Sekiro : Shadows Die Twice - Critique
For any Souls veteran, Sekiro's combat system, based on timing and different types of attacks, turns out to be familiar, as well as evolving within tortuous levels, carefully thought out and interconnected, revealing shortcuts between the various bastions dedicated to supply. Functionally equivalent to Dark Souls' campfires and BloodBorne's lanterns, the sculptor's idols are the places where you can rest, refill your healing gourds, bring back previously killed enemies, improve your character, and, of course, teleport close to another idol thanks to a particularly efficient fast travel system.
Although I greatly appreciate punitive games that put my skills to the test and force myself to surpass myself (I have always managed to overcome the most demanding challenges offered by FromSoftware productions), I have felt a certain sense of security in browsing Sekiro, because of his more permissive approach. Here, the paths turn out to be shorter and more linear than in previous FromSoftware productions, renowned for their sprawling nature, and I never had the feeling of having to travel a long distance to reach the next idol and save my progress. This choice of design greatly reduces the fear of losing your progress before you can reach the next save point, and I have found myself on a few rare occasions to content myself with sprinting through an area, with the intimate conviction that 'an idol was at the other end, which is indeed verified. This feeling of security allowed me to appreciate the complex mechanics of Sekiro in a new way, which would probably have been inaccessible to me with the constant fear of being able to lose everything. This is not necessarily an approach that I would like to find in other games of the genre, but it is refreshing and has the merit of renewing the gaming experience.
Follow your own way
Although many of the mechanics and design philosophies adopted by this mystical vision of feudal Japan (and more particularly of the Sengoku period from 1467 to 1615) prove to be almost identical to those of previous FromSoftware productions, Sekiro immediately succeeds in game in terms of stealth, combat and movements thanks to the arm prosthesis that your shinobi has, resembling a real Swiss knife: it incorporates a grapple which has an impact on the gameplay at all levels by allowing you in particular to gain height. While all the previous characters from Souls and Bloodborne were firmly anchored to the ground and contented themselves with slowly climbing the scales, the level design of Sekiro is much more vertical. With the ability to jump and deploy your grapple, the fear of being cornered or being overwhelmed by enemies becomes almost nonexistent. By adopting the point of view of a ninja rather than a knight, I constantly had an exit when the troubles pointed the tip of their nose.
These new movement possibilities reinforce Sekiro's stealth-oriented approach, allowing you to reach advantageous positions to carry out silent assassinations, to quickly escape the vigilance of your enemies when the combat is badly engaged, or more simply to explore the varied and mythical environments that surround you. When I landed for the first time in Anor Londo (Dark Souls), or in Yharnam (Blooborne), I remember being amazed by the imposing size of these cities. I experienced the same feeling of wonder when I discovered Ashina Castle, and I was also dazzled by the possibility of moving from roof to roof and from building to building using my grappling hook, which offered me unprecedented freedom of movement compared to previous FromSoftware productions. Knowing that this novelty also deserves to speed up and greatly simplify the exploration process.
This same feeling of freedom extends to your trips in the misty forests of the depths of Ashina, and to your peregrinations in the cliffs of the Submerged Valley, which constitute a small part of the journey to undertake to complete Sekiro. With such a range of possibilities, complex environments like these can be explored as easily as in a platform game, and are no longer like particularly intimidating obstacles on your way. Obviously, these remain filled with creatures and enemies wishing to make you skin, but this liberating freedom of movement prevents your movements from one point to another becoming a chore.
Be reassured, however: the oppressive environments so dear to FromSoftware are always part of Sekiro: the bottomless pit, the poisoned pools in the depths of the Earth and the black dungeon nestled under the castle will satisfy regulars looking for a particularly consistent challenge. The moments spent walking these cursed underground places are counterbalanced by the sunny environments on the surface, where the possibility of swinging between trees and buildings is really invigorating.
As the caption "Shadows Die Twice" suggests, Sekiro gives you a second chance when you die. As a Shinobi from the Dragon line, you have the ability to return from the dead, but this possibility comes with a number of trade-offs that you must take into account when making your choice. To put it simply: if you die, you lose half the experience and the money you collected - and you no longer have the possibility of running to your body to recover your lost property (the only exception to this rule, which boils down to the mechanics called divine blessing, which is akin, as the name suggests, to divine intervention allowing you to resuscitate while preserving all of your possessions).
