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Sekiro

spines

cyber true color
(she/her, or something)
I guess this game is a little old now and it seems like most people either have played it or won't, but I picked this up on a sale in January and I've poked at it a bit when I'm in the mood. I've had mixed feelings to some degree about a lot of the previous fromsoft character action/rpgs, enjoying them a lot but not really feeling especially excited about most of the mechanics. I also prefer not to know anything going in or have to look things up, but i also just kind of suck at figuring things out so there's usually kind of a struggle and then I eventually give in anyway sometimes and hit the internet. so on the one hand hearing that the New Game would have some of the rpg stuff toned down, but then that it was also a lot harder felt like even more of a tossup than ever. I'd skipped over dark 3 entirely and played bloodborne a few times when it was new, and that was kind of my last direct contact with the series. And needless to say I've never hunted out "similar games", playing up precision combat or anything like that

In fact, I really wasn't sure I'd ever feel up to play this one, but Kayin wrote about it last year and that pretty much convinced me to give it a try eventually, since it occurs to me that in a way all i really care about in the end is that fromsoft "feel". And yeah it's more talky and story-heavy, and sometimes things happen for reasons that are really hard to parse ("why does sneaking up this way seem to work sometimes and not others" is a question I've already had many times in SO many ways), but after blundering through the intro a bit and smiling just a bit at the weird satisfaction of everything, from the dramatic door openings, "does not open from this side", and trying to spy new places to move to, I fought Hanbei at the temple for the first time. Of course I won, and watched my guy do his violent finisher slam into the ground, and then a moment later, the exact thing I expected happened and I laughed so hard.

This game is beautiful and surreal in all the right ways so far, with a similar haunting dream-sense and intricate world as any of the souls, with all kinds of wild mechanical upgrades that feel SO good, even when they're a bit weird and loose. The life systems are kind of convoluted and often enough make fights feel frustratingly snowbally, but also kind of feel like SaGa (especially Unlimited...), so that's funny, and more importantly really creates this fantastically intense fever pitch as you feel the fight slowly build up to a dramatic victory or utter disaster, with the sound design really underlining that. Plus it gives the opportunity and value of backstabbing bosses to knock out an entire lifebar at once at the start, which is another one of those best feelings in the game. Even as I'm not certain I'll be able to muster the skill and patience to finish it (I put down the game for a few weeks after I got killed about 40 times by a single ninja guy at the estate...), I'm already really glad I decided to go for it. I've gotten up to Gyobu in the present though I haven't really figured out how to fight him yet, and just defeated the Drunkard at the Estate, which seems like it's not very far in the game, but I made a pretty fair amount of progress in both areas tonight, after defeating the enemies I was stuck on previously but having no clue where to go on a previous session.

This game does (to me, as an American playing it) have a weird kind of "dad game" vibe. Not that I really think it's necessarily coming from the same cultural place but "you're playing as a middle-aged man whose sole purpose is to ensure the safety of a young child"...has a certain tone
 

karzac

(he/him)
Played this game last year at the start of the pandemic and I absolutely loved it. The combat and movement and level design are all just brilliant. And I think it's way better at onboarding that Dark Souls, at least (the only other From game I've played). I nearly cried when I beat the final boss, just out of relief.

The Drunkard was my first big hurdle. Throughout the game, I always found fights with lots of enemies the most frustrating and difficult. For Gyobu, there's a trick, which is to use the fireworks, as they spook his mount and give you a big opening .
 

narcodis

the titular game boy
(he/him)
Itd be weird to say Sekiro is my favorite Fromsoft game because I find it hard to even compare it to Bloodborne or the Souls games. It stands on it's own apart from the rest despite their similarities. The thing I enjoyed most about Sekiro is just how damn GOOD it feels to play. Movement is so fluid -- jumping/running/sneaking/grappling etc with no stamina bar to hold you back, blocking and parrying is tricky but becomes second nature at a certain point, the tools are all varied and provide interesting utility for every situation... and the boss fights! Man, so many memorable bosses. Beating the final boss of this game is truly satisfying and while challenging never feels unfair.

A friend still has my copy of the game, and I havent seen hide nor hair him nor of a single friend since the whole pandemic started, and I wont be asking for it back yet for the same reason. But once I am able, I think I'm due for a replay.
 

Cyrael

...we're shy.
(he/him)
I wanted to love this game so much, but I could never get the hang of the combat. I could usually brute force my way through other souls games, or at least get a summon (or two) to help with bosses I couldn't hack my own.

I got to the Butterfly Lady boss and just dropped it.

