I do see myself as above average in skill when it comes to playing video games. Most of it comes from playing video games from a very early age and, even though I’m much older, I still enjoy them. But even back then, I’ve always prided myself at being very good at beating games, even the ones that are touted to be super punishing. Not to brag but I did beat the original Contra without having to rely on the Konami code to increase the number of extra lives. I finished it several times with the three lives it gives you with no problem. I also went through the entire roster of Punch-Out! on the NES and beat everyone, even Mike Tyson. It took me several times but, once I figured out the visual cues, I could beat him fairly regularly. So I would never say I’m the best video gamer in the world; I just say I’m better than the average gamer out there.
Which is why I really needed to play a game like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. I needed to play a really tough game to give myself a reality check and the feeling that a game can really kick my ass.
For those who aren’t familiar with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, it’s basically a kind of action-RPG made by FromSoftware, the guys who made the ultra punishing Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls games. I personally never played them, not exactly because of their reputation for being super difficult, but because I never really got their appeal. Both Demon’s Souls and the Dark Souls games have this really bland and basic look to them. They’re not exactly the most beautiful looking games out there, to be frank.
In fact, I didn’t have any plans to get Sekiro as well! I kind of got the game by accident. I was actually out and I was looking for another game. A game that also was set during feudal Japan and you control a warrior who’s out to free the land: Ghost of Tsushima. The problem is I forgot its name so, when I saw the box for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I thought I managed to find it. Imagine my surprise when I booted up the game and saw it was made by FromSoftware! Well, I had a new game to play anyway so why cry over spilled milk? This is when I started my first experience playing a Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls type of game.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice does ease you into its particular breed of gameplay, thankfully. It doesn’t throw you into the deep end of things as the first “level”, if you can call it that, was quick and painless to get through. Nothing felt cheap and even the miniboss of the area, while not exactly a pushover, could be dispatched without much of a sweat as long as you can get the deflect timing right, which I did. This did give me the initial impression that all the hoopla about these FromSoftware games being incredibly tough much ado about nothing.
Boy, was I wrong!
The one thing I learned about Sekiro very early on is that even the normal enemies, especially when you have to fight several of them at the same time, are no joke! Having them gang up on you can quickly get overwhelming! I learned this the hard way at one of the first areas in the Ashina Outskirts. It’s the first location that has a patrol squad consisting of three soldiers. I can take out one of them easy with a stealth kill but taking on the other two together was a pain! I learned the hard way that it’s okay to run and hide if you’re overwhelmed to reset everything and also you really shouldn’t try to deflect every incoming attack. Blocking works, too.
But Sekiro wasn’t done yet teaching me very hard lessons about how you should play.
I hit my very first real roadblock when I tried to go against the second miniboss of the game. This kind of works as a tutorial for the Perilous attacks. These are the moves that are unblockable and you either have to deflect them if its a thrust attack or jump over them if it’s a sweep. My problem is I couldn’t really identify which was which initially! So I got mauled by the miniboss over and over again! It got to the point when I actually thought I should just quit playing because I was starting to not have fun anymore.
But then something inside my head just clicked. No, I didn’t all of a sudden have godlike skills and reaction times. Rather, I told myself to try a different approach. That approach was to keep on trying but, instead of trying to actually win and get all tense, just try to block as much of the miniboss’ attacks and, when the Perilous attack was about to come out, don’t try to beat the move. Instead, what I should do is simply observe what the attack looks like. Simply take a step back from trying to beat him and look at what exactly he’s doing. Does it look like a thrust or does it look like he’s reeling back for a sweep?
Basically, I was doing what I was doing when I did beat Contra and when I knocked out Mike Tyson in Punch-Out: I was looking for patterns. This did mean he kicked my ass several times but, after a while, I did notice there were some tells before he would do a move. But even after that, the same darned miniboss would still kill me because of all the damage he would do! Eventually, after several more tries, I did take him out and, oh what a exhilarating it was finally taking him down!
That’s when I realized I took him down but I had die once and nearly exhausted all of my life doing so in the process. Even after all the practice I’d done, I was still badly beaten! And I had to still play through much more of the game? I felt happy I defeated the miniboss but I also felt defeated because he was just the first and I knew I still had to beat guys much tougher than he was!
The weird thing is, despite feeling somewhat crestfallen at the prospect, I knew I could do it. I beat this miniboss, after several times, that’s true. I could do the same with the others! It will take a painful amount to time and patience. And, yes, I may even look online for some tips and tricks how how to get past some of them. But I am now determined to beat Sekiro because I do want to really test my skills against it.
I can understand why the other FromSoftware games have become so polarizing for a lot of gamers. If Sekiro is any indication, the Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are hella tough games. And I’ve even read that Sekiro is much more generous with the save points! So I can definitely see why some gamers don’t like them because they can be frustratingly hard. It’s the exact opposite of the usual power fantasy video game experience as it tries to hurt you and hurt you bad. Nor can you simply grind it out so your in-game character can get strong. No, it’s you, the player, that has to level up. I can totally get why some people don’t have a good time with them.
My reaction to Sekiro is kind of a mix of the two sides. I do like the usual power fantasy, where your character is this unstoppable force that can mow down enemies at will. You don’t get that in Sekiro at all! But I also like how it tries to remind you how things can get tough and you can either give up and never try to get better because it’s hard. Or you can try to push through and, through sheer will, and a little sprinkle of masochism, see yourself improve slowly but surely.
Right now, I have progressed quite a bit since that miniboss. I’ve beaten the entire Hirata estate and defeated Lady Butterfly. I can go through the entire Ashina Outskirts while killing all the enemies without getting hurt all that much. I’ve made it inside Ashina Castle by climbing through the rooftops and killing those weird bird-like people and I’m facing off against the castle guards who can still catch me off-guard. I’ve a long ways to go but I’ve certainly gotten better because the game did humble me with its difficutly.
Have you played Sekiro or the other FromSoftware games? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments section below!