Underneath my yellow skin

This is why I play FromSoft games–Sekiro edition


Ed. Note: This post is going to be focused on one boss, so it will be absolutely littered with spoilers. Not just vague spoilers, but very specific spoilers. Be forewarned that if you read this, story beats will be spoiled along with a major boss–and, incidentally, an earlier boss. Here ends your warning. 

i am not ready for genichiro.
I’ve been through some shit, yo.

Let’s talk more about Sekiro. The last time we met, I was saying what I liked and didn’t like about the game. Since then (was it really only two days ago?), I have played more of the game, and I have more to share. Buckle in, folks. It’s going to be a long ride.

There is a rhythm to FromSoft games and there is also a rhythm to my reaction at different points playing the game. I’ve said before that I tend to gorge on the games when I play, which means that I can be glutted well before I’m through. When I’m playing a FromSoft game, it’s the biggest thing on my mind at any given time. I think about it even when I’m not playing, It’s an obsession, both in a positive and a negative way.

When I was writing the last post, I was in the middle of the phase I call, “I’m sick of the bullshit, but I can’t stop playing.” The night before (or that night. I can’t remember which), I ended the day having three bosses/mini-bosses on my plate, with two of them thoroughly kicking my ass. That would be the two MINI-BOSSES. The third one, a real boss, I faced once and then noped the hell out of there. I ended that session feeling really shitty about the game and myself, and I didn’t know if I wanted to continue playing. I knew I had to do a bit of a mind-shift in order to continue playing, and I did. One thing I needed to do was use the prosthetics more often and more efficiently. I also looked up each of the mini-bosses just to see if I was missing anything. I wasn’t really, although I did learn of a way to cheese one of them. I didn’t want to do that, though, unless I absolutely had to.

Side Note: All the mini-bosses have to be killed with two Deathblows. Briefly, you have to break an enemy’s Posture and when you completely break it, you can do a Deathblow as a finisher. For bosses, you have to end each phase with a Deathblow. Some of them, you can cheese by creeping up on them and doing a Deathblow without having to break their Posture by dropping on them or ganking them from behind. I don’t understand why they have two Deathblows if you can always do a stealth one first. It seems like a needless addition, but I guess it’s not something to be really fussed about.

Anyway, I went into each of the mini-bosses with a different attitude, and I killed them both on the first try. I felt pretty good about that, and I decided to tackle the main boss again. Remember I talked in the last post about the tutorial boss who kicked the shit out of me? Keep that in mind as I describe how I stumbled over this boss.

I was in the Ashina Castle, and I had just defeated a mini-boss. He wasn’t too bad, and I was pleased I went from him killing me in two swipes of his long blade to trouncing him in seven or eight tries. I felt good about it as I explored the area around me. I noticed an open window (that’s how I got in the castle in the first place, and fuck the Nightjar Ninjas whom I think of as the crow ninjas), and I climbed out. I made my way to the top of the castle, and, oh, shit. Cutscene.

this should have been a triumph.
I win! Right?!?

At first, there was the face of a samurai–a very familiar face. It was the tutorial boss, and he was speaking pompously to Emma, the doctor woman who I’d met before. She was at the Dilapidated Temple, my Firelink Shrine in this game. She’s the one who strengthens my Estus Flask, er, Healing Gourd, by turning Gourd Seeds into a Healing Gourd. I hate this system, by the way, especially as one way to get the Seeds is by beating a mini-boss. You can also buy one apiece from certain vendors, but I only have seven total right now. Apparently, she is the doctor of the tutorial boss’s grandfather, Lord Isshin Ashina. Yes, the tutorial boss is part of the Ashina lineage, and his name is Genichiro Ashina. I know this because I saw his name on the goddamn screen for many hours. Eons. Or at least it felt like it was eons.

I fought him several times before I could even get any kind of feel for him. He always started with the same first move (shot with his fucking bow, a roll, then swipe with his sword), but after that, he had a plethora of moves, and I didn’t have any confidence that I could get him. But, then I slowly started to get him down, and after two hours, I finally, FINALLY got the second Deathblow on him!

