Sekiro: Die Twice, Shame On You, Die More Than That, Shame On You (Game Night)

*Deep breaths* Okay. I’m going to say something odd. But stick with me, okay? I promise, I’ll try my hardest to be completely fair. Ready?

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a good game. However: I don’t like it.

Initially, I absolutely loved this game. However, as time went on, more cracks appeared. By the time I reached twenty total hours of play time, I realized that I was having no fun whatsoever. I couldn’t stand to keep playing. I had had enough. To my utter disappointment, Sekiro turned out to be a game not meant for me.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty about this game that I love! However, for each positive, I found an equal negative. Sometimes the negative was even more pertinent than the positive.

Today, I’m going to give you my detailed report on Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. If you disagree with me at any point, cool! Let me know what you think. Do you share my opinions, or do you enjoy the game?

Anyways, let’s get started with my biggest issue:

Story: Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

Sekiro, in terms of it’s plot, seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. On one hand, it wants to tell a traditional narrative, as you’d see in any other game or movie. On the other, it tries to be a Dark Souls-Bloodborne style story, buried in obscurity, vague hints and a total lack of clear answers. However, the two styles, as well as the tones they naturally take, clash more often than they work together, resulting in a plot that just seems… off from beginning to… well, the point that I dropped it.

The basic synopsis, without major spoilers, goes like this. Your character, a nameless shinobi who simply goes by Wolf by most, serves a young lord with special blood. After he’s kidnapped, it’s up to you to go rescue him and keep him safe from any who would take his power for their own.

It’s an… alright narrative, in terms of traditional story telling. None of the characters are exceptionally memorable, but they aren’t bad either. What they lack in personality, they often make up for in design and intriguing, mysterious backstories. However, this leads to my next point.

For many characters, especially the boss fights, you need to dig for their backstories. Y’know, as you would in a Souls-Borne narrative. However, they don’t fully commit to this idea. You need all of one item to get that particular boss’s story, and guess what? You can only get that item after you beat them! So if you want to dig through the lore, read up on a boss your currently fighting and go into the fight with that knowledge, thus improving the emotional drama of the battle (*cough* *cough* Artorius and Sif), sorry! No can do!

The narrative also suffers because of the main character. See, you’re not playing your own custom avatar anymore. You’re playing a designated dude with a designated main weapon. He’s got his own personality (which is one of the most boring in the game), his own past and his own motivations. He is a bad-ass shinobi, and everyone who knows of him fears his very presence. When they know he’s there but cannot find him, anxiety runs high among the men.

Here’s the problem with this. The game goes to lengths to establish that your character is a bad ass, who is stronger than most men, with few exceptions. Why then can any enemy in the game kill you with such ease?

See, the extreme difficulty works in Dark Souls and Bloodborne because it’s used to establish a unique feeling of helplessness. You were just a small part in a world. You were unimportant, and the world told you this at every turn. Thus, it was immensely satisfying when you overcame that feeling and conquered your obstacles, which were big and powerful being that are considered important. Your was an underdog story, one which you carved out for yourself.

This simply doesn’t work in Sekiro. The only time you feel small, insignificant and weak is after a boss has killed you and they’re mocking you for being so. Do they do this during the fight? No, they wait until it is completely confirmed that you aren’t a threat. Also, note how the game has to tell you that you’re unimportant after you lose, rather than letting that feeling be silently communicated by the loss itself.

This is a classic example of ‘Tell, Don’t Show’. And when you’re trying to create an emotionally engaging narrative, you should never do that.

Sekiro has little idea what it wants to be. Does it want to be a traditional narrative, or does it want to be as it’s predecessors were? Does it want to empower the player by making their character a bad-ass, or does it want to craft a story of conquering a world that is indifferent to you? It’s indecisiveness lands it squarely in the space in between. The game is struggling with an identity crisis, and it’s dragging me through it’s personal melodrama.

I can’t decide who you are for you, Sekiro! You’re the only one who can make that choice!

Gameplay: Forget All That You Know, For It Is Wrong

This isn’t my biggest problem with the game. But it is one of the most frustrating.

I want to say upfront that Sekiro’s gameplay is very good. While I feel that it’s stealth mechanics are weak, it’s combat is incredibly solid. However, there is one aspect of it that made it impossible for me to get into. One that is entirely personal preference.

Wolf has a few different ways of dealing with his problems. He has his sword, which he can use to block and parry attacks (which is absolutely essential to success), his prosthetic arm, which can be fitted with a whole bunch of tools to help you succeed, a bunch of ninjutsu, which lets be Naruto, and a series of consumable items that will help you survive.

He also has… wait for it… a designated jump button!

There are two basic systems of combat. Face-to-face combat and stealth combat. Both of which are exactly what they sound like. In stealth, you can get an instant kill on any unsuspecting enemies. And in face-to-face combat, you’ve got to break through your enemy’s defenses, parry their attacks, and murder the shit out of them.

Here are my many problems with the combat! Let’s start with the stealth portions. They are super fucking under baked! None of the enemies interact or change with the presence of your character in the slightest, even after you’ve slain several of their friends!