I am always happy to read other peoples perspectives on this one and live vicariously through them.
 

spines

cyber true color
(she/her, or something)
my favorite from game that i've played to date is the adventures of cookie and cream. bloodborne's nice too, though

after a couple tries on the drunkard i'd kinda figured out a method to peel the guys apart and pick them off one by one (i've played enough star ocean 3 over the course of my life...and this is easier because you get full invincibility when you deathblow so you don't have to be as safe to still disengage again), but i was just getting killed by him alone/2v1 for a bit until i started figuring out better patterns of aggression to team with the guy there. still have a poor understanding of the patterns, and i didn't end up experimenting much with what was actually parryable since it was stressful enough to make it to that point unscathed. but yeah, fights that are more than one guy you can pick off for free and then another one you can stomp 1v1 without much effort can definitely get hairy really quick, which is really funny when each guy is usually SO easy individually. it's really great in terms of mechanical feel and game aesthetic, like you can really overwhelm "normal" guys who just have weapons but have to get a lot trickier when you're on the back foot.

which kind of reminds me of the other thing, where if you're going in with no outside info you're not just less skilled and experienced but probably trying to do things that are suboptimal. i assume there's some trick to the valley snake but i ended up making a break for it and resurrecting to try and get past that part. hahaha

i did eavesdrop a guy near the boss mentioning a thing that sounds like an obvious hint, but i haven't figured out how to actually take advantage of it yet
 

zonetrope

(he/him)
This game kind of broke me on From. I made it to Genichiro (still fairly early in the game) and just don't have the reflexes or patience the fight was demanding of me. It was making me angry and sad in a way I hadn't felt playing a game in a really long time, so I shelved it.
 

Paul le Fou

24/7 lofi hip hop man to study/relax to
(He)
I really liked Sekiro a lot, despite the difficulty and frustration. I don't know why, but I ended up finding it harder than any of From's other games. I think because in Souls games, for all the "git gud" nonsense, you have a lot of options—you can always grind out more levels to increase your stats, upgrade your gear, try different gear, try a different build entirely, try consumables you'd forgotten exist...or perhaps most importantly, you can summon someone to help you, even in single-player PvE. And depending on the game, you can usually go to another area entirely for a bit and come back to where you're having trouble later.

In Sekiro, there is an extremely limited amount of that you can do, and the only answer most of the time really is to just git gudder. The skills you get by leveling up are nice bonuses but are almost never what's holding you back - few if any skills/arts will change the way a battle is going to go dramatically, if at all. Sometimes you have the option of exploring other areas first, and maybe you can get some beads before going back to fight the boss, but that's going to be a small increase, one or maybe two health bar bumps at most before you hit a progression wall. The subweapons have too-strictly-limited uses, and are mostly for breaking patterns on certain bosses or solutions to puzzles in certain areas (and grinding won't really get you more or better ones if you're stuck, anyway).

But ugh, everything else about it is so good. The combat, with that satisfying back and forth of parrying, attacking back, breaking their posture and getting that deathblow. The sneaking and stealth kills! The bosses and minibosses, the environments. The traversal! That grappling hook, that jump! Exploring for loot, some of the obscure secrets to find... God, it just comes together so well.

I stuck it out and pushed through the difficulty because everything else about the game was so good. I even played through 4 times on NG+ cycles to get all the endings. But in the end, since I was playing on PC, I actually downloaded a cheat engine - hooray for single-player! - and used that to get through the final boss, and I have no regrets. (I didn't turn on invincibility or anything; every time I died I turned my damage up by 5% and theirs down by 5% - I didn't want to completely break it, that wouldn't be fun, just nudge the difficulty down a little.) I did the same when I got stuck on any bosses for more than a few attempts on the replays too (like Great Shinobi). I used a cheat for DoH on NG, but beat it "clean" on subsequent runs. Not sure I ever beat the final boss completely fair and square, come to think of it, but I seriously don't mind. Play games to have fun and relax. If I ever replay it I'll probably turn up skill-point-exp gain and max symbols (or even infinite, who knows) to make the subweapons more usable, just 'cause. That doesn't detract from what I enjoy about the game. And some day, it'd be nice to get through the final boss clean, but if I don't, I don't. Whatever.
 

lincolnic

can stop, will stop
(he/him)
This game kind of broke me on From. I made it to Genichiro (still fairly early in the game) and just don't have the reflexes or patience the fight was demanding of me. It was making me angry and sad in a way I hadn't felt playing a game in a really long time, so I shelved it.
This is as far as I got too. I love all the Souls games (and Bloodborne), but I just never had fun in any of my Sekiro sessions.
 

chady

(He/him/his)
I loved Sekiro, in a way that I never really loved any of the Souls games, even though I really wanted to love them. I think it's because there's no stamina bar for me to manage. It let me focus on the actual fight in a way that made sense. Something about the speed and flow of the game just work for me. And while I hit a few difficult points here and there throughout my two playthroughs, none of them were as road-blocky as Ornstein and Smough were in Dark Souls.

