Sekiro’s marquee feature just doesn’t cut it

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PurpleShyGuy

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Edited By PurpleShyGuy

To die or not to die, is it really a question?

I adore Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I want to make that clear before I start smacking it on the nose for all its issues. The combat is a fierce flurry of sparks, blood and pained faces, with an emphasis on deflecting attacks instead of just blocking and dodging them. The Posture system is inspired, pushing players to keep on the attack, and it’s always a joy to wipe out half of a boss’s health bar by breaking their guard and delivering a wonderfully animated Deathblow. Prosthetic Tools and Combat Arts add an extra layer of nuance to a battle as they can uncover a fearsome foe’s weakness. Some can be grounded with a well-thrown shuriken or have their armour stripped off by a spear, while others can be slowly brought to their knees with a poisoned blade.

But what’s got my knickers in a twist is a feature that is so heavily touted that its even referenced in the title, that being the “Shadows Die Twice” part. I’m of course talking about the Resurrection power that the protagonist Wolf has, which sends you back to the land of the living if you sustain a mortal blow. When you’re killed you have the choice to fully die and go back to the last Idol you communed with, or rise up and continue the fight. What perplexes me the most about this feature is why are you given a choice at all, why wouldn’t you want to use Resurrection every time? When you revive yourself you are bestowed half of your HP back, so why not just make your health bar an extra half longer and cut Resurrection entirely, I mean what are we really losing? The one situation where dying can be preferable is when reviving for a second time, since subsequent Resurrections need to be recharged with kills. You can also play dead, giving you a chance to catch the enemy unawares, though given have fast you can scamper about, breaking the line of sight really isn’t a problem.

Using Resurrection again and again doesn’t even spread Dragonrot any quicker. For those not in the know, Dragonrot spreads when you die for good, and infects non-essential NPCs. If an NPC gets sick it puts their quest line on hold until you cure them with a consumable, but take note that they will never die and will happily wait in agony until you get them back on their feet. And that’s if you even want to, a lot of NPC quest rewards don’t exactly excite the blood, so it’s only really for those who want more slivers of plot to enjoy. So even if Resurrection did infect NPCs quicker, I really doubt many would really care.

Rewind back to Demon’s Souls and death carried a hefty price…if you were in human form. Dying in this form meant losing 50% of your life bar and pushing the World Tendency down, World Tendency dictating how strong enemies were, the lower the harder. This made the choice between human form or soul form an actual decision to think carefully about. Was human form worth the extra health and the ability to summon help? Or would you play it safe and stick in soul form, not risking dragging the World Tendency down in the process. Going all the way to the lowest level of World Tendency even summoned a unique enemy type with a unique resource, so it gave a reason for players to purposely die in human form as well. This system was far from perfect and was perhaps a little to obtuse for its own good, but I can imagine the Resurrection and Dragonrot systems being used for something similar.

Have no idea what this means? Then you're in the same boat as everyone else who played Demon's Souls.
Have no idea what this means? Then you're in the same boat as everyone else who played Demon's Souls.

Instead of Dragonrot spreading when you die, it should only spread when you revive. Dragonrot can then be a much harsher punishment since now it is within your control, so it could eventually kill NPCs if left untreated, or it could even change the environment or enemies in certain ways. NPC quests should also have far more appealing rewards, maybe unique upgrades for your Prosthetic Tools to give greater incentive for players to actually do them. Resurrection could also use some major expanding given the larger penalty to use it. Perhaps it could give you an attack boost or there could be certain moves that could only be performed after Resurrection. These changes make the decision to die or try again an actual choice to make, instead of it being a mildly irritating roadblock that had me mashing the R1 button so I could keep playing the game. Of course, it’s easy for me to sit here and point out all the ways I think Sekiro could be better, any work to the game costs time and money, and given how bosses and areas are recycled, those resources definitely weren’t infinite.

As to why Resurrection couldn’t be cut, it plays a vital part in the story, meaning you couldn’t just rip it out without some extensive restructuring of the narrative. With that in mind, my hunch is that Resurrection was thought of as a story element first and then fitted into the game after. And I’m sure the team thought it was a neat idea, but the reality is that there can be a huge difference between an idea on paper and an idea put into practice. A mechanic in a game has to be tested to see how players use it. Players can be an overly focused bunch, and will usually opt for the path of least resistance if given the chance, even if that means a less exciting and fulfilling experience. Take that loot cave in Destiny for example, a whole community of players shooting enemies at a cave entrance for hours, not because it was fun, but because it got results.

I think this is a more accurate representation of your choice.
I think this is a more accurate representation of your choice.

FromSoft have a history of second guessing the psychology of players, and Sekiro is no exception. Take a boss fight that was situated in the middle of a group of enemies for instance. FromSoft likely wanted me to stealthily take out the surrounding threat and then deal with the boss one-on-one, but doing that over and over again just to get another attempt at the boss was an exercise in bloody tedium. So I came up with the idea of leading the boss to a doorway they could conveniently get stuck in, and then beginning the not so thrilling battle of me repeatedly whacking the boss and then leaping away to safety like the little ninja tease that I am.