I was exultant as my blade went through him, and I felt like I had finally arrived. Then, another cutscene happens, and, wait, what? He started shedding his armor and his helmet, and he took on a distinctly demonic look. His sword started crackling with lightning, and, oh shit. He’s about to get electric on my ass. He flew at me, and he summarily dissected and killed me. I screamed in frustration, outraged that he had a third fucking phase. I mean, I shouldn’t have been surprised because the first real boss, Lady Butterfly, showed up with one Deathblow icon in the beginning, and then there was a brief cutscene after I ‘killed’ her, and she came back with magic.

In addition, it’s happened before in the other games–I just either knew about it ahead of time or forgot how infuriating it was at the time. Ornstein and Smough had the cutscene then new phase. Nameless King–the same. Ludwig also had a cutscene mid-fight. The Twin Princes with that awesome cutscene as well. And let’s not forget Sister Friede who had a cutscene/dialogue between all three of her phases. In fact, she’s probably the most similar to Genichiro in terms of phases.

However, it had been so difficult just to do the first two phases of Genichiro–

Side Note II: I have read the subreddit from time to time, and nothing is more frustrating than someone asking for help with a boss or talking about how difficult it is than someone (usually more than one) saying, “This boss is easy. I beat him first try with my eyes closed, one hand tied behind my back and using a dance mat. GIT GUD. N00B! LOL.” I’m not doubting that there are people who find the bosses easy, but it’s not helpful to be a dickhead when someone is venting or asking for help. It’s the worst part of the Soulsborne community, honestly. All the bragging and the put-downs. Yes, it’s a small subset of the community, but it’s so fucking toxic. By the way, are we now going to call it the Soulsekiborne community?

Anyway. The first two phases of the Genichiro boss fight took everything I had to beat. By the time I reached the third phase, which is called Genichiro, Way of Tomoe, I was done. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. In addition, I didn’t have any health or resources left, and I felt utterly defeated. I honestly thought about quitting because I didn’t relish the thought of spending a dozen more hours fighting this one boss. I gave it a few more tries, but any time I made it to the third phase, I immediately died. That is another problem with a multi-phase boss. You have to go through the other phases to get to the last one, so you can’t practice the last one as much as the others. I went to another area and beat another mini-boss, but I still ended up feeling shitty at the end of the session.

I kept fighting Genichiro periodically over the next day and a half, and he kept getting the best of me. I read the subreddits, but there was no trick for him. I mentioned Lady Butterfly earlier, and the only way I beat her was because I read about a method on the subreddit that seemed way too easy to be true. It was spamming the Combat Art, Nightjar Slash, over and over again. Lady Butterfly has low poise, and this will stunlock her into oblivion. I was skeptical, but desperate. I tried it, and it worked on the first try. I used it for most of her first phase, and I literally spammed it over and over again for the entire second phase. I actually signed up for reddit just so I could thank that commenter for his tip.

There was no such trick with Genichiro. Yes, there were certain prosthetics that helped during the fight (Fireworks, yo! A gift and a lifesaver), but I still had to fight him. When I first started fighting him, I had 6 Healing Gourds and two prayer necklaces (I think)–each prayer necklace is made of four Prayer Beads, and each necklace increases your Vitality and Posture. I was so under-leveled, I did other things and managed to get another Healing Gourd and up my Vitality and Posture by obtaining four more Prayer Beads. Here’s another issue with this game–it’s really hard to out-level the boss. You can’t level up in the same way you could in the other games, and there’s only so much you can do to increase your stats at this point in the game.

I have not felt this frustrated with a boss since Ornstein and Smough. Yes, I’m harking back to the first game and the moment that has defined my gaming experience. Granted, it’s been a relatively short gaming life, but I still remember that moment with startling clarity. I fought them sixty to seventy times over a week, and I reached the point where I was just done. I DM’ed Ian, and he gave me some encouragement. I decided to try it one last time while playing The Pina Colada Song (to relax and laugh), and I did it. I was quiet for the entire Super Smough phase, and then I let loose with a stream of curses that would make a sailor blush. I had the same feeling of defeat with this boss. I went to other areas, but I was too gun-shy to try any of the bosses. I did fight one other mini-boss, but he was utter bullshit, and while I think I can get him fairly soon, I just didn’t want to deal with his terror-inducing bullshit.

