Sekiro is not Dark Souls…

“Sekiro is not Dark Souls…”

“Dark Souls is not Sekiro…”

“Wait, is Sekiro Dark Souls?”

It sure looks like Dark Souls… Image courtesy of Activision.

I thought if I kept saying it out loud enough, I would convince myself. That didn’t work. While I want to walk into the new FromSoftware game not thinking of it as a spiritual successor to Dark Souls, I simply can’t do it. Sekiro: Shadow’s Die Twice is not a sequel, but it is definitely a spiritual successor. There are just too many similarities. At the same time, they took out one of my favorite elements of Dark Souls. They removed easy mode in the form of multiplayer. I’m kind of disappointed about it, and I hope it doesn’t ruin the experience for me.

Why is Sekiro a Spiritual Successor to Dark Souls?

For those of you not familiar with Demon’s Souls and its spiritual successors, some of this might not make any sense at all. Let me illuminate you on the topic.

In 2009, FromSoftware released a new action role-playing game on the PS3 titled Demon’s Souls. Its difficult bordered on insanity, it boasted a unique atmosphere of dungeon horror, and it featured some very unique game elements.

For atmosphere, Demon’s Souls sent the player spiraling into a sort of netherworld in the afterlife. A central nexus connected different portals that led to wild and dangerous worlds filled with the undead; with everything from demons, to zombies, to knights, wizards, trolls, and even dragons. And, everything wants to kill you. And, you’re kind of a zombie too. It really had everything a girl could ask for in a dark fantasy RPG. But, no diamonds. It didn’t have diamonds, but that’s fine. Diamonds really aren’t necessary. They’re just shiny rocks; they’re not your best friend. Why would you pay that much money for a shiny rock?

Why buy shiny rocks when you can buy awesome games like Sekiro? Image courtesy Activision.

In Demon’s Souls, you wake up with no memory of your past and you’re pretty sure the place is quite possibly Hell. And I don’t mean Hell in a metaphorical, “My life is hell because I had to pay extra for data this month because I forgot to download my app updates over wifi” kind of hell. I’m talking Hell as in the actual place known as Hell. You know, the one with the devil.

In Demon’s Souls, death mattered a lot. Souls leveled your character, and they also worked as a currency for purchasing equipment and upgrades. These souls dropped to the ground upon death, and death happened often because the game was extremely difficult. Then, you fought your way back through all the same enemies from the beginning of the level if you wanted to retrieve any dropped souls. But here’s the catch: You only had one shot. If you died again along the way, all that hard work vanished, gone forever. That could sometimes mean hours of lost work. And who knows where the souls went. Maybe your souls ended up in a demon’s toilet at the bottom of the tower of Latria? Who knows?

While Demon’s Souls played like a single player game at first, you could summon other players as side-kicks to help you along the way. The caveat with the side-kicks in Demon’s Souls is that this yin has a yang. Other players could also invade your world, solely with the goal of murdering you. The incentives for invading were plentiful, but I think many players went into other player worlds simply to mess with them. People love to grief newbies, and this game gave ample opportunity for it.

Sekiro multiplayer
Without multiplayer in Sekiro, who will the players grief? Image courtesy Activision

Two years later, in 2011, FromSoftware released Dark Souls through a different publisher, and it shared a lot of the same elements and style. Even the combat and organization of the equipment loadout screens looked identical. But they didn’t call the game a sequel. FromSoftware branded Dark Souls a new intellectual property, but because the games seemed so obviously similar, everyone called it a spiritual sequel. It was a new world, with some changes to game mechanics, but overall the games played very similarly and both even shared a similar setting and level of difficulty.

Since then, FromSoftware also released Bloodborne, and once again it felt like a spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. Bloodborne had some big changes to game mechanics and atmosphere.  It was more of a Victorian culture set in Hell, with hunters armed with firearms and swords surrounded by nightmares and ghosts in lieu of knights and dragons, but it also played similarly to the previous titles when it came to its game mechanics.

Sekiro is like Dark Souls, but they stole my precious multiplayer. They took it, and we wants it!!!

Just like Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice appears to have similar game mechanics. It does have a different setting, a re-imagined 1500s Japan. But this Japan is also filled with crazy things that want to kill you.

Oh, look, a burning village at the start of a Japanese revenge story. That never happens…
Image courtesy Activision

One of the biggest changes for this game from its predecessors is the removal of any online multiplayer. This has me worried, and kind of annoyed, because let’s be honest here people. Sure, the tagline for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice reads “Take revenge. Restore your honor. Kill ingeniously.” While those are great suggestions, we all know that I’m just going to spam R1 while rolling around on the ground as much as possible to avoid being hit while definitely wearing nothing but a loincloth if the option is available. It’s kind of my thing. It was kind of a lot of players’ things in Dark Souls. But this tactic only got me so far in the previous games. So I always welcomed side-kicks to help take down any boss too beefy to put up with my caveman ninja rolls and R1 spams of fury.

In all three of Sekiro’s spiritual predecessors, the online component gave some balance to the difficulty of the game. When I played Demon’s Souls, I didn’t get that balance. I fought the bosses FlameLurker and the Maneaters so many times I lost count. Unfortunately, I had picked the game up years after release, so the population on most nights I played was zilch to nada. I didn’t have many side-kicks, and I would have loved to have the assistance.

Sekiro Grappling hook
Grappling hooks are so 2016…
Image courtesy Activision

While I enjoy the difficulty of FromSoftware games, I enjoyed Dark Souls and Bloodborne much more than I did Demon’s Souls. When I played them, they had an active multiplayer base. I love a challenge, but I didn’t like it when I got stuck on a particularly difficult boss. In Demon’s Souls, sometimes it felt like I was slamming my head up against a brick wall over and over again. We all know that slamming one’s head up against a brick wall can be rather entertaining and somewhat intoxicating. But it does get a bit tiresome after a few hours. Also, the brain damage really starts to stack up.

Sekiro: Shadow’s Die Twice is bound to be plentiful with brick walls, should one wish to smash one’s head upon said brick walls repeatedly. It definitely will have a high level of difficulty, because FromSoftware doesn’t make easy games. They make games for people that want a challenge. They made a name for themselves in this manner, and I can’t fathom this game being easy. Sekiro may very well have a built-in game mechanic to help a player along when the brick wall starts to make the world go blurry, but I really hope it’s not something akin to changing the difficulty to “Easy” in a menu.

Dark Souls had no difficulty settings. Still, it gave you many different tools at your disposal to work your way around the harder parts. It didn’t feel like cheating in Dark Souls to summon another player. Or when you sniped a dragon with hundreds of arrows instead of charging at it with a short sword and an even shorter lifespan. It does feel like cheating when I set Skyrim to easy mode.

After playing FromSoftware games, I actually despise games now that have a difficulty slider. It just feels wrong and it’s always all or nothing. I want a challenge and I don’t want easy mode. Instead, I want a game that makes me think and consider my next move. A gate that gives me mechanics within the world itself  to work around the difficulty. Until we get our hands on Sekiro, we won’t know for sure if any of those mechanics exist. Until then, I’m going to go brush up on my rolling around on the ground in a loincloth while spamming R1 skills. I know I’ll probably need them. Now, where did I put my loincloth and giant club?

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice releases March 22, 2019.