Ed. Note: More Sekiro, of course. Yes, there will be spoilers. Many, many, many spoilers. In fact, consider the whole post one gigantic spoiler.
Update Ed. Note: Turns out I had a lot to say about the difficulty of FromSoft games, so this post will not be as spoilerific as I initially thought. More like mild spoilers. Unless you’ve never played the Souls games, for which there are bigger spoilers. There will be one major spoiler for Sekiro, and I will tag it when we get to it.
My complicated relationship with Sekiro continues. I have consumed it with a focus that is probably frightening to behold, but it’s how I play all FromSoft games. By the way, I’m retiring the Soulsborne moniker and just calling them FromSoft games from now on. They are not all the same, and they are not interchangeable. Even though I understand why people lumped Dark Souls and Bloodborne together, it’s not really the best way to talk about the games. Yes, they share similarities, but it’s because they’re made by the same company, and, specifically, the shared vision is that of Miyazaki. So, FromSoft games it is.
I have no idea where I am in the game, but it feels like end game to me. By that, I mean the last third of the game. Again, I don’t know for sure, but I know the rhythms of FromSoft games by now, and, yeah, I would say I’m two-thirds through it.
Last time I wrote about Sekiro in the bonus post, I was raving about the unique experience I get from beating a FromSoft boss that I previously thought was unbeatable. I’ve written posts in the past, likening the process to the 5 stages of grief. I’d like to expand on this a bit because every time there’s a release from FromSoft, there’s the inevitable discussion about whether or not there should be an easy mode included. It’s frustrating because it’s hard to explain exactly why an easy mode would absolutely take away from the essence of the games. Dan Tack from Game Informer (their resident FromSoft games enthusiast) has a great article on it.
I have to note that people conflate two things when they bring up an easy mode for FromSoft games. (Almost typed Souls games. It’s gonna take a while for me to self-correct on this.) One reason for requesting one is to make the game for accessible for people with disabilities, and the other is to make the game more accessible for people who don’t have the time, patience, obsessive nature, etc., to become competent at the games.
I have sympathy for the former, and to the extent the games can be more accessible such as being able to rebind buttons (Sekiro is the first FromSoft game for which you can do it), colorblind settings, etc., I am here for it. All of it. Putting the glowing red Deathblow circle on an enemy, having differently-colored arrows over enemy heads, using a kanji character to indicate when you’re about to encounter an unblockable hit–all of this i s good. (If FromSoft wanted to add an option to turn it off, that would be fine, too.)
Making the game itself easier? Yeah, no.
That’s my short and snarky answer, and here is my longer, more complex reasoning.
First of all, the argument that there are options for all parts of the game, ranging from brightness to graphics to audio to whatever so that gamers can tailor their gaming experience to their own liking is comparing apples and oranges at best, and deliberately disingenuous at worst. I would ask these people if they are seriously suggesting that the game experience itself is the same as a FOV slider. “We’re spending the bulk of our budget on the brightness options,” said no game developer ever. All the options they are talking about are on the technical sides, and they are measurable in discrete units. The gameplay itself is on the creative side, which is much more difficult to quantify, measure, and adjudicate.
Believe it or not, I sympathize with people who want an easy mode in the games because they love the environments and the lore. The games are incredible from that point of view. The environments are breathtaking, lush, and dripping with atmosphere.* The worlds are intricate and intertwined, and if you can see it, you can get there.** The lore is dense and obtuse, and the satisfaction of piecing it together from all the bits and pieces you find here and there is tremendous. The stories themselves? Very basic. It’s the piecing them together that really makes them work.
I can understand when people want to have that experience, but they can’t/don’t want to have to fight a boss for hours every time to advance in the world. I can see thinking, “It would be so nice if i didn’t have to work so hard to make it ten feet.” Seriously. I’m not taking the piss. I can feel this pain, sometimes harder than others. The thing is, and Dan Tack in the link above is so right, you really can’t get the full impact of the lore, the beauty of the worlds, and the intricacies of how interlinked they are, if you don’t go through the grind as well. There is no way I would have felt as awed by the beauty of Anor Londo when I touched down for the first time if I hadn’t gone through the tears of the Undead Burg, Blighttown, and Sen’s Fortress first.
The first video I included was Rory from RKG, nee Prepare to Try, attempting to play the original Dark Souls for the first time. The second video below is from when he played Dark Souls Remastered to #SaveSolaire after he had played all of Dark Souls III and Bloodborne. The whole concept of the series was taking someone who never tried a Souls game and see if he could become competent in it. The second video shows that, yes, you can become competent in the games even if you’re not naturally inclined to play them. Yes, he had the benefit of a Daniel to guide him, but he still had to do the work himself.
By the way. Let’s talk practicality. What do guys*** mean by an easy mode when they throw it out there so casually? “Just put in an easy mode.” Ok. How would you do that? Less health for the boss? Having the boss lose an ability to do their hardest moves if you knock down the difficulty setting? Less enemies in the area? No permadeath? Enemies stop respawning after a certain amount of deaths? (Which they did in II, and, boy, did the community hate that. I hated it, too.) More overpowered weapons?