It is precisely here that things get complicated. Each time you rest near an idol, you get a single-use resurrection (knowing that you can normally only have one in your inventory) which you can choose to use once you have bitten dust - which will happen very often. Sekiro is primarily a FromSoftware game, and dying is an integral part of the learning process. However, if you die a second time before you can reach another idol, there is a good chance that the alteration of divine forces caused by this second resurrection will lead to the appearance of an affliction known as of Plague of the Dragon, which will affect all NPCs in the game and cause them to decompose. Thus, each new death the chance of enjoying the divine blessing will be reduced, from 30% at the start to a minimum of 5%.
This mechanism has the merit of reminding you that death is not without consequences, but since you have the means to secure the money gleaned and that you do not lose experience once you reach certain thresholds (where this- these will be transformed into skill points), the danger remains relatively slim. From the start of the adventure, I simply accepted that dying meant losing half of my unsaved experience and money, so I was never really bothered by this penalty. In my view, Sekiro's indulgent nature that usually allows you to get out of a bad way meant that if I had let myself die, I could probably have avoided it. Losing my resources was therefore entirely my fault, and the possibility that the divine blessing was unleashed was little more than a welcome bonus. As it is less a question of resource management than pure saber skill in Sekiro, I appreciated the fact that this handicap forces me to remain honest with myself without hindering my progress too much.
There are different ways you can use additional resurrections beyond the first, linked to triumphing over enemies or bosses with deadly attacks, proving to be particularly intuitive once you get to the heart of the game. subject, given the unusual tendency of Sekiro to clearly highlight these game mechanics, which largely distinguishes him from Dark Souls and Bloodborne.
In the end, the real issue when I had to decide whether to resuscitate or not boiled down to whether or not I thought I could finish the fight, depending on my resources and the state of my opponent. When the latter was near death, I resurrected to finish the job, but if I had used most of my healing gourds without causing much damage to the enemy, I had no valid reason to do so. In this second scenario, I took full responsibility for my death and tried the fight later, taking care not to repeat the same mistakes.
This is a first for a FromSoftware game of this type: Sekiro is only played solo, and this bias has both advantages and disadvantages. The most obvious positive is that in the absence of persistent multiplayer, you can take a break in the middle of a fight, which in a way is like a second chance. Have you missed your dodge and been hit hard with a poisonous weapon? No problem - hit the pause button, use an antidote and resume the fight without having to dig through your inventory as you try to save yourself by avoiding attacks from your opponent. Unfortunately, this possibility tends to break the rhythm of the confrontations and to remove a good part of the tension inherent in the most demanding battles.
In addition, I sometimes regret the little notes left by other players in different environments, who warned me of the immediate presence of a threat or put me on the track of certain secrets, as well as this vague feeling that the real danger was actually behind my back, in the form of wild PvP invaders. But Sekiro being a more simple and interventionist experience, the usefulness of the clues left by the players would have been all relative, and their absence was ultimately less harmful than I thought.
The real disappointment rather concerns the absence of PvP battles, which is very regrettable in view of the emphasis placed on mastering the handling of the sword. The gameplay associated with it is certainly not as deep as that of a For Honor, but I easily imagine multiplayer clashes based on the stone-leaf-scissors formula, with saber duels between Shinobis which can sometimes last several minutes .
Who lives by the sword will perish by the sword
When you are not walking through the levels in search of an advantageous position which will allow you to surprise your opponents and perform easy executions, characterized by animations rich in hemoglobin where the sprays of blood spurt out all directions in the same way 'a rotary garden sprinkler, Sekiro's combat system is based on the handling of the saber and the mastery of its excellent stone-leaf-scissor counter system. If parades and dodges always occupy a central place in Bloodborne and the Souls series, they prove to be absolutely crucial to hope to find the slightest opening against the different types of enemies of Sekiro, whether large or small.
Their attacks can for example take the form of bursts of blows, lateral sweeps or tankards, which it is difficult, if not impossible, to block or dodge. Fortunately, when this happens, a red indicator, synonymous with danger, appears above your character and gives you a fraction of a second to determine the specific type of attack used and how to counter it. Frontal attacks can be dodged or parried, you escape burst attacks by jumping, while steins must also be dodged. Once well mastered, the combat system offers thrilling confrontations requiring precise timing, where the blades collide and the tactics used are as pleasant to execute as to watch.