Let’s look at an example of a fully realized stealth combat system in Batman: Arkham City. In that game, the enemies are incredibly dynamic, which makes the combat all the more thrilling. They’ll freak out at even the slightest hint of your presence, yelling at their friends to be careful. As you pick them off, one by one, they’ll grow more frightened, to the point that they’re basically shitting themselves just by turning the corner. When they find their unconscious friends, they scream and holler, and the battle may become more difficult depending on the situation. Because of how alive it feels, the stealth combat feels exhilarating, especially when you pull it off flawlessly!

Sekiro is lacking in all of these things. The enemies don’t react to the deaths of their friends. Once you vanish from their field of vision, they go right back to their old spots as if nothing happened. Hell, they don’t even talk to each other! They don’t do anything to make you feel weak or powerful. They don’t feel alive. They simply feel like obstacles in your path.

Worse yet, none of your shinobi tools or ninjutsu can be used to help you in stealth situations! You can’t instant kill an enemy by throwing a shuriken from directly behind them! You can’t pull them off ledges while hanging, you can’t do anything to creatively kill your enemy from the shadows! All you can do is sneak behind them and stab them or drop from above and stab them.

How fun!

This lack of creative freedom applies to the face-to-face combat. If you want to kill a tough enemy or a boss, then guess what? You need to parry, attack a bit, and keep parrying until you can perform a death blow. That’s it. Do you want to dodge enemy attacks and attack from behind, or fight primarily with prosthetic tools and ninjutsu? No can do! Parrying is the only strategy that will work. Learn to parry, or get the fuck out!

Now, I want to make this clear. I don’t think this is a bad thing. It feels incredibly rewarding to successfully parry an attack and deliver a powerful killing blow! The clanging of sword against sword feels super fucking cool! Sure, it’s a shame that you can’t approach boss fights the way you want to, but the required style still makes you feel cool!

Here’s where my problem comes in. See, I’ve been playing the Souls-Borne games since my sophomore year of high school. And I’ve always preferred to dodge around my enemies while they attack and strike from behind. I’ve done it so much, and for so long, that it’s become as natural to me as typing. I’ve parried from time to time, but I’ve never enjoyed doing it. I only do parrying when absolutely necessary, because I don’t think it’s very fun to do. Like, at all.

Sekiro demands for you to let go of your prior experiences with the prior games. If you can’t do that, then you won’t succeed in Sekiro. You can try to dodge, but the enemy tracking is so absurdly accurate that it’s a futile effort. It’s parry or die. If you can’t let go of those muscle memories, you are a dead man.

I can’t do this. Parrying is the Sekiro gameplay loop. They took my least favorite aspect of Dark Souls and made it into the central mechanic necessary to succeed. Dodging, prosthetic tools and ninjutsu abilities are useful at times, yes, but they may as well be useless against boss fights. Which is a damn shame, because those are the aspects of combat that I want to use the most!

Again: the combat isn’t bad! If you enjoyed parrying in Dark Souls, you will love the combat! This is entirely an issue of personal preference! I kept trying to play the game as I wanted to play it, and the game kicked my ass for it. There’s no creative freedom in how you approach a battle.

Parry or die. Don’t like that? Too bad.

Visuals: No Complaints Here

Holy fuck, this game looks good!

The environments in this game are fucking killer! Everything is gorgeous, popping to life with wonderful lighting and a spectacular color scheme! Looking at this game feels like staring at a painting! A very well detailed, intricately crafted painting.

The character designs are also really solid. Each one is well detailed and memorable. This is especially true, as always, for the boss fights. These guys are intimidating, entirely unique, and a ton of fun to look at!

Then there’s the music. Do I even need to talk about the tracks? They’re all absolutely perfect, from the quiet and chilling to the dramatic and intense! While I don’t believe that they’re as memorable as the Dark Souls or Bloodborne soundtracks, that does not mean it’s lackluster in any way! It’s still an amazing score that vastly improves the whole experience!

The game also runs fairly smoothly! I had the occasional dip here and there, but it never became nauseating or unbearable. All in all, the game runs beautifully on top of looking the part.

Conclusion: Good, But Not For Me

I feel the need to reiterate yet again. I think that Sekiro is a good game! While I did have my issues with it, I can easily see everything that everyone else loves about this game! It deserves a place alongside the other FromSoftware classics, though I don’t think it’s as good as the others.

Me dropping it was entirely due to personal preference. The game demanded that I parried, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to play the game my way, and the game didn’t want me to do that. I wanted a deep and interesting stealth game, and Sekiro was focused on other things.

Despite this, I’d still recommend Sekiro. Perhaps you’ll love it more than I could. Maybe the parry-heavy combat is just for you! I hope that you love this game, because it deserves to be loved, regardless of it’s flaws.

Unfortunately, it is not a game I could truly love. It isn’t a bad game. But it’s not my kind of game.

But hey! There’s still hope for a Bloodborne 2! Maybe! Hopefully.

Please for the love of god let there be a Bloodborne 2…

Developed By: FromSoftware
Published By: Activision, FromSoftware (Japan)
Directed By: Hidetaka Miyazaki, Kazuhiro Hamatani
Produced By: Yuzo Kojima, Takahiro Yamamoto
Designers: Masaru Yamamura, Yuki Fukuda
Programmed By: Yoshitaka Suzuki
Composers: Yuka Kitamura, Noriyuki Asakura
Available On: PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: March 22nd, 2019

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