What we know so far
FromSoftware are the “Soulsborne” guys. That’s about as succinctly as we can put it. It’s not as black and white as that of course. They’re a storied developer, with numerous successful standalone and franchise titles. They’ve won numerous awards and accolades, they’ve had games published in the west by Sony, Bandai and now Activision. But really, they’re the “Soulsborne” guys. That is where Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice comes in.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is not a “Soulsborne” game. By that of course we mean it doesn’t follow the obvious tropes of Demon Souls, Dark Souls and/or Bloodborne. No sword and board, no awkward jump mechanic, no obscure lore discoveries, no character creation, no character leveling up even. That’s quite a dramatic change for those if us who cut our teeth with Demons Souls back in 2009. Even for you scrubs who came in at Dark Souls 2 or 3. A new publisher partnership with Activision has led to a new IP, and a wholly new approach to how From Software tell their story.
“Sekiro was not designed as an evolution of Soulsborne, of the Souls series. It was designed from the ground up, from scratch, as an entirely new concept, as a new game. So we don’t know if you’d call this an evolution of the series in this sense.”
You play the role of a ninja, a given character whom you inhabit. No RP-ing as a thief or a mage this time, your guy is man unto himself. A shinobi with a prosthetic left arm, which can be fitted with numerous implements. The most notable prostheses visible at E3 were an axe, and a grappling hook. The hook can be used for mobility, the axe used to cleave an enemies head. Jumping and grappling are the most startling mechanical changes to the “Soulsborne” formula. Where prior games were often stiff (with a truly awkward jump mechanic), a flowing, almost parkour style of movement would open up all sorts of possibilities in level exploration.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is FromSoftware’s take on medieval Japanese fantasy. Similarities being drawn to Nioh are natural. But while Nioh took the “Soulsborne” formula to that same setting, Sekiro takes a completely new game-play approach there. It’s all jumping, grappling, slashing, throwing and stabbing. The gore erupts as enemies are run through, dying not from low health or low stamina; but from damage taken allowing a vicious finishing attack to take place.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice comes from an interesting place. From Software developed Demon Souls as a PS3 exclusive for Sony, Dark Souls was a spiritual successor, but published by Bandai Namco. The reason for this was licensing; FromSoftware didn’t want to be limited to Playstation exclusively. Dark Souls was multi-platform, and expert on all things Dark Souls, EpicNameBro, reckons the PC port of Dark Souls brought with it a caveat from Bandai Namco: More Dark Souls games with us. So FromSoftware agree, but then have to move back to Sony in order to get Bloodborne made. Apparently Bandai were only interested in Dark Souls titles. This leads us to today, were From Software have teamed up with Activision as publisher for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. This new IP and indeed new type of game could well be From Software shedding the shackles of prior relationships and starting afresh. Don’t rule out a Bloodborne sequel all the same.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will not feature multiplayer, but apparently the famous verticality and mind twisting dimensions of From’s level design will return. Promising that the geographical areas may harken back to the players first exploration of Demons or Dark Souls, Miyazaki had this to say:
…creating these wide-open 3D vertical spaces is something we’ve prided ourselves on in previous titles, but obviously they have their limits, when you’re walking around with sword and board in these previous games, you have to use the stairs, you have to use ladders. But this time, it’s kind of like a stress relief. It allows us to do things we haven’t been able to do in these levels before, and take an entirely new approach to exploring them and traversing them. So it’s been a lot of fun. We hope players will have fun as well.”
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is quite clearly on to watch. FromSoftware are at their best developing new IPs, new worlds, new characters, and new lore. While dropping mainstays of past games, they’ve added new features which were much needed. There’s a resurrection mechanic, whereby the protagonist rises from death. The characters featured in this game have stories to tell, including your own, as yet unnamed shinobi. Narrative driven almost, but not thickly story driven Miyazaki claims. The one common theme from every e3 interview with Miyazaki?
“we think it’ll be a nice change of pace from what you’ve seen so far.”
Here’s hoping Mr Miyazaki, here’s hoping.