But yeah, Genichiro's combos are pretty much stenciled into my brain.
 

spines

cyber true color
(she/her, or something)
i think dark souls combat is fine as well, and there's nothing i hugely dislike, but i've never felt so inspired or in love with it as to get better at it than i've needed to to finish the games. to me sekiro feels good in a lot of the same ways, but it's much faster than even bloodborne and incredibly free-feeling. there's still a rhythm but it's somewhat different and more aggressive, and the new options feel exciting to get used to and use. i totally feel that frustration that i've seen people express (here and elsewhere), because i think the pace of the game lends itself much more to a really intense feeling-to me winning feels SO much better than souls, where it's more like a bit of relief, and losing is far more crushing because of how much it feels like victory is on a knife's edge as the combat escalates.
In Sekiro, there is an extremely limited amount of that you can do, and the only answer most of the time really is to just git gudder. The skills you get by leveling up are nice bonuses but are almost never what's holding you back - few if any skills/arts will change the way a battle is going to go dramatically, if at all. Sometimes you have the option of exploring other areas first, and maybe you can get some beads before going back to fight the boss, but that's going to be a small increase, one or maybe two health bar bumps at most before you hit a progression wall. The subweapons have too-strictly-limited uses, and are mostly for breaking patterns on certain bosses or solutions to puzzles in certain areas (and grinding won't really get you more or better ones if you're stuck, anyway).
honestly to me this has never sounded like a huge downside. i think one of the most frustrating things about doing the ds1 dlc (the only game i even touched it in) for me was that on the second and third bosses i really couldn't help but wonder if i'd done something wrong, since it felt like my damage was super low. (there were other places where i kind of felt similar, but that was the most notable one since it was so late in the game i really did feel like my options were limited.) and that on top of dark souls feeling a bit all or nothing in terms of the defensive and offensive mechanics made the character building feel even more prominent in a sense. bloodborne i felt eased on it nicely, and i feel like a lot of people had trouble acclimating due to the general replacement of the shield concept, but i thought the gun counter was a lot more forgiving overall in combination with the recoverable health mechanic, and in this game the variety and breadth of options makes "getting good" feel less rote to me and more motivational especially when i know it will make a real difference.

at the same time, i'm not really all that confident of myself obviously, and i'm really sympathetic to the idea the game may be too hard as a "universal difficulty setting" in general. i think it's a tough call, since part of what happens when you die a lot is having chances to see the areas more, find more secrets and elements, etc., but at the same time...well, on an easy mode i think lots of people would still die a lot! i think that part of the challenge of really even defining what i like about these games is the complex interactions of the various elements, including the struggle of trying to figure out how to do things, but at the same time i know that means i've already resigned myself to having a complex relationship with this one.
 

Ludendorkk

(he/him)
I think Sekiro is easier than a good deal of a lot of Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 at least, because once the systems click Sekiro is just an absurdly powerful character: you're hypermobile, you can deflect almost any attack and can counter 95% of the rest, no stamina to worry about etc. The posture system also makes a defensive strategy viable in a way is simply isn't in previous games. On my second playthrough I was downright stunned at how fast I ripped through bosses once I knew their strategies (well most, some are still very tough).

I do think your thoughts on the game's difficulty are interesting I know you are a shmuper and to me even entry level shmups are miles harder than anything From has ever put out, also because the Souls series is what got me to start taking shmups more seriously and because a great boss run in Sekiro makes me enter the same flow state that a good shmup run does (probably related to that feeling of "being on a knife's edge)
 

spines

cyber true color
(she/her, or something)
The Drunkard was my first big hurdle. Throughout the game, I always found fights with lots of enemies the most frustrating and difficult. For Gyobu, there's a trick, which is to use the fireworks, as they spook his mount and give you a big opening .
i was trying to spot something like this around the area (to use my fire arm on?), but after a couple tries learned that a shopkeeper sells something for this...who i only found after i killed the boss on one of those attempts by running away then scoring hits by grappling onto his helmet. seems useful for the next big thing, although i don't really understand when it works or not and it really doesn't seem to take much damage...

(oh wait, there was another shop earlier, huh. hahaha)
I got to the Butterfly Lady boss and just dropped it.
i also beat this tonight! it felt pretty overwhelming at first but eventually i got most of the clear reactions in my head, and started making more openings by sniping with the shurikens. i had a really close call on the first try i made it to the second lifebar with most of my drinks left, where i used the peas too early but then learned i could just jump away a bunch anyway to stay pretty safe. the try i won i ended up cornering the boss twice which made it really easy to keep hammering away without giving much chance to escape; a similar "hit until i see the boss get a parry flash, then cancel my next attack into the parry if it's the fast response" that got me past the ninja guy eventually worked wonders here, and really made me feel like i almost had no chance of losing really. i even had a whole drink left! i definitely feel like i'm starting to understand the timing and rhythms a lot better.
I do think your thoughts on the game's difficulty are interesting I know you are a shmuper and to me even entry level shmups are miles harder than anything From has ever put out, also because the Souls series is what got me to start taking shmups more seriously and because a great boss run in Sekiro makes me enter the same flow state that a good shmup run does (probably related to that feeling of "being on a knife's edge)
oh yeah, i could definitely share more thoughts on this; it's something i've reflected on a lot because after spending 16 years talking about and watching shmups on the internet i feel like a barely competent player, and playing in public venues (the barcade, the magfest arcade) it's inevitable that i have to consider what "barely competent" looks to the other enormous majority of people who play any kind of game.

