Late last year, we got a cryptic trailer for something referred to as ‘Shadows Die Twice’ from From Software – the developer that brought us games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Many of us (myself included) had hoped it was a teaser for Bloodborne 2; but as we learned a few weeks ago at E3, it is actually a completely new property from the Japanese video game development company. Though whereas this new game has a lot in common with SoulsBorne games, there’s even more it doesn’t have in common. So let’s break down this game’s story and gameplay to see just how much has remained/ changed.
The Look – Imagery & World Building:
From a visual standpoint, you can immediately tell this is a SoulsBorne style game. The look and feel of the opening battle where your character gets his arm cut off is incredibly similar to the final battle with the Moon Presence in Bloodborne. Similarly, the world of Sekiro continues the trend of the SoulsBorne series towards a more grounded – yet fantastical – world. Whereas the Dark Souls series introduced us to a nightmarish world completely unlike our own, Bloodborne brought the nightmares to Victorian England. Sekiro takes place in late 1500s Japan and the majority of your enemies will be more or less human. That being said, the game does have some larger than life bosses – some of which with mystical and maybe even demonic qualities. So the nightmares are there, but in a more controlled fashion – making this the most “real-ish” world yet.
Additionally, much like the original Dark Souls, almost everything in this world is interconnected. With multiple paths connecting each area, you can basically chose the order of your exploration. Though that is where the ‘worldly connections’ stop, because this game add a dimension that no other SoulsBorne game has had before: verticality. Sekiro not only has a dedicated jump button but also a grappling hook attachment for your arm; and both of these will be pivotal in your traversal of this world. Which brings us to our next topic.
The Feel – Gameplay & Character:
Much like how Bloodborne changed up the Dark Souls formula by shifting the gameplay focus from Defense to Offense, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will change that formula yet again by changing the focus to Strategy. You are a ninja. Not a knight, samurai or any other heavily armored/ weaponized individual. You will be going up against fighters much stronger than you in every way. And the way to beat them won’t be by upping your stats or armor class – because there’s none of that in this game – but rather by out-thinking your opponent. Maybe you take a Stealth approach and eliminate key targets before engaging a horde. Maybe you use the grapple hook and attack from above. Sekiro is going to punish players who don’t think things through and there are many portions of the game that have been described as having a ‘cat and mouse’ aesthetic – especially when dealing with those previously mentioned larger than life enemies.
Two of the main components of this new gameplay style – besides the Stealth options – are the Posture and Resurrection systems. The posture system works like stamina in a sense, where blocking and taking damage slowly depletes your posture. Though the same is true for your opponent – especially if you perform a perfect parry. Should their posture be reduced to zero, you can perform a devastating death blow. This system was designed to truly capture the heat of going sword to sword with someone. Though the biggest change to the system is the Resurrection mechanic. Like other SoulsBorne games, you’re going to die a lot in Sekiro, and have to start over. Though in Sekiro, there is actually a developing system where you can resurrect yourself DURING a battle; and like everything else in this game: strategy is needed. There will be penalties and resurrection will require a specific resource to perform; but there are many times when you could literally use your death to your advantage. Imagine dying during a boss, but instead of restarting from scratch, you resurrect and deliver a devastating sneak attack after it has dropped its guard.
As I said above, there is no leveling up stats of equipping stronger armor – or even character customization in general. But all hope is not lost for improvement. What you will be able to upgrade is your arm (which can have anything from a shield, shield-breaker ax or even fire) as well as your skills/ fighting style. And in many way, this makes sense since in this game you aren’t playing as a ‘nameless wanderer’ but rather as a set character on a set story. This is very much a character driven game – though not a story driven game necessarily. What that means is that this is a single player game – no multiple player dueling or co-op – but like the SoulsBorne games, it won’t have a ton of cut scenes/ exposition. The story is there, but you have to dig it up.
There is a lot that players are going to have to get used to in Sekiro, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be bad. Bloodborne differed greatly from Dark Souls, but people loved it. And here we have From Software yet again offering gamers something familiar yet new when Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice releases in 2019.
Joe primarily covers video games news (i.e.: Pokemon, Spyro & Destiny) as well as the occasional ‘Theory Thursday’ pieces. Before writing for FanFest, Joe was the Creator & Editor of TheInsightfulPanda.com. He is also an illustrator and is currently working on Season 3 of his not-for-profit, fan-art crossover series PokéRangers on Instagram.