Sekiro: is Shadows Die Twice Really Too Hard?

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice makes high standards a leitmotif. So much so that it’s going too far?

I finished Sekiro : Shadows Die Twice. You certainly won’t hear that phrase on every street corner. However, I did finish Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, witnessing one of the possible endings after whatever number of hours mixing chess and triumphs and, above all, a large number ofgame over. A worthy heir to the Dark Souls saga, the game published by Activision and developed by From Software promotes high standards, humility and self-sacrifice. To the point where it seems legitimately inaccessible to many.

At a time when the notion of difficulty has faded behind the desire, if not the necessity, to make games more accessible in a growing market,Sekiro: Shadows Die Twicecould appear as an anomaly. He is the representative of a fringe of productions where the ridiculous (to chain the failures) leaves its place to the pride (to triumph, finally).

These productions do not necessarily separate the gifted from the less gifted, since there is a notion of investment specific to each one. But the boundary between very difficult and too difficult is thin. And one wonders if the Japanese studio has gone too far with its latest project

Difficulty must be accepted and digested

I’ll never finish Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice“, headlined Shaun Prescott in his column of March 26, 2019 published in PCGamer columns. A defeatist sound of defeatist bell that we find in Thomas, veteran player of the Dark Souls questioned by Numerama. According to him, From Software has gone too far: ” That Sekiro is a difficult game is a fact. But, unlike a Dark Souls it offers almost no evolution during the adventure. Which makes every fight painful and frustrating. Playing a game to struggle to progress without real satisfaction is not my definition of what a good video game should be.»

These opinions are a burden against a difficulty a priori insurmountable, we find them on specialized forums. Like on Reddit, where a fan of the Dark Souls trilogy and Bloodborne (another From Software game based on the same levers), laments in a subject entitled ‘I think Sekiro is too hard’. Within the community, there are still more tenacious players. As Jeremy explains: “Sekiro is in line with what From Software has been offering for years: games that take the opposite side of recent video game codes. We are alone in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, and it is through a combination of pugnacity and observation that we find the flaw that moves us forward. » 

In short, for some,Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a game that has to be earned. “We’ve got a game that requires investment in terms of both time andelbow grease,” says ExServ, videographer, author and From Software game specialist.

A very specific philosophy

To accept the challenge of Sekiro, you must first understand the philosophy of its confrontations. As they are very different from the Dark Souls you have to learn everything from scratch. Here, in order to triumph, one must know how to parry at the right moment to break the guard of the enemies and have the opportunity to kill them in a single blow. There are therefore risks to be taken, and the slightest mistake can be punitive (because of adverse damage that swallows the life bar in no time).

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice // Source: Activision

Injustice and frustration

From my own experience, I can say that the first few hours are like a real ordeal. And the urge to give up is never far away. But by dint of obstinacy, this feeling of frustration bordering on injustice makes it possible to understand the mechanics, and to use them to good effect.

On this subject, ExServ points out: ” There are many forms of difficulties. What I find most difficult in Sekiro is the reaction time expected from players, which I find shorter than in previous games. We are asked to read the action in a fraction of a second and make a decision in the moment. Lee’s relentless pace of play versus a game like Dark Souls makes the experience more difficult (…). I’m sure a lot of people who wanted to approach Sekiro like a Souls, broke their teeth, and may have felt frustrated. Just when, once again, we need to demonstrate the open-mindedness that allowed us to understand the Souls and their original gameplay .»

“A discouragingly fast bias”

For his part, Nicolas Verlet, editor-in-chief of the video game site Gamekult, would not go so far as to say that Sekiro : Shadows Die Twice is harder than its ancestors. He argues: “With From Software, I would say that the hardest [game] is often the first one you start with. You have to get used to its rhythm, its targeting, its placement requirements, its encrypted indications, integrate the reappearance of enemies, unjust deaths, XP that flies away, fights lost in advance, disproportionate damage, limited care… In short, all its grammar.»

However, he is happy to make a special and unprecedented demand of the game: “Relying essentially on the mechanics of timing is a bias that quickly becomes discouraging. That’s why some boss fights can take two to three hours, watch in hand“. And that’s why some people let go to avoid having nightmares.

An easy mode, what for?

In an op-ed published on April 2, 2019, Kotaku explains that adding an easy mode would have been a good thing, as such a mode has never ruined a gaming experience. In the case ofSekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which leaves no choice in the matter, where other games multiply the difficulty modes (think of Wolfenstein’s 7 modes), it would allow novices to enjoy the universe, the gameplay and the story without suffering every second.

In most cases, Kotaku can hardly be proven wrong. With regard to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the addition of an easy mode would, on the contrary, risk going against the very principle of the game, by annihilating the philosophy based on the player’s ability to surpass himself in order to deserve to see what comes next.


Wolfenstein’s difficulty modes 2: The New Colossus // Source: Kotaku

For ExServ, there is no problem to consider integrating an easy mode. He confides: “Of course the authentic experience is to play with the parameters imagined by the studio, but we don’t all have the same tolerance for failure. A game like Celeste has shown how much freedom can be given to players without spoiling the fun. “He takes the example of one of his YouTube subscribers, who told him that it was getting harder to play games like Sekiro after 50 years. “I see no reason to prevent anyone from discovering these games and enjoying them at their level.

The player admits to having difficulty imagining a Sekiro in ” touring mode“.

We don’t all have the same tolerance for failure…

Note that From Software advocates a little more openness with Sekiro : Shadows Die Twice. This is evidenced by its rather understandable plot and the integration of very explanatory tutorials. The endurance gauge, which limits the number of movements and can mean death when emptied, has also been removed. There are also no traps linked to the architecture of the levels (areas plunged into darkness, hidden holes, enemies that ambush) or chests that turn into monsters when you want to open them. But that’s not why the adventure is easier.

Difficult games inspire other difficult games

Maybe the solution shouldn’t come from the studio, but from the players themselves? It is for example relevant to look at how Studio MDHR handles the difficulty in Cuphead (also based on a very high challenge). If developers allow an easy mode that drastically reduces the challenge, it doesn’t allow you to progress through the story. The easy mode is a trompe-l’oeil; we could almost talk about troll. To move forward, we must transcend ourselves, whatever it takes.

Studio MDHR

Cuphead // Source: Studio MDHR

From Software is reluctant to bend to the diktat of accessibility. But his approach to the challenge, based on rediscovered sensations (ah the games of yesteryear, it was something), inspires. For example, Nintendo imbued this requirement in The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild, where the player must fend for himself, with very little help. “What From Software has brought is the idea that not only is there an audience out there that is eager for a challenge, but that you can actually create experiences around that. I’m not going to dare to talk about ‘darksoulisation’ of video games but the fact is that a lot of games today are inspired by it at differentlevels,” reveals ExServ.

“What makes a game experience memorable and rewarding is also the challenge.”

Do the hard games still have a place in a market driven by a public that grows year after year? “What makes a game experience memorable and rewarding is also the challenge and perseverance that was required to overcome it. The same is true for a gruelling Top 1 on Fortnite or a rematch on FIFA. From Software pushes this logic to its paroxysm in the field of action games. The difference is that, unlike most other games, [From Software] imposes its rules, and you are free to accept or reject them. The truth is that with a little perseverance, mutual aid and encouragement, many players can go all the way to,” says Nicolas Verlet.

In good novlanguage, one would be tempted to say that the darkoulisationevoked responded to the casualisation – making a game more easy – which the video game needed to grow and flourish. Players are then free to accept the challenge or find pleasure elsewhere. Because it is also, and above all, that, deep down, diversity.

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