really there's no other way to frame difficulty discussions beyond a personal standpoint, though, so the only place to start is by saying that i am SO fucking stubborn. i've completed every stage in the touhou game shoot the bullet; the one i had the most difficulty with i beat at the end of an 8-hour session of listening to the same song (not from the game) on loop and dying approximately a thousand times. it was memorizable, with a fixed pattern! i've never talked to anyone else who thought it was that hard relative to the rest of the game (and, humorously, the pattern reappeared in a later game; most people never bother dodging it because in that game you can bomb and then move to a safespot and earn tons of graze points); i'm just that inconsistent. but i beat it. because i tried a thousand times. certainly, that's an extreme example, but even at my skill level i die tons, especially in "easy" spots i think less experienced players would hardly die to every time. fundamentally the difference is that i don't give up, at least in the long term. when i'm playing at home i do have a pretty terrible tendency to immediately reach for the reset buttons

all that said, would i say shmups are generally harder? yes. they're largely less forgiving than any given stretch of a game like this for a longer amount of time, and frequently reliant on larger amounts of specific memorization and knowledge of what's coming. and probably many shmups i've 1cc'd took me a lot more playtime than my first attempts at demon's souls and bloodborne! (maybe not dark souls. i got the impression that took me at least 75 hours, which really is kind of a lot...) but i also don't treat 1cc or other goals in a shmup as as essential to the experience as managing to eventually make progress in a game like this. (if anything, there's lots of shmups i don't expect to ever 1cc because i'd rather not do the kind of practice that would carry me closer to beating it without becoming unbelievably good at them, much better than i expect to without devoting most of a year to playing them consistently. i'd rather play around and try and get better the way that i feel like, even knowing it probably won't ever amount to the same kind of concrete outcome, which is a huge difference between the two genres for me.)

so when i say something like "i don't know if i'll finish this game", i'm not really saying that i don't think i can do it, ever. i assume that i'm physically capable of doing a lot of things i think are very hard if i spend enough time practicing them and then continuing to try until it works once! it's more about the combination of factors (load/runback times, how much interest i have in other things at the right time, etc.), and if i die a lot in a place that really sucks and i'm feeling kind of burned out on the game i could easily see that kind of being the end for me. at least for a long time.

(i do agree that the character in this game is hilariously powerful by comparison, particularly in the sense that a lot of actions are less committal than equivalents in souls due to stamina not existing and more cancel type stuff. the enemies are also stronger but it definitely seems like i've had some breakthroughs in concept that will let me start making progress much more easily, similar to the way the gun clicking in bloodborne after a ton of attempts on gascoine carried me through most of the rest of the game a lot faster)
 
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spines

cyber true color
(she/her, or something)
i posted on twitter that i defeated genichiro at the castle and a friend told me that he thought that if someone beats that fight they can beat the game.

i thought he was kind of easy, not really hard to parry and with lots of chances to get back in even dodging cautiously. the only thing i usually got hit by was the jumping arrow volley, though that was a lot less of a problem when i would often be able to stay close and constantly hit him out of it. and the two bosses i've gotten kind of roadblocked on since then have been about 100x more infuriating. guardian ape was a total pain, but i eventually got it despite not really understanding most of the timings. (there was a fast sword combo in the second part that i never parried and would always get hit by and die if i wasn't already running out of the way, especially.) but shirahagi, who i first found before all that still feels unbearably inconsistent and unforgiving, like i can never reproduce anything that works. and the poison and the other enemy with the cannon who i usually can't get a backstab on just makes it that much worse.

this has not been my favorite stretch of the game
 

karzac

(he/him)
i posted on twitter that i defeated genichiro at the castle and a friend told me that he thought that if someone beats that fight they can beat the game.

i thought he was kind of easy, not really hard to parry and with lots of chances to get back in even dodging cautiously. the only thing i usually got hit by was the jumping arrow volley, though that was a lot less of a problem when i would often be able to stay close and constantly hit him out of it. and the two bosses i've gotten kind of roadblocked on since then have been about 100x more infuriating. guardian ape was a total pain, but i eventually got it despite not really understanding most of the timings. (there was a fast sword combo in the second part that i never parried and would always get hit by and die if i wasn't already running out of the way, especially.) but shirahagi, who i first found before all that still feels unbearably inconsistent and unforgiving, like i can never reproduce anything that works. and the poison and the other enemy with the cannon who i usually can't get a backstab on just makes it that much worse.

this has not been my favorite stretch of the game

I used the flamethrower a whole bunch against shirahagi, but yeah, not my favourite section either.
 

narcodis

the titular game boy
(he/him)
One secret about shirahagi that makes the fight immeasurably easier is that everything she does can be deflected... including her gunshots, and even her dire "grab" move.