However, the learning curve is particularly steep here, since the time between the appearance of the indicator on the screen and the occurrence of the attack may differ depending on the enemy and is generally extremely short. But once you've got the hang of it well, and you're not just dodging heavy attacks (like you would in Dark Souls), you find yourself playing equally with any enemy . It will obviously take some time to forget your old reflexes. After having been occured dozens of times for having instinctively performed a rear dodge when my attack was blocked by the enemy, I finally began to realize the absolute necessity of using my saber to triumph. When a 5 meter tall monster repeatedly attacks you and you are not only able to counter this wave of attacks but also to counter them, you have the feeling of being the greatest swordsman who has ever lived.
Over time, this approach makes Sekiro more permissive and slightly easier than its predecessors, in part because doing the right counter against towering monsters and other deadly assassins almost always offers you an opportunity to attack them immediately after. When you get there, you have a guaranteed time window to punish them properly, which is quite reassuring when you first cross paths with an apparently invincible enemy.
Overcoming your enemies by increasing the damage is not the only possibility, however, since Sekiro introduces a posture system, which is roughly similar to a second health gauge. Whenever you place attacks or blocks, the opponent's posture bar tends to fill up. This also applies to yours when you chain saber displays, which means by extension that enemies that constantly block - and therefore do not allow you to start their life bar - can always be eliminated, since a once their posture gauge is filled, they are immediately exposed to a fatal blow.
This system reinforces the idea that standing in front of your opponent is the most appropriate way to fight. Suppose you hijack an attack, hit your opponent with an unblocked quick blow before launching a second attack that he blocks. Obviously, the damage caused by these three successive actions will be limited, but you will have increased its posture bar. Repeat these actions several times, and it will not be long before you send your head flying with a saber blow. Thanks to this bias, you never have the feeling that the fights drag on, and one way or another, a fight between two opponents of an equivalent level will have irreparably a winner.
However, not all enemies need to be defeated by multiplying martial prowess. From time to time, I came across a monster that struck too hard or too unpredictably for me to risk trying to counter its attacks - as was the case with a particularly painful giant headless monkey. When this happened, the good old technique of running in a circle around him so that he started spinning around and offered me opportunities to attack him repeatedly in the back proved to be quite indicated. Old habits definitely die.
The approach you take is less important when dealing with basic enemies - who die quickly when you chain attacks, generating a barrage of hemoglobin - but Sekiro constantly introduces unique and tough enemies that dramatically increase the complexity of the clashes. Whether it's a corrupt monk with an imposing halberd, a strange quadruped front-legged monster with impressive claws, expert fencers, penguin ninjas or supernatural threats, all demand the use of specific tactics to overcome it, and have their own peculiarities. Knowing their movements and their different techniques puts a strain on your adaptability, and although there are less than a dozen Bosses (with a capital B), the world of Sekiro is home to an impressive number of sub-bosses particularly twisted who have an additional gauge of health, obliging you to give the best of yourself and to redouble your concentration to hope to make them bite the dust.
Compared to previous FromSoftware productions, the progression of your character has been greatly simplified. You no longer amass Souls or Blood Echoes to improve your stats or gain new Abilities, nor do you increase your Strength to do more damage (since this characteristic is no longer used in Sekiro). Now your vitality (health) and attack power (damage) increase when you spend the key items (the number of which is limited, although there are ways to exceed this limit towards the end of the game) that you receive by defeating the toughest bosses and enemies. There are also no real weapons to find or armor to acquire, since with one or two rare exceptions (serving the plot), you will use the same katana over the age of fifty hours of play required to complete the adventure.
That way, you already have a solid foundation for success in Sekiro, which puts more emphasis on improving your skills rather than getting a new weapon or piece of armor to overcome challenges that available to you. But that doesn't mean that your arsenal improvement has been thrown into the background, since the fun and varied possibilities that new weapons and armor would add to gameplay here take the form of inventive prosthetic tools that you get at adventure thread.
In Sekiro, the experience that you glean is not used to obtain attribute points but skill points that you spend in the different trees available, which allow you to unlock passive skills such as increased stealth facilitating assassinations . You can also gain an ability to recover your health when you execute a death blow (which is undoubtedly one of the most valuable passive skills I have acquired in Sekiro) or increase the number of spiritual emblems you can wear, which allows you to use your prosthetic tools more frequently.
