Soulslikes were never supposed to be for me. A year after I took my first steps into Yharnam, I still, to this very day, can’t get over the fact that I was never supposed to like these games, let alone be good at them. I was not that type of gamer, whatever that means. I had already assumed that door was locked without bothering to try and open it. But after my… emotional journey through Bloodborne last year, I realized that these games had been for me all along.
After Bloodborne, I looked for other games to satiate my thirst for something that demanded the same degree of the mental tenacity that it had. Hollow Knight did this extremely well, and incidentally, captured me in a way that Bloodborne hadn’t. When Dark Souls: Remastered finally came out for Switch, I spent several hours trying to love it the way I had Bloodborne and Hollow Knight, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a feeling of freshness I was looking for that I couldn’t quite find (which is understandable in an almost decade-old game.)
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, FromSoftware’s ninja-themed title due out on March 22nd, may be just what I was looking for. After playing for a little over two hours at an event a few weeks ago, I can say that it has the potential to offer the freshness I was searching for in almost every aspect of its make-up. I was intrigued by how it weaves its themes like loyalty and disease through its environments, characters, and unique setting. Sekiro also goes even further than Bloodborne in differentiating itself from the Dark Souls trilogy, introducing entirely new types of movement and redefining the rhythm and “language” of combat.
Set in a semi-mythological version of late 16th century Sengoku Japan, Sekiro takes place in a region recovering from years of war and conflict. You play as the shinobi Sekiro, loyal to the young lord of the Ashina clan, who have assumed control of said region. Fighting to rescue him from the clutches of those who would do the young lord harm, the two of you attempt to make an escape, which ends with the child captured and Sekiro on the edge of death itself. After his mysterious rescue, Sekiro sets out to recover the young lord and leave this tumultuous world together, once and for all.
From the few hours I spent with Sekiro, I can confidently say that I want to spend time moving through this world. In Bloodborne, my movement at times felt constrained. I was stuck to the ground, I could almost feel gravity pulling me down with all of its force. In Sekiro, the fact that I have a button assigned just to jump made a world of a difference—not to mention my ability to grapple to rooftops. Above my enemies, I stood crouched, pulled back just enough so that the edge of the roof obscured me from their vision. I observed their patterns—I watched as some would move in groups, while others would meander alone. I made plans of attack and of evasion (mostly evasion). In one moment, I hit the button to jump from a cliff, and just before my feet can graze the ground, I hit another to deploy my grapple and swing up to a tall branch, landing with a satisfying (but stealthy) thunk. I perched on rooftops so high up I felt like I was miles away from my foes, and found myself just taking in the world around me. To say this game is pretty would be a huge understatement.
I tried my hand at the combat, and felt the satisfaction of a successful parry, as well as the devastation of an enemy’s single blow. Using the Resurrection ability, I dove right back into fights that my enemies thought had ended, and later discovered the impact of this power. My attempts at stealth felt calculated, but not tedious. I felt punished for my mistakes, but not discouraged from trying again. I learned how to use the environment to my advantage. I spoke with other characters. Yeah, you read that right. In this game, the protagonist speaks.
My time with the game left me with a lot of questions—in a really good way. I came wondering about the characters, the narrative, the setting, and the gameplay. Some of those questions were answered, but only enough to immediately lead me to ask several more. And I wasn’t the only one with questions. Below, you can listen as Austin and Patrick grill me for more details and info about my first impressions. But, if you’d like to go in completely unspoiled, I can tell you this: I am hopeful that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will find the balance between feeling like something new, while remaining inspired by the games that came before it. I’m counting down the days until I can return to it again.
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