While these situations annoyed me far more, Resurrection is the mechanic I have decided to rag on in particular because its inclusion is just so half-hearted. Demon’s Souls showed us a team that was willing to throw conventional thinking to the wind, and in doing so created a cult classic that love it or hate it, could never be considered unambitious. Demon’s Souls was truly the Wild West of FromSoft, but Sekiro for all its dazzling and enthralling swordplay plays it safe in some ways. The challenge is still there, that is undeniable, but perhaps mainstream success has prevented them from being truly as adventurous as they were back in the day.

So what I’m trying to say is that FromSoft have become massive cowards…but they still make damn good games.

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Efesell

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I think this mechanic works well within the zeitgeist which is probably the way it was intended to function. Nobody understood Dragonrot, everyone had 5 different types of misinformation to spread and it made the choice to resurrect seem scary and dangerous.

Of course that's all bullshit and now the mystique is gone but the alternative option of actually making Dragonrot that punishing in a difficult enough game is absurdly bad design.

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Brackstone

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I see resurrection as an important part of the difficulty balancing, a lot of people think the game is hard, harder than any other fromsoft game, and the resurrection ability is what makes the game more manageable for those people. In general, I think it's important to thing about it as a mechanic for boss fights more than anything.

In terms of resurrection vs just having 50% more health, resurrection works better. It allows you to make mistakes, and learn from them, and get back in the loop faster. But, most importantly, because the orbs only recharge upon doing a finisher move on a boss, so you can make a mistake, but you have to learn from it, if you don't the boss fight restarts. This is more forgiving, but Sekiro can also be more demanding. With how much damage bosses can do, reviving is much more useful than extra health. It's taking the larger game philosophy (die, learn, don't die) and applying it on a smaller scale in addition to still existing on a larger scale. The reason you'd choose to die all the way is to restart a boss fight/section that clearly isn't going well. If you've burnt through half your healing items on the first of 3 stages of a boss and die, letting yourself die all the way so you can restart, apply what you've learned, and make it to the subsequent stages of a boss with more resources is a valid gameplay decision.

Remember, Sekiro (and Bloodborne before it, and dark souls before that) have all been going more and more in the direction of being difficult action adventure games, the RPG elements matter less and less each game. I don't think you should begrudge Sekiro for not having the broad gameplay systems of a demon's souls when that's not the focus at all, it's about the moment to moment combat more than ever. It's fine for Sekiro to be different, I don't see how it isn't adventurous when it so deliberately breaks from the conventions of previous From games. I think it's a rose tinted glasses situation, we could just as easily be talking about the underwhelming boss fights in Demon's Souls, how the magic system easily breaks the game (far more than anything they've done in any subsequent game), how the crystal lizards are a neat idea but way too punishing.

Dragonrot is a little half baked yeah, but no more so than plenty of systems from previous games. Hell, if you want to talk about players taking the path of least resistance, there's overleveling, something that has been an issue in every previous From game of this style, whether intentional on the player's part or not. Sekiro doesn't have that problem, because Sekiro's design goal is to strip away everything extraneous about From's previous games and make sure the players get actively involved in the loop of dying, learning, restarting, and succeeding. If they've stripped away the ambitious systems of their previous games, it's because those systems were distracting from the core goal of what they were trying to achieve with Sekiro.

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Chamurai

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I have apparently misread the tutorial on Sekiro...I thought that resurrecting caused the dragonrot and so I always said no to resurrection.

Whoops

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CyrusRaven

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Interesting read! Seeing as this is FromSofts first go at this mechanic I wouldn't judge them too harshly hopefully we will see it much more fleshed out in Sekiro 2. Speaking of which if you haven't already check out the Homecoming ending if you want an interesting glimpse of what might come next.

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CyrusRaven

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#5  Edited By CyrusRaven

@brackstone: A very well thought out argument a well. Also I wanted to mention that killing isn't the only way to refill the resurrection bubbles there's those items (I forget the name the little wrapped babies Buzo? Jinjo?) that let you instantly recover one.

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PurpleShyGuy

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@cyrusraven: I'm a huge fan of FromSoft, and I think sometimes the biggest fan can also be the harshest critic. Like you, I really hope they learn from Sekiro and make something even better in the future. I haven't actually beat Sekiro yet as I'm trying to kill the Demon of Hatred and he's a pretty tough bastard, but I think I've done everything to get the Homecoming ending.

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CyrusRaven

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@purpleshyguy: For sure about the biggest fan/critic stuff. Looking forward to what comes next we can always depend on FromSoft too do weird experimental stuff. Good luck with the Demon btw.

