Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

A couple more weeks into Sekiro, and I'm still nowhere near being finished with the game. I'm definitely getting the hang of it more, but am also still struggling at pretty much every boss (and mini-boss) that I come across.

I have a few tips based on my own experience and observation that I hope will be helpful for other players, so that you don't have to go through some of the headaches that I've gone through when adjusting to this new game. As stated, everything I'm about to say are my own personal tips and observations. Do not take any of them as gospel. In fact, if you have your own tips, I'd love to read them in the comments.

There will be some minor spoilers for early game content.

Bank your sen

First and foremost, you should definitely take advantage of the ability to "bank" your sen (money). This is one area in which Sekiro actually offers a bit of leniency to players who may be familiar with Dark Souls. The Souls games did not allow you to directly bank your souls; but Sekiro does have a way to bank your cash.

You can use a Light Coin Purse to acquire 100 sen, but they cost 110 sen to buy.

Most vendors will sell coin purses (in varying sizes). Now, you may have noticed that the vendors sell their coin purses for 10% more than what they are worth. For example, if you use a Light Coin Purse, you'll receive 100 sen. However, it costs 110 sen to buy a Light Coin Purse. Similarly, the Heavy Coin Purse grants 500 sen when used, but they cost 550 sen to buy. There's a 10% mark-up.

Sadly, there's no bulk discount for buying larger coin purses, so there's no reason to save up for the Heavy or Bulging Coin Purse, as opposed to just buying a bunch of Light Coin Purses. The number of coin purses that each vendor will sell is also limited, so invest wisely!

Dying will take away 50% of your un-banked sen.

Don't let this 10% mark-up deter you from buying the coin purses. These coin purses are not lost when you die, but some fraction of your "soft" sen are lost when you die (unless you receive "Unseen Aid"). If you do not intend on making purchases with your coin in the immediate future, then you should strongly consider banking the sen by buying coin purses -- especially if you are about to enter a new, unfamiliar area, or if you are repeatedly dying to a boss or mini-boss. A single death will cost you 50% of your un-banked coins. Repeat deaths will quickly eat away at the rest. And (unlike in Souls-Borne), you can't go back and retrieve your lost coin or experience. The 10% mark-up on buying coin purses is a paltry penalty in comparison, and the insurance of having coin purses is well worth the investment!

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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Adjusting to FROM Software's newest game, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has been a very mixed bag. I'm handling most of the stealth just fine (coming from a background of lots of Metal Gear Solid), but I've been having a tough time with the game's very-demanding combat. This game is much further divorced from the Souls games than even Bloodborne was -- so much so, that I'm not sure if it's fair to lump Sekiro in as a "Souls-Borne" or "Souls-like" game. Honestly, I was never much of a parry-er in the Souls games anyway, so I'm having a harder time adjusting to Sekiro than many other Souls veterans might. Sekiro is all parry, all the time!

Even a week later, I'm not very far into the game. I've cleared the Ashina Outskirts, Ashina Castle Gate, and a large chunk of the Hirata Estate. I've only beat [I think] two legit bosses, a couple mini-bosses, and have challenged (but yet to defeat) a third boss. These bosses have been tough -- perhaps tougher than any early-game bosses in any of the Souls games or Bloodborne. A big part of this difficulty is that Sekiro very deliberately, and very explicitly, has removed many of the crutches that Souls players have enjoyed since Demon's Souls: you can't summon help, nor can you grind to level up your character. You can acquire new skills, but you can't upgrade your attack power or vitality by simply farming grunt enemies as you could in FROM's earlier games.

If you weren't much of a parry-er in Souls games, you may find it difficult to adjust to Sekiro.

This creates a much higher bar of entry than FROM's earlier games. Perhaps too high?

In any case, don't expect a full review from me any time soon. I'll be tanking the rakes for weeks -- if not months.

The Blazing Bull can be parried!

In the meantime, however, I want to share some important observations that I had about one particular boss in the early levels of Sekiro: the Blazing Bull. All of the bosses that I've encountered in the game so far have felt like entering the Capra Demon arena in the first Dark Souls -- but none of them have channeled the cheapness of the Capra Demon quite like the Blazing Bull.

Many early bosses -- the Blazing Bull in particular -- feel like walking into the Capra Demon arena.

This giant, flaming beast essentially ambushes you. It's exceedingly aggressive and almost impossible to dodge. It's very easy to feel overwhelmed. I certainly did.

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The Dark Souls remaster was recently released, but it doesn't make enough [single player] improvements for me to really care to buy it. I might pick it up for the Switch when that gets released, because portable Dark Souls could be fun and interesting and fresh enough to warrant another purchase. However, the Switch version is being developed by another company, and it doesn't even support 60 fps, so I may not bother getting it anyway.

In the meantime, I decided to try out another "remaster" of sorts, and I got some friends together for some jolly cooperation in Steamforged Games' Kickstarted Dark Souls: the Board Game. This is a co-operative dungeon-crawler. I think the closest comparison that I can make is that it's a Dark Souls-themed variation on Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Unfortunately, Dark Souls: the Board Game doesn't seem to hold a candle to Descent.

Opening the box sets the tone of the game right away.

YOU DIED

The big mechanic that is imported from the video game is the inclusion of the video game's bonfire and respawn mechanics. Like in the video game, resting at the bonfire (or dying and being returned to the bonfire) resets everything. This includes all enemy encounters, as well as all the players' resources (such as the Estus Flask, Lucky Coin, or Pendant -- which actually has a function in the board game). However, a bit of the sense of attrition is also lost in translation, as your HP (and stamina) fully resets after each encounter. I think I would have preferred if the Estus Flask had a certain number of uses, but only restored a subset of your damage. That way, you'd retain some of your damage from encounter to encounter.

