn’t need to write out the parry window for every single item. I love complex games just as much as anyone, but that is just not good design to me.
Here though? Sweet baby jesus. It just works. I can’t believe it. I’ve platinumed Dark Souls 3, Bloodborne, and am a few levels away from doing it in Sekiro. I can say without a shadow of a doubt of the three games, this will be the one I had the most fun finishing. It has no low point on the level of the Chalice Dungeons and it has no bosses or mobs that are as ridiculous as those double dogs. Whatever the blasted things were called.
I think about this game when I’m in between tasks at work. When I’m walking and often before I go to sleep and a bit after I wake up. It will likely join the pantheon of games in my heart that I look back fondly upon.
Honestly the only thing I think this game is missing is the ability to convert money into exp in some fashion. That bit of grinding for the last few skills does take away from the general fun of the game to me. However it is such a small quibble that I just don’t know if I care enough to consider it.
How about the difficulty? I think this is actually one of Sekiro’s biggest hilarious secrets. It makes you think that the game is this fast reflex madhouse of lightning twitch reflexes. But I can assure you that almost no fight requires that. I click buttons often with the frequency and urgency of a man on horse tranquilizers.
This game fools you into thinking that it is the fastest game of the series. But I genuinely don’t think that is the case. With the exception of a single boss at the very end of the game, and perhaps one optional boss, this entire thing is slow. It is methodical and relaxed.
I play it sitting back not because I’m some kind of MLG master. Far from it, that’s the thing. I usually brute force these games out of spite. But with Sekiro I can enter almost any boss fight and just relax. The biggest challenge is getting over the misconception that this is a SoulsBorne game. That every animal or creature is going to decapitate you with a passing fart.
Are some grabs absolutely bonkers? Definitely. Should they have used a different symbol for thrusts vs. sweeps? Absolutely. But at any point, once I learned to just relax, did I feel like I was getting absolutely dunked on? Not really, no.
Sometimes I block and I swear my dude doesn’t. Sometimes I jump and fly off 900 feet in the wrong direction. Other times I jump and move about half a meter. And yes I just mixed up distance units, I’m wild.
But did any of this happen enough to actually matter in the greater scheme of things? No, not even in the slightest. These little problems might be my controller, might be the game, or might even just be me. But the vast majority of the time now I feel like I’m largely in control.
Does this game benefit from making you have to learn that slow is ok? I don’t honestly know. I think a few times I kinda hated the game on my first playthrough. But the second that it clicked that this was a slow game I was living the dream. I switched my attack and block to my triggers rather than the shoulder buttons.
This game is so slow that doing so is not only more comfortable but that kind of inconsistent input for a binary move is actually totally fine!
I’m totally ok with any game having difficulty modes. And I think it is very presumptuous for anyone to assume that having them will rob other people of something special. We are all different people with different desires. What you like might not appeal to me and what I like might not appeal to you.
Did Sekiro need it? Need is a strong word. Do we demand that artists not use colors we don’t like? Do we demand artists not use instruments we don’t like? Would I walk into a McDonalds and demand they start making burritos because I’m not a Hamburger guy?
Hopefully not. Again Hopefully not. And no, I wouldn’t.
Madden games don’t need to have a basketball mode for those of us disinterested in Football. FromSoft doesn’t need to do anything different with their games beyond what they want to do. It is up to us to buy what we like and to not buy what we don’t.
If enough people ask for an amazing stealth shinobi game that is approachable for all skill levels then someone will certainly make it. While I can’t be sure of this for any other industry I can at least be confident that video games, for better or worse, will cater to any audience if they think there is money in it.
Like it, love it, hate it, or otherwise. I can’t dictate how anyone else feels about Sekiro. But I loved it. The hardest part about this review was just not returning to it while talking about it.
There will likely be more posts about the game in the future. Hilarious moments of jenk, boss fights I’m proud of, and maybe a guide or two. I think I can help people see just how easy the combat can be. It is obfuscated behind something of a lie and I respect that that lie can be hard to see through.
If you’ve never played it and are on the fence wait for a sale. The game will be around for a long time and I’m sure it’ll be 20 dollars in not too long. That’ll put you out only a bit more than the average movie ticket and how many of us have wasted money on a movie?
Thanks for your time and I hope that you have as much fun as I did.