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 forcefully change my tactics. When Sekiro clicks however, 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 a sense of accomplishment 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 title developed by FromSoftware has an uphill climb that scales as the player progresses.
These titles are filled to the brim with difficult bosses and even though some of the early Dark Souls bosses were laughable, see Pinwheel, the boss battles in later titles created some truly memorable encounters. The Nameless King, Slave Knight Gael, Lady Maria, and Gehrman were all challenging with multiple phases that required deft timing and skill. Failure meant 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 regardless of difficulty has a set pattern that you can learb. Depending on your approach, you could manipulate the fight in your favor, making evert encounter manageable. While a mistake would probably end in a game over, success in these situations was always dependent on the player.
Sekiro felt like the natural progression to the FromSoftware formula. Every enemy represents their own unique challenge, mid-bosses can be fairly 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, as it usually does, equals death and this will be commonplace in all FromSoftware titles. The difference being that death acts as a valuable teaching tool. It’s how you learn exploits, how you will ultimately progress in the game and while this will sound strange, it helps prevent you from making future mistakes. That is what makes FromSoftware’s design so unique, centering itself on failure would seem strange if you didn’t feel so rewarded when you finally succeed.
Somehow this design works and makes every encounter a teachable moment. Even in the early game where you’re just learning the mechanics, there is always room for improvement regardless of you’re current status. When you ultimately beat a FromSoftware title, you are given the opportunity to start over while retaining all of your abilities and experience points. If you happen to 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. As a side note, enemies are stronger in New Game plus, but you are far better equipped to handle them.
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 early on just might be pushover 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. They reignited the hardcore genre and somehow created a sub-genre which has spawned numerous a number of imitators.
Now, where the hell is Elden Ring, I get that George R.R. Martin is late on everything, but any information on its development would be greatly appreciated.