All the party's souls are dropped
on the spot where a character died.

Nevertheless, the Bonfire mechanic is probably the one mechanic that is most successfully translated from the video game source material. Despite the lack of health attrition, the desire to conserve as much resources as possible for the upcoming boss fight pressures the players into riskier play. Trying to conserve resources can lead to a lot of deaths.

Just like in the video game, if you die, all your souls are dropped on the floor where you died. If any one player dies, the whole party "dies" and is transported back to the Bonfire. The deeper into the dungeon you died, the more you have to fight through [again] in order to reclaim your souls. If you die again before reclaiming your dropped souls, all those souls are lost.

As I understand the rules, you can't leave an encounter once it's started, so you won't be making any "soul runs" to pick up your souls and then run back to the bonfire. You also can't open treasure chests until the encounter is won, which means you can't make suicidal "loot runs" either, which are a trademark strategy of the Souls video games. If you need to level up or buy new equipment in order to beat the encounter that killed you, you'll have to risk losing your dropped souls by farming against other encounters...

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E3

I don't generally give a damn about the corporate circle-jerk that is E3 (or any trade show for that matter). It's usually a bunch of cringe-worthy presentations of lofty promises and over-hyped trailers and tech demos that are rarely (if ever) representative of the final product. However, there is one game announcement that caught my attention this year, and that is From Software's Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. That's right, it has been confirmed that the mysterious Shadows Die Twice teaser is not a sequel to Bloodborne or Dark Souls, or even to Tenchu, as many fans had speculated. It is a new IP that takes place in a feudal Japanese setting (similar to Nioh).

Sekiro does not have a firm release date, and is slated simply for "2019". So it may still be over a year away.

Perhaps I'll hold myself over with the Resident Evil 2 remake ("REmake2"? "RE2make"?), assuming that the RE4-style over-the-shoulder camera doesn't ruin it. The REmake of the first Resident Evil is, after all, quite extraordinary, and Resident Evil VII was a surprisingly-solid return to form, so I am optimistic that REmake2 will be of similarly high quality. But I digress...

As much as I love Bloodborne, I am actually pleased to see that this is a new IP rather than a sequel to Demon's Souls, Bloodborne, or Dark Souls. FromSoft always seems to thrive when introducing a new IP, even though all the Souls-Borne games share many themes, plot elements, and mechanics between them. FromSoft's track record with sequels has been ... shaky at best. Neither Dark Souls 2 nor Dark Souls 3 are "bad" games. I still sunk something like a hundred hours into each -- with no regrets. Neither of them, however, comes close to touching the brilliance that was on display with Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne.

Besides, the Lovecraftian cosmic horror nature of Bloodborne makes a direct sequel risky. A sequel would almost necessarily have to further expound upon the Old Ones, the Pthumerians, the Healing Church, and the relationships between them. The more we know about these entities, the less mysterious and unknowable they become, and the less horrific the cosmic horror becomes. A sequel that removes the mystery surrounding the Old Ones, and which further empowers the player character would not only result in a weak sequel, but would also retroactively damage the first Bloodborne by providing answers to questions that were best left -- not only unknown -- but also unknowable.

E3 Announcement trailer for From Software's new IP: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

Implications from the trailer

Fortunately, a direct Bloodborne sequel is not in the works -- at least not yet. Instead, we have a samurai-inspired hack-n-slash that looks like FromSoft's direct response to Nioh (which is, itself, receiving a sequel and some additional competition soon).

Sekiro seems to put a lot of emphasis on sword play, including parrying with your sword (rather than with a shield). It's unclear if the player will have access to other types of weapons besides a katana, or if the katana will include multiple stances or combat styles similar to Nioh. In any case, I expect the swordplay in Sekiro to be much more technical and precise than in the Souls game.

Sekiro seems to use the sword for parrying, rather than a shield.

This may be a further fulfillment of the design philosophies of Bloodborne...

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Last week, FromSoftware released a cryptic teaser for what appears to be a new game. This teaser is all of 13 seconds long and doesn't provide much in the way of information, or even a title. Is it a sequel to Bloodborne? A sequel to Demon's Souls? A reboot of Tenchu? Or maybe a new IP altogether?

The teaser followed the announcement a few days prior that the Demon's Souls servers are finally going to be shut down -- for reals this time. The fact that every publisher (Sony, Atlus, and Namco/Bandai) announced a server shut down effective the same date -- the 28th of February 2018 -- has lead many to speculate that From may announce a sequel or HD remaster of Demon's Souls.

There's plenty that I'd like to see in a sequel (or remaster) to Demon's Souls, and also plenty that I'd like to see from any possible future Souls-Borne games in general. But I'm not completely sold on the idea of "Shadows Die Twice" being a Demon's Souls or Bloodborne sequel.

FromSoftware's "Shadows Die Twice" teaser from the The Game Awards 2017.

First off, the teaser has a very Japanese style. The music sounds very east Asian, there's Japanese script apparently chiseled into the background. Is it possible that this game could explore the fabled "Easter Lands" referenced in the Souls-Borne games? Every game has had such references. Demon's Souls includes Satsuki and the Magic Sword Makato. Dark Souls has the Eastern Armor and characters like Shiva of the East and the Swordmaster. Bloodborne even has allusions to an eastern land in the form of the NPC Old Hunter Yamamura, who traveled from an eastern land in pursuit of "honorable revenge" against a beast.

A game featuring an eastern land, in the style of the Souls-Borne series would probably add plenty of fuel to the speculation that all the games may have a shared continuity...

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