For the last who-knows-how-long– a year? Close to it? I have used my PlayStation for nothing other than games made by From Software. I’ve been basically playing the three Dark Souls games and Bloodborne (together, Soulsborne, a phrase I’ll be using a lot) on a loop, and I’ve beaten all four of them multiple times with several different builds during that time. I went a really long time where I didn’t ever really replay video games all that much, so to stay with these four games for, again, close to a year (with, granted, some interruptions from other games) was really unprecedented. I mean, it’s saved me money, but still.
FromSoft released a new game on Friday, the ridiculously-named Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. I am … I dunno, a dozen hours in? Fifteen? And I have yet to see a shadow die, either once or twice, although a random character just decided to name the player character Sekiro. I don’t get the subtitle.
This isn’t a review, unless “this game is insanely difficult (seriously, the Soulsborne series is renowned for its difficulty and Sekiro puts them to shame) and a lot of fun and I had to stop playing it to type this” counts as a review. No, instead it’s a post about how I’ve been sort of watching the way I deal with this game from a distance and I’m kind of fascinated by it.
First of all: I can’t play video games without YouTube any longer. I’ve been simultaneously playing the game (well, okay, in series, not simultaneously) and watching a YouTuber by the name of FightinCowboy play through it for the first time himself. Cowboy’s helped me through all the Souls games too, so there was no way I wasn’t watching his series on this game.
Now, you may find yourself quietly (or perhaps loudly) mocking me for the idea of spending a lot of time watching someone play a video game on YouTube. And until I started doing it, I might have felt the same way. Now, my opinion works this way: have you ever watched anyone play sports on TV? Could you, instead, have been playing sports yourself?
Oh, the people you’re watching are entertaining and are much better at the sports than you are, and that’s what makes it okay to watch them play instead of playing yourself?
Huh. Weird how that works.
(Also: you cannot get better at basketball from watching other people play it. You can get better at video games by watching pros. You need to develop muscle memory on your own, of course, but strategies and item locations and things like that can absolutely be easily and efficiently discovered online. There’s also something cathartic about watching someone else get their ass handed to them by a boss that you’re having trouble with, especially in this game.)
So anyway, that’s different. I’m trying to mostly play before I watch, but the game is wide open enough that he’s going about things in a different order from me, meaning that I’m seeing some stuff in the videos before I get to it myself and I’m also yelling JESUS GO HERE THE ITEM YOU NEED IS OVER IN THIS PART OF THE GAME WHY HAVEN’T YOU GONE BACK HERE YET MY GOD COWBOY or similar things quite a lot. He can’t hear me; I’m yelling them anyway.
Another interesting thing is that this game is absolutely in dialogue with the Soulsborne games in a way that I find kind of fascinating. The Dark Souls series is all about playing defensively and looking for openings to attack. Overt aggression will often get you quickly killed. Bloodborne shook up the formula a bit, getting rid of shields and blocking and introducing a mechanic where some of the health lost from taking a it could be regained by counterattacking, which led to much more aggressive gameplay overall.
You will die a lot in Sekiro until you stop playing like you’re playing a Soulsborne game. If you back off an enemy, chances are they’re going to regain everything you just took away from them when you attacked them. There’s no stamina mechanic– you can block and attack constantly, to your heart’s content, and while the game punishes button mashing harshly they definitely want a scenario where a fight is a couple of dozen quick button pushes in perfect timing and perfect order, which might manifest itself on-screen as several sword strikes, a few blocks, jumping over a sweep, stomping someone’s spear into the ground and then ramming your sword through their neck to end the fight.
Also, stamina played a role in movement in the Soulsborne, because energy to run and energy to fight came from the same pool. You might find yourself rushing over to an enemy only to discover that once you got there all your stamina was gone and you didn’t have any left to attack or, worse, defend yourself, so measured approaches to everything were prioritized. This tends to get into that muscle memory I was talking about, quite a bit– and I trashed a boss who had been destroying me repeatedly once I finally realized the game wouldn’t punish me for chasing him. You can run forever if you want. Turns out that matters!
So yeah: this isn’t a review, but assuming I don’t chuck my controller through the screen halfway through the game it’s probably a safe assumption that one’s coming eventually. If nothing else, there’s probably more navel-gazing to be had in the near future, right?