I think I agree that if you beat Genichiro that you can beat the whole game. Not to say it's the hardest fight in the game or anything but more that the hardest fights in the game require mastering a similar set of skills of which Genichiro sorta teaches you the basics.
 

spines

cyber true color
(she/her, or something)
well i kinda mashed through it after i stopped crossing all my response wires (which is a pretty big problem in general in this game. i still ended up just jumping away from the hook grab tho), and then i saw what was behind it. "well fuck it, let's go."

took me about five tries. now i feel decent at that fight, i even clutched it out rather than winning with resource attrition

there's more in that direction, but i decided to go back to the temple for now since that's the area i've been more...directed to, and found the way up again. i accidentally started a boss fight but i'm so close to having 5 skill points so i'm gonna chew up a few easy guys first and get a new skill :/

edit: well i didn't even end up dying, though i spent a long time hopping around (which was fun, so it's cool, but i don't entirely know if there's some method to win that fight (although there are obviously intended solutions, they didn't really happen for me), i kinda just felt like i was wandering around until i got the "you won" message). anyway i guess that's all for tonight. i forgot to even talk to people again, but i'll just remember to do it next time

remembering to look up in most places is one of the biggest challenges in this game. one of the biggest and most obvious lessons of souls and bloodborne is to look down so you don't just constantly run into pits, since they don't really have the same "up" concept in virtually any case. if there's a way to get higher it's always by hiking. or ladders
 
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Ludendorkk

(he/him)
well i kinda mashed through it after i stopped crossing all my response wires (which is a pretty big problem in general in this game. i still ended up just jumping away from the hook grab tho), and then i saw what was behind it. "well fuck it, let's go."

took me about five tries. now i feel decent at that fight, i even clutched it out rather than winning with resource attrition

Oof, I usually warn people about that because that fight is optional if you don't do Guardian Ape first.
 

spines

cyber true color
(she/her, or something)
honestly? that's a low number for me. i suppose it'd be silly to say it was "easier" (although the amount of hits i had to get felt a fair bit lower) but it was certainly...not as much more difficult as the amount i had to get better to beat the first one. and it gave two beads (which got me to 4 upgrades) and a weapon upgrade so it's an understatement to say i felt like it was worth it
 

Paul le Fou

24/7 lofi hip hop man to study/relax to
(He)
Most people do tend to consider the second Ape fight easier than the first ape fight in my experience, though it seems counterintuitive. Part of it is the experience you have grinding on the first one for so long, so less of it is new or surprising. But also the numbers are balanced differently to make up for the second add - the ape also does less damage and has fewer HP (or poise or whatnot). I think the Spear Trick is easier to bait or more frequent in the second fight too, somehow? Maybe?

But yeah, I had explored through that cave before beating that first boss, and picked up a shrine beyond it, so I didn't even realize it was there for a long time until I saw it mentioned and went "wait, what?"

there's more in that direction, but i decided to go back to the temple for now since that's the area i've been more...directed to, and found the way up again. i accidentally started a boss fight but i'm so close to having 5 skill points so i'm gonna chew up a few easy guys first and get a new skill :/

edit: well i didn't even end up dying, though i spent a long time hopping around (which was fun, so it's cool, but i don't entirely know if there's some method to win that fight (although there are obviously intended solutions, they didn't really happen for me), i kinda just felt like i was wandering around until i got the "you won" message). anyway i guess that's all for tonight. i forgot to even talk to people again, but i'll just remember to do it next time
It sounds like this is talking about Ape Escape for the Playstation, am I right? Yeah, that's a weird fight, though at least it's less stressful than usual. iirc there are a few methods for each - The orange monkey you just gotta sprint up on, then you can reset the positions with the bell or resume the chase. You can deafen the green "hear no evil" monkey by ringing the bell when it's nearby, usually on the center-rear building, and I think the waterfall room deafens it as well. For the purple "see no evil" monkey, I think you open the door of the rear-left room to darken the candles, or catch him in the dark hall, where he can't see. The invisible monkey follows you around; you can get him first thing in the fight by taking one step and turning around and attacking. I walked around for a long time before having a flash of inspiration, standing still, then attacking behind myself and catching him. Although, I think he's not always right behind you, as I seem to remember trying that and his not being there other times? I forget.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I started this on release, played charitably maybe half of it, and then drifted away--until returning to it in the last few days and finishing up. There's no particular reason for why I let it sit for over two years; everything here makes for the very best From's modern work has reached for me, so unenthusiasm for the material isn't the case, nor any particular frustration in interacting with the game, as I found it so captivating and engrossing throughout. Maybe early 2019 was still too much, too soon after the decade spent with this one studio redefining their own creative voice and the rest of the industry flailing to follow suit in turn, but Sekiro reads as much as a culmination of that iterative process as an injection of a newfound conviction of things possible to be expressed in the ultimately rigid framework the company's output has become beholden to. I don't feel exhausted by it but instead excited by what the future may hold, which is a significant shift from how things had been going up until now. Since it's still a pretty new game and people are coming to it with fresh eyes, I guess I'll put further thoughts behind a spoiler curtain.