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PurpleShyGuy

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#8  Edited By PurpleShyGuy

@brackstone: I get that Resurrection can be used as a sort of cool down to gather your thoughts before re-engaging the boss again, but I find for me that the best way to learn a boss is to stay in the fight. It's the threat of dying and being sent back to an Idol that makes me careful of making mistakes, not dying and having to wait a few seconds before I can play again. When I'm fighting something like the Demon of Hatred which kills you in about two to three hits, I'd rather take a health boost than the Resurrect. Though I do admit getting a Deathblow to gain access to your second and then third orb is actually a good incentive for the player to keep going. Also choosing to die if a boss fight is going bad is a valid option, but if you're learning a boss you might as well revive just so you can get in some practice, even if you're doomed to fail.

With the Demon's Souls comparison, let me clarify. I was saying that the Dragonrot and Resurrection systems could be used like World Tendency. I wasn't saying that Sekiro was worse than Demon's Souls because Demon's Souls has more options, I was saying that Demon's Souls has more impactful mechanics – for better and for worse. Demon's Souls has problems, have you ever tried to upgrade a weapon to max, it's like getting your teeth pulled out, but the team still tried a lot of crazy things with that game so I can't help but respect it. Sekiro is far more refined yes, and again I agree that the game is far more balanced because a player can't just grind their way past a boss, but a lot of its systems feel cut down to the point of redundancy. Things like halving your sen and exp upon death isn't really an issue because of how fast you can escape a fight, Resurrection even acts as a safety barrier. This also has a knock on effect with Unseen Aid, because you are not going to be hoarding exp and sen when you know you are going to be dying a lot.

When you cut everything to the core, you best make sure that the few features you do have are polished to perfection, and FromSoft's answer was to polish them to the point of almost non-existence.

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Efesell

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When you cut everything to the core, you best make sure that the few features you do have are polished to perfection, and FromSoft's answer was to polish them to the point of almost non-existence.

I would argue, I think, that Sekiro represents one of the few times they've polished anything at all rather than just throw together some buck wild mechanics and not consider all that much how they will actually function in the hands of players.

World Tendency is certainly the most egregious example of that. A system that clearly had tremendous thought put into it's design and absolutely zero thought put into how anyone would be expected to make use of it.

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Humanity

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@purpleshyguy: by now it is quite evident they don’t learn anything and have no desire to enact any real changes unless they are in lieu of new mechanics. I’m a big fan of these games but game after game the same issues come up, the same bugs, the same problems - they make baby steps in fixing some stuff but overall it’s like “wow really so the camera is still busted when fighting large bosses? How many games in are we? Still?”

I used to hope they will learn but by now it is actually quite foolish to keep hoping for this.

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Blommer4

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I feel that increasing the HP might still screw you over in terms of getting caught in killer combos. Though, I guess if the game was balanced around the fact, it could work. Personally I like the resurrection though. For me it feels less punishing knowing I can die once (or more, if you can get those charges back), than having to feel like a death is a death.

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PurpleShyGuy

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#12  Edited By PurpleShyGuy

@efesell: I agree that World Tendency was a system that had problems, but it was something that I honestly felt was interesting because it made going human a gamble. I really can't say the same for Resurrection, outside a few specific moments, I chose to revive almost every time. There just isn't enough cons to reviving or enough pros to staying dead.

FromSoft have a problem with putting ideas in without much thought, I believe this to be true from Demon's Souls to Sekiro. But I'd rather they put in buck wild ideas rather than ones that barely do anything.

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TheRealTurk

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As seemingly the only person on Earth who thinks Sekiro is kind of a lousy game, I would argue that the resurrection mechanic is actually among the least of the game's problems, although I fully agree that it has its issues. My issues with it is that the game is balanced in such a way that you either finish a fight nearly flawlessly, or you're dead in about two seconds. If you need to resurrect, it's usually because you haven't learned the encounter to the game's satisfaction. In 90% of my successful boss fights, I got through without using a charge. When I needed to use it, I typically just got killed almost immediately after resurrecting, making the mechanic mostly useless.

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Efesell

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#14  Edited By Efesell

@purpleshyguy: At the same time though I never once let world tendency factor anything I was doing. If I was wary of becoming human it was because I might get invaded by some asshole with the scrape spear.

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tunaburn

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@therealturk: thats honestly weird as hell because resurrecting saved me from having to restart countless times.

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inevpatoria

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#16  Edited By inevpatoria

@therealturk said:

...the game is balanced in such a way that you either finish a fight nearly flawlessly, or you're dead in about two seconds. If you need to resurrect, it's usually because you haven't learned the encounter to the game's satisfaction. In 90% of my successful boss fights, I got through without using a charge. When I needed to use it, I typically just got killed almost immediately after resurrecting, making the mechanic mostly useless.

While I really liked Sekiro, my experience was similar to this. Resurrection rarely ever bailed me out of boss fights. I'd either made it over the tipping point or I hadn't. By the end it was sort of a non-mechanic that mostly served as a way for me to collect my thoughts when things went to shit.

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