When it comes to active skills, you have access to a wide range of combat techniques (devastating heavy attacks, super-fast blows, secret techniques that kill your opponent in the blink of an eye and many others). The number of skills, abilities and combat techniques to unlock is simply staggering, and perhaps even more impressive, each of them seemed to me unique and particularly indicated in certain specific situations.
Similarly, your prosthetic arm can accommodate a number of different gadgets, scattered throughout environments, which can then be enhanced with precious materials. Like the skills mentioned above, these tools will widen your range of possibilities throughout the adventure, knowing that many of them have been thought of for a very specific purpose. Firecrackers can, for example, scare animals, which is useful when you are attacked by a pack of wolves, opposed to an enemy on horseback, or find yourself face to face with a flaming bull. The loaded lance is ideal for attracting weaker enemies towards you in order to keep them within katana range or destroy the loose armor of certain enemies (although this is rather rare). While the flame thrower is as effective as you can imagine, and is not only used to cause progressive damage. Some enemies struck by the plague fear only fire, and the use of this tool is essential to be able to place attacks that start their life bar.
Some of these tools, however, seem more useful than others: the shurikens are essential to cause constant damage while the raven feathers allow you to escape from enemy attacks and bypass the guard of your opponents by reappearing next to them, behind or above them (a possibility that saved me more than once). Others, such as the loaded umbrella, roughly akin to a shield for blocking projectiles, and the loaded ax, reducing the shields to crumbs, are also very useful, even vital in certain very specific situations.
These different tools have their own skill trees, and require the use of precious resources to be improved. If the basic loaded umbrella proves to be particularly effective, improving it will drastically change the game by allowing you to reverse damage caused by ghosts - which can kill you instantly when you take too much. Improving these tools to level 2, 3 or 4 is particularly costly, but experiencing the deadly synergies between tools, skills and abilities is particularly enjoyable and can result in combinations that are as devastating as they are enjoyable to use. .
A world torn apart by war
If the fantastical feudal Japan of Sekiro constitutes a pleasant setting and offers particularly varied atmospheres, I was not particularly excited by its intrigue. Mainly because it turns out to be much less complex than those of previous FromSoftware productions (the immortal Shinobi and penguin that you embody serves and protects Lord Kuro, divine heir with the power of immortality, and and also assassinates on his behalf ). On the other hand, the completion of tasks is much more linear in Sekiro, with characters expressing themselves clearly and clearly indicating the direction to follow, and the presence of many clues scattered within the environments prevent you from not lose sight of your goal. Unlike the other games of the editor, it is not necessary to stop regularly and embark on great reflections to see the end of the adventure.
This bias is nothing intrinsically bad - far from it even - but I found that I was content most of the time to follow the directives of the different NPCs. I didn't decide what to do or discover things for myself, since I just had to follow orders until the next NPC, and so on. Before the adventure allowed me to make key choices modifying the course of history and and its conclusion, I had the strange feeling of having no control over my destiny.
If Sekiro initially resembles a historical fiction set during a bloody as exciting period of Japanese history, he quickly adopts a much more mystical and supernatural tone, typical of FromSoftware productions (which remains quite logical, being given that the Japanese who lived in the 15th century did not, to my knowledge, have the capacity to resuscitate). I appreciated this approach combining history and mysticism, where the environments drawn from centenary myths and legends intelligently take precedence over historical reality without ever harming the coherence of its universe. The visual and sound atmosphere is not to be outdone, with vibrant and colorful panoramas, successful sound effects and an original soundtrack completely in tune with the era depicted, revealing in turn throbbing or soothing.
Although the universe of Sekiro proves on the whole a little less dense than that of previous FromSoftware productions and its more linear progression, its environments are full of mysteries encouraging exploration. You will get your hands on an item that apparently has no use, learn that a saber opens a portal to the beyond, or may spot a building built on the side of a cliff that at first glance seems inaccessible. While solving some of these puzzles, I felt a feeling similar to what I had experienced when discovering the invisible village of Bloodborne or helping Solaire d'Astora achieve enlightenment in Dark Souls. Knowing that the obscure clues that I discovered without being able to solve the puzzles associated with them is another reason to immerse myself in the New Game +.