One key, defining aspect to the game that sets it apart from other company fare is that it has a colour palette and isn't afraid to use it. So much of From's catalogue is preoccupied with a sense of "dark" something-or-other thematically and tonally, but also aesthetically. When that absence of light is used with care and intent, it can lead to great atmospherics and spatial storytelling--but just as well the tendency to remain grim, dreary and desolate figuratively and literally at all times can result in monotonous, monochrome drudgery more in search of an atmosphere than coming to it earnestly. Even when the games play about with arresting colour schemes, they are largely dedicated to dominant tones defining entire areas at once, as if to branch out would risk the gloomy potentiality of the habitats. Sekiro's play is to present a mythical-historical view of Sengoku-era northern Japan in all its naturally-occuring and fantastically-embellished splendour, where the earthern tones of autumn make way to blankets of spring snow, where flames of war and conflict rage amidst bamboo thickets and pitch-black holes in the earth only illuminated by ghastly purples and ghostly greens. The Fountainhead Palace alone is a chapter of metatextual significance in how much it rewrites the aesthetic, tone and structure usually reached for in comparable games: instead of foreboding menace, there's a false tranquility; instead of the meanest gauntlet of twists and turns, there's a wide and accommodating span to experiment pathing through; instead of an absence of colour there is an explosion of it. All throughout the game there is a sense of tonal confidence in that whatever mood is attempted, the sheer theatricality and expressive shading of the environments can only support that end goal instead of harming it through those exaggerations.

Tone in general is something that's nailed here in a way I haven't felt about From games very often. Despite the reputation--reinforced by their mechanics and the associations that come with the territory--as Serious Games for Serious Gamers, there's always been an undercurrent of levity to the studio's output which more than the endless personal and cosmic tragedies that comprise the larger narratives are the piece of the whole that From-latelies in efforts to imitate often overlook despite it being a crucial component to how these stories are able to land and connect with people. They're very funny games when they have a mind to and the tone of that release is often fatalistic and a little sideways in practice. Sekiro is apace with that baseline, with several enemy concepts, bits of narration and chance interactions oscillating between the ghoulish and comedic, but never in ways that intrude upon the superficially and fundamentally solemn story being told--the world and what it contains simply exhibits all the extremes of expression within it, often delivered in tandem: maybe you'll fight an oni that punctuates its wanton destruction with carefully choreographed kabuki poses for dramatic emphasis; maybe a horrific, headless corpse reaches deep in your rectum to pull out your soul from its resting place within. All these things are rooted in culture, folklore, and myth, and the game is thrilled to be as much of a spooky folktale as it is a dour historical period piece or a violent action thriller, holistically grafting the appeals of each into its myriad forms.

The big differentiator is that unlike some past games from this creative outfit, the game doesn't descend into performative misery at every turn. Are the people of Ashina having a good time? Certainly not, as interfactional political violence is the backdrop of the game's central conflict, and all the supernatural facets of the setting are not only commonly believed in but demonstrably present as an added darkness in the wilderness. It's just not a happy game, and yet there's an uncommonly intimate sense of humanity in its storytelling that's usually absent in From works. Part of it has to do with a defined protagonist who is a person as the rest of the cast, and bounces off of them in turn: while Wolf or Sekiro's taciturn demeanor at first impression suggests a sort of stoic blank slate to imprint on, the performance in its withdrawn generalities still manages to leave one with an impression of unspoken kindness in the man, beyond generalized aspirational projections of an inhabited avatar. The formula of conversation and interplay allows for much more here in characterization than the sinister chucklings of assorted people met on the road and their respective ignominious, ironic ends as is the conventional mode of shading the extended cast--here, people know each other, converse, interact beyond the limitations of lore checklists, and form an arc that by the end of it has a chance of leaving one invested in those dynamics and the people as individuals instead of the artifical stripping down of characters to their functions as so often happens in these games over time and player disengagement. The simple sharing of a drink with another feels as vulnerable and humanizing as anything these games have ever asked the player to do.

