I have written about how meh this year has been as far as gaming goes for me. There have been dozen of games that I’ve tried and stopped after an hour or less of play. There are some that I played more than an hour and actually liked the game, but then fell off it for one reason or another. In fact, I wrote about two of those games in my last post. I toyed with naming this award The best game that I wasn’t good enough to finish (again) in homage to the category I used for the last two years (for Hollow Knight and Dead Cells, respectively), but, really, there is no need to name it anything other than The perennial FromSoft best game award. Or, The take my money, Miyazaki, award. I could drag this out for several more paragraphs, and you know I can do it, but it’s the worst-kept secret if you know anything about it–and me–so I’ll just blurt it out.
The one true game of 2019
My best game of the year–and The Game Awards agree with me–is Sekiro. It’s a FromSoft game. What a surprise!
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a brilliant game. I could end the post right here, but I won’t. I have written about the game countless times as I was playing it, and I’m currently doing a replay from the very start. Why? I mean, I do have an NG+ run in the bank (fighting Bird Daddy for the second time. One of my personal nightmares, and it only gets harder from this point on) and an NG run where I’m currently sat at the bonfire in front of the Guardian Ape. I started a new playthrough because I haven’t played it in several months, and it’s not a game you can go into rusty and expect to come out ahead. At least, I cannot as I’m firmly a scrub.
Funny side note: My niece’s husband is a big FromSoft fan, and we were talking about Sekiro at Christmas Eve dinner. We were also talking about nerd stuff along with my niece, and I said I didn’t consider myself a nerd. He looked at me weirdly and said, “Not even a Dark Souls nerd?” I laughed and said I wasn’t good enough to be a Dark Souls nerd. I think we’re using nerd in different ways. I think he and my niece mean it in the more popular nomenclature which is being a huge fan of something techie or sci-fi. I was using it ironically in that the more hardcore members of ‘the community’ disavow anyone who does not play the game in the exact same way they do. Of course, they don’t play it the same as each other, so that’s fun. I like to say that I am firmly mediocre at FromSoft games, and I stick by that. I also remain absurdly proud of myself for beating all the games without ever learning to parry.
Anyway, I wrote about the five bosses that stuck with me the most from Sekiro, and in thinking about it, I would reorder the bosses so that Father (Owl) was further up on the list. He’s the reason I quit my NG+ playthrough, and he’s the reason I’ve dreaded going back. I also think I’d put the Guardian Ape on the list simply because the fight is so exhausting. He’s the reason I quit my second NG playthrough even though I beat him in one go on NG+. I think it’s safe to say that most of the big bosses of the game are really brutal, at least on the first playthrough. I know that’s the case for most of the bosses in FromSoft games, but the difference is you can summon in those games. You cannot in Sekiro, which means it’s all on you. I understand why it’s so, thematically. I mean, Sekiro is a shinobi, which means slinking around and stealthily taking down his opponents. That’s not easy to do when you have a bunch of buddies surrounding your flank. There is one mini-boss you can fight with a buddy, but he is not stealthy at all. The boss is Juzou the Drunkard in the Hirata Estate, and the buddy is…um…Nogami Gensai, a samurai. He is standing near the shore of the river/creek/pond/whatever body of water is next to the temple, and he’s easy to overlook. When you talk to him, he goes all gonzo and runs directly at Juzou while shouting at the top of his lungs, which makes stealthing really hard. I figured out (on my own) that the best way to deal with the situation was to painstakingly kill all the adds first while running around to avoid Juzou’s attacks. Once they are all gone, I ran back to the stream and waited for Juzou to de-aggro. Then, I snuck up on him and did the first Deathblow. Insert obligatory rant about how pointless having more than one Deathblow is when you can stealth the first one. Anyway, after taking off his first dot, I ran to the NPC and quickly mashed through all his dialogue. Then, he charged at Juzou, allowing me to get my hits in. In my current playthrough, I messed it up by not doing the first pip before getting the NPC involved, and I died because I got greedy. I got him on the second go by following the template, and it was easy-peasy.
I’m enjoying this playthrough as much as I can enjoy any FromSoft game. It’s so weird because I couldn’t honestly tell you that it’s fun to play these games. It’s frustrating, enraging, and grueling, and at times, it’s a complete confidence wrecker. You know what else it is, though? It’s engrossing, engaging, and immensely rewarding. When I beat Biggie & Small in the original game, I felt like a god for exactly thirty seconds. Then, the realization that other horrible adventures awaited me hit, and I was filled with dread once again. That was the boss that I held up above all others as my crowning accomplishment in gaming until Sekiro. Genichiro/Way of Tomoe took over that honor for exactly half the game. Until the final boss, to be more precise.
Isshin, the Sword Saint. I still can’t say/type his name without a feeling of awe/dread/reverence overtaking me. In the last hour of me fighting him, I entered a zone I had never been in before. I felt as if I weren’t even in my body as I fought him again and again. At this point, Genichiro was just a speed bump in the road to defeating Isshin. I still get chills thinking about defeating him–or maybe that’s my cold talking. Yes, I have a cold, and, yes, I have the chills. Still, I think at least a little bit of it is because of how insanely difficult this fight was and how I had tears in my eyes when I finally, finally beat him. Nearly six hours when it was all said and done. Probably close to forty attempts (it is a goddamn long fight). Every fiber of my being wanted to quit the game because I had nothing to prove to anyone–except myself. I knew it would gnaw away at me if I didn’t beat the game. I knew it would bug me, and the longer I went without finishing the game, the more I would make it a thing in my mind.
Side note II: I still beat myself up for not finishing the NG+ playthrough or doing the ‘bad’ ending that has two different bosses. I don’t feel like I’ve really beaten the game, though I clearly have. It’s the dark side of the FromSoft games mentality, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. I set the bar high, and then I castigate myself when I fail to clear it. I beat the fucking game. I did. I fought all the bosses I could possibly fight for the ending I chose, and I beat them all on my own. I should be proud of that–except, I get pulled into the ‘git gud’ mentality even though I know it’s bullshit.
This game is incredible. I think it might possibly be the best of the FromSoft games I’ve played in a more objective sense of the word. It’s gorgeous and lush; it’s cram-filled with things to do, see, and fight. There are secrets I found and ones I didn’t (found ’em through wiki), and the grappling hook/prosthetic tool idea was carried out to exquisite perfection. I was so skeptical of the former before I played the game because I suck at performing in games, but it’s intuitive, smooth, and just a hell of a lot of fun to be flying everywhere. As for the latter, I had to adapt to the lack of magicks, and one way I did that was by using my prosthetic tools. Funnily enough, I rarely used the flame vent, but I loved the hell out of all the umbrellas–after I figured out how great they were.
I think this game is a masterpiece, and I will be forever grateful that I played it. I don’t know if I’ll finish another playthrough or NG+, but it will always hold a special place in my heart.