I was ready to quit the game. I didn’t think I would ever beat Genichiro. I DM’ed with Ian about it this morning, and he said a throwaway line that stuck with me. We were talking about the difficulty of From games, and he said something like, “I know you’re going to overcome this boss”, and I was like, “Really? I sure don’t!”

He filled me with resolve. By last night, I had gotten Genichiro consistently to the third phase, and I was making some headway with the third phase. The problem was still that I was reaching that phase with no healing items or one at the most and my resurrect. I was giving everything I had, and I was spent by the third phase. I knew I had to change things, and I set about doing it.

One, I had to stop strafing left (my right, the boss’s left). This was the way to beat many bosses in Soulsborne games, but this boss in particular punished me for doing it. He had a three-sword combo that always ended with him hitting to my right side, and my strafing moved me right into the last hit. Two, I had to stop moving all the time. Some of the actions I could perform were predicated on me not moving, and this boss had a few moves that seemed to exist solely to punish someone who kept strafing. Three, and this was one of the hardest, I had to stop healing like a madwoman. I like to keep myself topped off, but with only seven Healing Gourds and three Pellets (like life gems in DS II, they slowly heal you and not as much as a Healing Gourd), that meant I ran out fairly quickly. I decided that two Healing Gourds per each of the two first phases was acceptable, though I would have liked to have five going into the final phase, so I switched to using the Pellets more. I hate using consumables, however, because it seems like a waste. Plus, it wasn’t as if I could just buy more Pellets when I ran out because they were limited in the shops. Yes, they were random drops from enemies, but that was very rare. I had eighteen or so left by this point, which meant six more runs if I used them all. This was why I save my Pellets for bosses, but I was still afraid of running out.

I also decided to use my taiji breathing, slow and smooth breaths because part of the thing FromSoft does is make you feel frantic, panicked, and anxious during a boss fight. I wanted to be cool and not to freak out so much. To that end, I put The Pina Colada Song on repeat (thanks, YouTube, for adding the ability to loop a song!) and went into the fray. I was immediately fucked the first time, but I allowed The Pina Colada Song to flow through me, and I went in again. This time, I got him to his third phase, and I was calm, cool, and collected. One thing about the third phase is that it’s easier than the other two because without his armor, it’s much easier to break his Posture. Of course, avoiding the lightning attacks is key, but that wasn’t too hard once I got over my fear of the lightning. He had mostly the same attacks in the third phase as in the other two, so I could allow myself to use everything I learned in this final phase. I hacked away at him painstakingly, and I got him down to one or two hits away from death. I had almost no health, no heals, and no resurrects left. I went in for the kill and–he killed me.

I wasn’t even mad. Well, a little, but I knew I was going to get him sooner or later. As long as I kept calm, I would get this done. The next run was really bad, and I allowed him to kill me rather than waste more resources. I kept at it, and a few runs later, everything started falling into place. My blocks were strong and true (including against his stupid four-arrows bullshit, against which I was pretty proficient at by this time), and I reached the third phase with four Healing Gourds left–plus my resurrect.

I went into the third phase feeling resolved, and I was able to block his stupid lightning bullshit. I seemed to know when he was going to attack and how, and I blocked almost everything. I used the Firecracker prosthetic to stun him and to get my hits in (the best prosthetic for this fight by far), I whittled away at his Posture, and I got him down to his fucking Deathblow. I applied it, and then, wait, what? The Deathblow icon was still on the screen. It went away, and I still had to fight him. I got the Deathblow icon again, and I attacked. As my blade went through him, the Deathblow icon remained, so I attacked again. And, finally, my blade drove through him, and the icon disappeared.

The minute he died, I burst into laughter and tears. I was shaking, but I also couldn’t stop giggling. My brain was in a fog, but I also felt euphoric. I hadn’t felt this way about a gaming moment since–well, Ornstein and Smough, and I felt as if I were flying. This. This is why I play these games. There is no feeling like it, and it wouldn’t feel so good if I hadn’t struggled so mightily beforehand. This is what FromSoft (specifically Miyazaki) does so well, and I can only thank them for giving me this moment.

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