Of course, the well-deserved stigma of dad media and dad games was always part of something Sekiro had to reconcile with its very premise being so entrenched in those themes. Why it ultimately doesn't conform to those fears and stereotypes is both in the aforementioned characterization of Sekiro as a gentle protector figure whose masculinity isn't a synonym for violent entitlement, and also in how the usually central gendered thesis of the stereotype--authoritative man, sheltered girl--is not explored here with the Divine Heir Kuro instead standing as Sekiro's charge and lord, boy to man. Although possessed of its own sets of narrative conventions, it's a dynamic that western media-reading isn't equipped to scrutinize in the pejorative lens in the same way, so it's privy to eluding at least some of those criticisms from that perspective. What also helps in forming those thematic throughlines is that the one centerpiece relationship isn't the only one the game is interested in concocting, as issues of parenthood, filial piety and family dynamics run deep through the central and incidental cast in ways that are consistent and emphasized. Particularly the generational rift between parents and their children is a running theme, as the exploits of the older generation--Isshin, Lady Butterfly, Owl, Gyoubu, Orangutan--form the political past of Ashina and its brink of ruination in the present the younger generation--the wards, disciples, students, daughters and sons--are forced to deal with, while the Divine Dragon itself, the zenith of divinity in the region is itself isolated and alone, a corruptive source of an immortal "gift" sought by many, engineered by some, and suffered by a few. The most hidden, obscure ending achievable in the game demands confronting the most native of gods of the land to facilitate the means to repatriate the sovereign deity to its home in distant lands, and outside of the mythical textuality the process of how the steps to that plan are taken involve some of the most innocent, uplifting actions possible in the game, as the two divine children learn of one another and establish in solidarity a correspondence of sorts, with Sekiro as their go-between means of communication. None of the endings are absent of sacrifice, compromise and burden, but it's a rare thing to find a moment of hope in a lineage so invested in repeated cycles of entropy, and the way it's arrived at is not insignificant to what truly propels the game as a story told and conveyed.

Something I'm less equipped to properly discuss but which is nonetheless discernible and appreciated is how steeped in religion the game is. It's easy to map a generalized sense of, say, Buddhist principles to the language of a video game, and especially Sekiro which very much literalizes the cycles of resurrection as you play it, but it goes far beyond convenient nods as nearly every location bears the marks of organized and politicized entrenchment of religion in the land, how the long stretches of inhospitable and untraversable by regular means terrain are looked over by towering bodhisattva, signaling their influence over the region where Shinto practices still linger in the wild and native gods roam amidst a host of amalgamated mythical exports taking root in the local folklore and tradition, mixing and matching together all the while until only conflation remains. The emphasis on a "purity" of being and spirit that humans in their hubris try to induce in themselves through artifice or contrive whole-cloth just taints all who partake as corrupted from the inside out, represented by the burrowing, skittering centipede, a foe of dragons and a harbinger of spiritual death--the dragon itself bereft of its spiritual roots can only rot others from within through its influence. Those who likewise are consumed by their own violence are in turn transformed and chained by it, while those who maintain their personal code in everything they do are allowed to retain their selfhood. It's not a very moralizing game, but the patterns of faith and virtue--not moral virtue necessarily, but personally authentic convictions--are mirrored in the game's cosmology in very flashy and poetic manner befitting of a modern, fanciful framing of so many cultural tenets in play all at once.

Other games, recent ones included, have explored a similar concoction of Japanese military history mixed with Japanese myth and folklore and derived their opponents and challenges from that mix, but Sekiro's strength in this area is the recognition that one cannot interface and confront the supernatural on the same terms as the earthly opposition, so the "solutions" to those encounters vary from case-specific to deliberately preparatory in ways distinct to fighting humans of various martial skill. The Great Serpent and Great Carp comprise the near totality of their environments, and must be avoided until a classically definitive solution presents itself in overcoming them. The Divine Dragon demands treating it as something almost entirely separate of how the rest of the game has taught the player to respond to threats; the Demon of Hatred is less bereft of a grounded context but nonetheless requires one to reorient fighting something other than human in a game that more than any other of its kind is defined by duels of comparable scale. When the haunts of the Headless or Shichimen Warriors are intruded upon, the game once again makes it clear that Sekiro even in all his ridiculous capability is tangling with forces beyond his mortal ken unless he ritualistically prepares himself for the ordeal, and when the Guardian Ape turns from beast to hostile cadaver that shared sense of horror is underlined through the game mechanics themselves. There's mythic scale and mythically exaggerated virtuosity to even the most mundane opponent in the game, but that this distinction exists between the commonplace and the legendary does a great service to defining the hazy and intentionally vague borders between the natural and supernatural worlds the game erects throughout its run--they aren't the same, but not quite apart either.

