I’ve been slowly inching my way through Sekiro the last 6 months. I rarely play games these days (other then Skyturns) and it takes a really good, outstanding game for me to really want to do it. And Sekiro is just that. I have really hated it at times, because it makes me feel like I suck a lot of the time. But it has then rewarded me in equal measure, when I actually “get it”. The mechanics of the game are actually really simple, but it took me a long time to understand how simple. Its pretty much played with 3 buttons: deflect, dodge, jump. You don’t even have to move around really. Its just a basic nice timing game. It is good gameplay! But I don’t love it, I’m pretty sure that I do like it.. and I have been thinking a lot about it, and I had a realization about it that I wanted to share.
Looking at the internet, people are raging over this game. “It sucks!” “It is too hard!” Or: “You suck!” “It is easy, just git good!” “It really is fair once you figure it out!” “Its the best game ever made!” While playing I was thinking about this a lot, what is it that creates this split between players? I mean, it sucks when a game is so hard that it feels like you suck. But there is something more to this game, that makes you even more angry. It is not that the boss is hard, or not that it is so effing hard that you have to play perfectly. If it was that clear, “you have to play perfectly”, people would not rage about it. And you don’t actually have to play perfectly. What you have to do, which has nothing to do with how hard it is mechanics wise, is to jump through hundreds of hoops and artificial challenges to figure things out. If you know all that stuff, the game is not hard. If you don’t know that stuff, it can feel like an endless sacrifice to sit here another hour hoping that somehow the game gods will release you from your torment of jumping through their hoops. “Is there a gimmick to this fight, what is it? Or do I just suck?” “Why do I have to fight this guy every time?” “I have already seen this cinematic, what is this, some deja vu nightmare?” “OK I have to fight the ape’s first form for 10 minutes every time while I figure out the second?” “Why is my sword only doing like 1% damage, is this a joke?”
With the articial challenges, or “hoops”, I have to actually sacrifice my time and my own volition to do something I do not want to do, in order to progress through this game. Again and again and again! I really don’t like to do that. Some people might like it, I don’t. I really like the gameplay, I like the bosses, I like the mechanics and the dexterity. But I don’t like the hoops. All this stuff creates big emotions around this game. If I DID sacrifice hours and hours trying to figure this out, I want to defend the game, “it was worth it, its just that good!”. Or maybe you figure that you didn’t actually sacrifice anything, because you are so good that you didn’t need many tries. Then you need to be quick to defend yourself, “it’s just you that suck, for me it was no sacrifice because I’m just that good”. I have not stumbled upon any posts that just admit it: Unless you are an absolute top gamer, this game requires you to sacrifice in order to progress, and many people don’t want to sacrifice, or feel stupid doing so. People might rage against this statement, because not raging would admit to having done some kind of sacrifice :)
Skyturns have some of the same characteristics in a way. It takes players a while to figure out the game, to really get it. For the first chapters, maybe the first four chapters, it might not really click. Exactly like Sekiro! And I don’t want to have it like that, I would love for people to just get it the first few levels, in the tutorial. And I think the creators of Sekiro would like the same thing. But I think where the games differ is more on the sacrifice part. Skyturns is build to require pretty much no sacrifice. Its supposed to be a friction free, in-and-out, pure gameplay experience. The rules are supposed to be simple and super clear. There are a few puzzles, but they don’t cost you much. The Sekiro sacrifice experience in Skyturns would be more like running towards the camera. Some levels have a bit too much of that. It’s just frustrating, you have to do it again and again and memorize every single thing and even when you do there is still a big random element to it, its just really taxing. Some would claim unfair, but that word isn’t great. I’m not sure what word is. It’s more like, I’m sitting here playing, and I know this could be a nice experience, but they chose to make it painful. And I am the idiot sitting here playing it anyway. Do I like pain? Is it that good?
My preference would have been for a Sekiro that was harder, but with less sacrifice. I want a more pure experience. I want to have more control of my character, and I don’t want to watch cinematics twice. I don’t want to fight anything other then the boss. End boss could have six lives for all I care, I could fight him every night as a meditation – pure gameplay. Just don’t make me fight another guy before every time, or watch the same cinematic every time like an idiot. Imagine every level start in Skyturns slowly loading and then making you click away some cinematic, or having you play another short level every time before the level you actually want to play. Why would I want to do that? After 6 months of Sekiro I know more about myself: I really don’t like to do that! And it taught me a lot about game design, or rather my own preference of game design. No friction, no hoops, no sacrifice, only the cleanest challenge possible!