I mentioned Sen’s Fortress earlier, which is just a pure hell of traps (I’m weird in that I found it much harder than the infamous Blighttown), and part of the difficulty are overhead swinging axes that you have to run past while you’re on a narrow bridge and a wizard snake is throwing lightning at you. So. How would an easy mode work here? Take away the wizard snake? Well, then you just have to time your run. Not a problem at all. Stop the swinging overhead axes? Widen the bridge? All three? That’s just one incident in one area. Now try doing this for the whole game.
More to the point. There are several ways to make the games easier. At least before Sekiro. I’ll get to that in a bit. One, you can outgrind the bosses. If you feel under-leveled with a boss, you can take a break and go grind. Then, level up, and you’ll have a much better chance against the boss. Yes, it takes more time, but it’s entirely doable. Not for every boss, but for a vast majority of them. It’s also harder in the end game because levels become outrageously expensive. Honestly, it’s one thing I like better about II. The cost of levels didn’t ratchet up so dramatically. And, it’s something I don’t like about Sekiro. Because you lose half your Skill Experience upon death and you need more XP to gain each Skill Point later in the game, I have to grind to actually get the Skill Points now. I feel very behind in my Skill Tree (which I spread across too many categories LIKE A N00B), and I don’t think I’ll get the cool skills I want.
Two, you can summon. Either humans or NPCs. Most of the boss fights are so much easier with a friend or two, and this is a good way to get through an area or a boss when you just don’t have it in you to do it on your own. Some of my fondest memories from the Souls series (specifically) are the times I summoned or was summoned. I prefer soloing bosses, but there were times when if I didn’t summon, I wouldn’t finish the game. So I summoned.
Sekiro is completely single player. Plus, and I’ve written about this before, you can’t out-level bosses in the same way you could in earlier games. I will say now that I’ve up all my stats, going back to earlier areas is cake. My sen-farming area is the same that it was when I first started the game. It’s a hoot to run through just slicing and dicing my enemies without a care. It’s also great when I go back to a mini-boss who kicked my ass several times and just decimate said boss on my second try. I only died once because of the bullshit Terror-inducing apparitions. The Terror status is right up there with Toxic from the original Dark Souls.
Anyway. The last point I want to make about the difficulty of the games is that I really suck at FromSoft games. Like, really, really suck. I love the games, but they are not meant for me. Ian would argue they are exactly for me because what Miyazaki wants is for someone to experience the pain, anguish, and difficulty, then triumph. Which I have, despite how terrible I am at the games. I joked that it was just like my romantic life–going after people who don’t want me. It was a jest, but it did actually make sense. As Ian joked, “I will make you love me!” (Me to FromSoft games.)
Here’s the thing about FromSoft games. I hate the phrase ‘GIT GUD’, but…strip away the arrogance, the sneering, and the undeserved pomposity of the phrase–and the underlying message is true. You can’t just brute force your way through the games (at least not easily). You have to adapt to the games, and not vice-versa. My issue with GIT GUD is that it’s not helpful to tell someone to just get better without offering very specific advice, but that is another post. You have to give specific tips tailored to the boss that is being fought (and it’s usually a boss), and here is where I’m going to talk about a very specific boss in Sekiro to make my point.
*SPOILER WARNING! BOSS TALK AHEAD*
The most recent boss I fought is called Guardian Ape. I met him in the Bodhisatta Valley, and when I first saw him, he was sitting in a lovely pond of water, looking fixedly at a fog wall in front of him. He was huge, and as I approached him, he turned around and looked at me–and his face was horrifying. He had a sword embedded in his neck as well, which should have been my first clue that this was no ordinary ape. I already knew something about him, however, as I had stumbled across him in the wikis while I was looking for something else.
He had big attacks that mostly involved him writhing around and pounding me with his giant fists. He also had this lovely attack where he would be sitting with his back to me, and as he got up to run away, he let out a giant fart–which poisoned me. Then, he would turn around, jump up in the air and throw a huge hunk of poop at me–which would also poison me if it hit me and take away half my Vitality (health). That was enraging, but I didn’t find him hard to handle over all. After a half dozen tries or so, I whittled him down to his Deathblow and gleefully plunged my sword into him. The animation was of me cutting off his head with the sword in his neck, and ‘Shinoki Execution’ flashed on the screen.
I had no Healing Gourds left, and I should have been elated, right? Yeah, no. I knew what was coming, so it was no surprise to me when the headless body started slowly rising, and he grabbed his head.
Round two! I was so not into this, but I knew I didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t going to quit at this point, so I had to beat this boss on my own merits. The problem with the second phase was that he moved so erratically. It was almost as if he were swimming upright, and I could not get a bead on him. Plus, he has this god-awful move where he lifts his head and it screams, spraying blood and Terror everywhere. If I got caught in that, I knew it would be death. Which it was.
This is getting long, so I’ll continue on with it in a future post. Maybe a bonus post. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow or the next day.
*Except Dark Souls II. Great game. Some lovely areas, but so many ugly ones.
**Except Dark Souls II. Honestly, though, still really like that game.
***And, let’s be honest. It’s mostly able-bodied white dudes who insist on having an easy mode because they feel entitled to have every experience accessible to them. And because the overwhelming amount of games journalists are still, sadly, white dudes.