Even amidst all the standout opponents, I sort of became fixated on one specific one in the Corrupted Monk. There isn't really much of mechanical interest in the battle, even if two differing versions are fought--the same could be said of several other bosses in the game. What caught my interest was that this is a massive woman warrior presented with big pomp and production, a gatekeeper to two integral locations in the game, and she is allowed to be just a giant slab of violence, not presented to any tragic end or diminished by a fetishistic presentation like other From examples routinely have been. People sometimes in my experience overestimate the quality and tone of representation women endure in From games, and while Sekiro isn't altogether exceptional on that end--some staples of genre are hard to shed--it's a nominal accomplishment all the same on the relative scale with figures like the Monk populating its world in smaller and larger roles. I'm not going to forget Emma or Lady Butterfly on the more focal end; neither will I easily forsake memories of the thrilling encounters with Shirahagi, Shirafuji and O'Rin. The Okami clan define the last hours of the game as opposition, while Tomoe, the unseen and posthumous figure with links to them, occupies a dramatically significant space in the setting's past and her connections to the many who still linger and speak of her. Women don't drive this story, but neither are they one-sidedly victimized or ignored, and that counts for a lot even if it seems like bargaining. There's just a curious sense of familiality to how generally all characterization is handled that smooths over many of the potential and customary misgivings.

I have little to end with except to emphasize that this is probably the only From game in their modern run where the mechanics of battle are so compelling that every mini-boss and boss took on the character of a tremendous treat each and every time instead of a source of frustration in the eventuality that "progress" stalled for a time--at no point did it feel like a punishment or an annoyance to be met with a wall (and I'm sure most will have more than one of their own) simply because the process of learning and applying oneself with these sets of rules was so endlessly fluid and expressive. Pushing opponents to react in addition to reacting to them, and in what way, since so many answers at once can be viable, completely avoided the pitfalls of repetitious gruel in hopes of someday getting to the good stuff somewhere beyond; each and every fight for as long as it was relevant became the only concern in my mind as I felt of wanting nothing else in those moments. It's a more flexible rhythm game at heart, less punishing and more merciful of mistakes as the interacting elements can result in something unexpected, but the spirit and technique is present in how it's measured and managed, and I love it for that. To draw a specific comparison to Bloodborne, the sense of focus and distillation in the core mechanics themselves and the number of foes to test them against all speak to a honing of fundamentals until almost nothing superfluous is left. Some games benefit and define themselves by their wide-reaching sprawl--Sekiro reinvents a staid formula through hyperfocusing on a specific branch of it and reaches untold levels of appeal and excellence at that one thing... it just demands commitment to an equally strict degree to make the most of that reorientation.

It's good. Maybe I'll go for the other endings sometime--if only because I want to fight Emma--she would probably appreciate the chance to slay a demon.
 
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Ooh. I am just playing this now. What an amazing game. Doing pretty well up until 2nd phase of Guardian Ape.

There is some thing about being stunned or knocked down that I don’t understand. I know that you have to press circle now to get up, but is there something else that’s different?

Sometimes it seems like I’m stuck after doing a charge attack and I have to mash circle to regain control. Or, I take a bunch of combo hits while stunned and my guard doesn’t go back up afterwards even though I’m holding L1.
 
Yes!

Something I really like about this game is that if you’re stuck on a boss, there is usually a different area you could explore for a while and advance through. And then come back to the boss after accumulating a few power ups. I am sensing there is a lot of freedom about what order you play the areas.
 
Trying to restart this, but I find it hard to carve a time for this when i have other games to play. I'm quite sure the thing that isn't clicking for me: you can't evade through attacks. It's tearing away every part of my instinct. Thought I was just mistiming a bunch but discovering that evades are a very specific mechanic rather than a rounded tool is killing me!
 

Ludendorkk

(he/him)
As someone who loves parrying and blocking, unlearning the Souls instinct to always dodge and instead lean into the attacks was liberating
 

air_show

elementary my dear baxter
Yes!

Something I really like about this game is that if you’re stuck on a boss, there is usually a different area you could explore for a while and advance through. And then come back to the boss after accumulating a few power ups. I am sensing there is a lot of freedom about what order you play the areas.
Hell yes. Indeed the game is tuned for multiple playthroughs in a way you don't anticipate going in. The Fromsoft "thing" is to get platinum trophies because they're usually forgiving, just a checklist of doing all semi-notable things at least once. Sekiro wants you to play through it four times in a row to do this. In your first playthrough, if you are a completionist, you will condemn this, consider it a monstrous waste of your time, no way in hell you are going to put up with such an unbearable grind.

Then on NG+ you are going to stumble a few times but be surprised at how little trouble just about anything you've fought before will give you now.

NG++ will be when you are shocked at how brutally you are able to plow through this game.

NG+++ is just a breezy victory lap. You no longer hesitate.
 
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