Sekiro : A modern life mentor from ancient times
It had been waiting near my Playstation 4 for a few months.
Having some extra hours on my hand during those confinement/curfew times, I decided it was time I tackled down the challenge, both excited and dreading what the game would require of me.
And there it was : these simple yet elegant aesthetics, its fine-tuned mechanics requiring hours of practice and a lore all the more fascinating yet disseminated with subtle touches and gorgeous cinematics.
“Sekiro : Shadow dies twice” was in the place. To be honest, this was not my first From Software experience, as I had already strolled Anor Londo and Majula in the past with relative success.
But man! Sekiro was a harsh, frustrating but all the satisfying and fascinating journey!
While we could come back on components heavily acclaimed or criticized, I am not necessarily here to talk about its fantastic mechanics or the patience and retries required to complete the adventure.
I wanted to share with you the surprise that overtook me once I managed to complete the game and told myself : “why wouldn’t I try NG+1 for a few minutes?”.
Gamers just want to have fun!?
This is an obvious one and there is no debate in the fact that a game should be fun. But does it have to yield it fully in 15 minutes to avoid being tagged as hardcore or reserved to niche players?
Not in my book, and this is where From Software and Sekiro did wonders.
Hyped by my recent victory on the final boss and despite the latest hardships I faced, I decided to try a new run for poops and giggles.
Remember Genichiro and the first fight in this poetic field just after rescuing Kuro? No death this time, but a decent skirmish that ended in (relative) victory. Same outcome with Lady Butterfly or Oniwa and his war horse.
The curse was broken and the magic had unfolded. We all know that after tens of hours of gameplay, we undoubtedly improve but this specific time was giving a very different aftertaste. And I realized that is because I also had to work on my psychological and behavioural approaches to beat the crap out of those fiends more easily.
After all the pain I endured, I finally realized the game had taught me to release the aggressive fighting side needed to fight on par with my enemies, making me unlearn my former Dark Souls like posture for instance. Don’t go for button mashing but take time to move around, evade, study patterns and determine the best strategy, etc…
It also generated an echo to another line of thinking : games of our generations tend to make us forget that you need to train, try and repeat to become better at what you do.
And this comes from somebody who has his own son learning to write upper and lowercase letters in front of him. Guess how is he going to achieve it?
To quote one another famous samourai :
“… even though it is a path of a thousand miles, you walk one step at a time”
This encompasses two things that will be required of any player who steps in those feudal fields.
The path to fun thou shall harness…
With time and training. If the latter is obvious and efforts are required to improve skills, the time parameter has mostly become the main struggle for many a player.
Imagine the era we live in. When I was a kid, thirty years ago, I had to wait for the next episode of my favorite show and aside from taping the previous ones or buying the VHS (if they were even released), there was no other way around it.
Now, imagine you are in the mood for an anime, you have hundreds of options available immediately for free or a subsequent monthly fee. Hello capitalism and the modern consumption society !
Now move that line of reasoning back to gaming. For those who can, remember those Megaman/Rockman, Sonic and other Mario Brothers titles. You had a few games, each of them composed of several levels and maybe a few secrets. Each live count reaching 0 meant you had to restart the game from scratch, rehearsing the same levels over and over becoming a master at their completion. If those are not enough, think more of Ghost’n Goblins or Ninja Gaiden, you are bound to remind a game that captivated you but required a lot from you and you alone.
Nowadays, the story is different. Either you have captivating games on physical platforms where you mostly follow quests and storylines on a radar (rings a bell! no?); or you have mobile/competitive games which come with high pressure to resist the urge of buying packs and bonuses that will make you long for those prized ultra giga limited characters or incredible power ups to save you… time!
If you look at this from a broader angle, the further our society evolves in technology and economic models, the more time consumption and effort are aspects that are inexorably removed from our path. When we crave for something, we need to have it now because of the immediacy of our life components.
We tend to forget the road from A to B praised by Benjamin Hardy, PhD. In his videos, he explains how we often fail to reach our objectives because the road leading to them is unclear.
In Sekiro, nothing is about being guided, conquering power by putting in tons of cash or buying your way through a tough time. There is one or two ways you can cheese the game later in the adventure but otherwise, you shall play and experience aggressive violence and deaths. Until you decide to craft your own path and refine your skills through every block and parries, reaching the famous B will seem unatteinable.
Because the mobsters here, even the smallest and most fragile looking one, are here to get you. Even the game design, despite its marvelous verticality (tell me it’s not enjoyable to grapple over the many pagodas of Ashina), will make you struggle to unveil everything it has to offer. You will have to choose or act at a precise time whether for battles or unlocking entire scenario branches.
All these factors combined make Sekiro : Shadows die twice an experience more than just an umpteenth title with no identity.
Entitlement to play
Does that mean that the game is unfair and reserved to an elite? Even if I heard myself saying the first part on a few occurrences, I don’t think that is the case.
Whether you are good at games and yearn for a decent challenge or you are unfamiliar/newcomer with the bare minimum aptitudes, Sekiro will make you earn experience points just like it does your main protagonist. Sekiro can be for anybody and not just the crazy skilled gamers who can end it playing with their feet (true story). Along those insane records and thanks to those same technologies (yes, not everything has to be painted dark), you can also find tons of video materials to refine and experiment strategies.
While some players may argue that is not pleasurable, it is mainly like many other things in life. And the joy of conquering the ordeal comes with time, studying and practicing. Quite similar to what you will go through in other departments in your life like raising a kid or revitalizing a withering relationship.
And to those who will argue the fact that a game should be fun, I shall only ask : do you like games just to pass the time or do you like what the game has to offer? The background and level design, the way From Software builds narrative with discreet and subtle descriptions and messages, the quick-paced stylish action, putting your avatar’s life at risk, giving everything you have and always be on the lookout for the opening, and so on?
If the answers to those subquestions are yes, then grit your teeth and endure. Let Sekiro surprise you once you manage to ride and exit the storm.
Because Sekiro, like other masterpieces such as The Last of Us, Ori or Persona 5, will be more than just a samourai grinding game.
If not, that is OK, your gamer happiness lies somewhere else.
Whatever side you choose though there is no denial to me that “Sekiro : Shadows die twice” is a tremendous masterpiece and a very indirect criticism and snub to our modern societies. But it shall reveal its full potential to those who choose to be more than the gamer they were yesterday.
Feel free to share your Sekiro experience in the comments and for those curious about the performance, this is how you finish Sekiro with your feets.