My first playthrough of Sekiro was for lack of a better word, challenging. Everytime it felt like I was getting to develop a deeper understanding of the games various mechanics, a new enemy type or boss would emerge that would force a change in tactics. When Sekiro clicks though, it really makes you feel like you’re going to overcome any challenge in the game.
It’s final boss for the Immortal Severance path, Isshin the Sword Saint, has four phases, each scaling in difficulty to the point where it seems impossible if you’re not razor sharp in your approach. When it was all said and done though, it took a number of trys, I came out victorious and felt accomplished in the same vein as when I completed Bloodborne or any of the Souls series games.
By creating these incredibly challenging titles, FromSoftware has nailed the rewarding sense of accomplishment when faced with adversity. Any game can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean that they are all going to feel rewarding. Almost every game developed by FromSoftware has an uphill climb that scales as the game progresses.
There are always difficult bosses and even though the early Dark Souls bosses were laughable, see Pinwheel, the boss designs in later titles created some truly memorable encounters. The Namless King, Slave Knight Gael, Lady Maria, and Gehrman were all challenging with multiple phases that required deft timing and skill. Otherwise it was back to a Bonfire or Lantern to redo the multi-phased fight.
While it was frustrating, these encounters were far from unfair. From the beginning, you are given ample time to learn the mechanics and understand that every boss has a pattern. Depending on your approach, you could manipulate the fight in your favor, making the encounter manageable. While a mistake would probably get you killed as sometimes you truly have to be perfect, success in these situations was always dependent on the player.
Sekiro feels like the natural progression to the FromSoftware formula. Every enemy represents their own unique challenge, mid-bosses are generally tough with one or two exceptions, and every big boss fight requires a mix-up in strategy. Sometimes you’ll face an enemy that will have one or two openings and other times you’ll have to deflect and force them into a move that can be countered.
Failure means death and this is common in all FromSoftware titles, with the difference being that death is a valuable teaching tool. It’s how you learn exploits, how you will ultimately progress in the game, it sounds strange, but if you don’t die, you may never learn. That is what makes FromSoftware’s design so unique, centering on failure would seem strange if you didn’t feel so rewarded when you finally succeed.
Somehow, this design works and makes every encounter that much more important. Even in the early game where you’re just learning the mechanics, there is always room for improvement regardless of where you’re current status. When you ultimately clear a game, you are given the opportunity to start over while retaining all of your abilities and experience. If you happen decide to give it another go, you might find yourself breezing through the game and wondering why you struggled so much in the first place.
Its both brilliant and simple, the reward for your struggle is that you’re more than equipped to handle another playthrough. Any boss that may have given you problems earlier might very well be a pushover now and all you had to do was fail. It’s honestly strange, but engrossing as you have to experience it to understand. While there are those that wish for difficulty sliders, it would remove what makes these games unique. There is enough intrigue that fills these beautifully rendered worlds that make you want to persevere and experience what comes next.
Even if it is guaranteed to lead to a tougher encounter, you are given the opportunity to succeed as long as you understand and apply the mechanics you’re taught. No tutorial required, no handholding, you learn by doing, even if the lessons can be particularly painful. Perseverance pays off and FromSoftware has mastered rewarding players for applying what they’ve learned.