YES Dark Souls II is the worst one.
Whew! Now that we got that out of the way, we can get to simpler matters: the goddamn ridiculous circle jerk around From Software, Miyazaki, and difficulty in video games. What’s another hat thrown into the ring? It’s just more fuel to the fire in a totally futile, arbitrary classic internet flame war that will result in nothing because there will never be an update or patch for any of these Soulsborne games. Never ever. And just so you know early on where I stand on things, they should put that in every game to jack up sales and get more people on board and interested in the brand, because why not, even though they will never consider it. They should, but they won’t.
So there are much better pieces on this than I can conjure up, and multiple perspectives and ways of looking at this tangled web of bullshit. I’m not the best person in the world to talk about the accessibility angle of all of this, other than to say the more options in the more games the better off we all are as an industry and community. If you do not agree with adding more options for difficulty and/or accessibility, you are a truly garbage person who needs to eat shit and die.
The other angle I could go into, but will opt to stay out of because it’s a sticky wicket, is author’s intent and whether it destroys the artistic vision of the original designers. While most art forms cannot be changed once they come out, and some are collaborative and made by many people (which is why everyone hates the Lucas special editions so much and they should be shunned by humanity), games are constantly being patched now. There is no rule simply stating that anything released now is final, because the internet ruined that for everyone. Video guides, long walkthroughs, cheesing boss battles, online co-op, interactive maps, these are just a few ways we trample on the majesty and mystical magic of the Souls games in ways no one at From could have imagined.
What I really want to dig into is why this particular whack-a-mole decided to pop its ugly head up now, and it has everything to do with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and all of us Soulsborne fans having to rewire our muscle memory on deflecting and jumping instead of i-frames and dodge rolling. And while there is a new learning curve to the already high difficulty curve, for some reason it just broke out into another chapter of the worst fans of anything saying “not all things are for all people” like we can’t fix that and therefore we should gate-keep literally everyone on earth from enjoying something you like, god forbid.
But my take on all of this is one I haven’t seen, which is sort of fun, and scary. I think this debate is worth having especially in light of games like Celeste but ultimately my hot take, on having beaten it finally, is this: I think Sekiro is the easiest game since Demon’s Souls, and I’m sort of stunned that we’re in a firestorm of chaos and dissent. I’ve never seen a Soulsborne game get solved so quickly before, it’s like we all moved on after finishing a math quiz. “Problem solved, use snap seeds and firecrackers to take down this boss, next game please.”
I understand that there are way less RPG elements to this game; you can’t do different builds or choose different characters or weapons, and that can funnel different people into a playstyle they aren’t familiar or good with. Totally understandable. But with limited options in how you play, and fewer skills to purchase, and fewer things to upgrade, it simplifies the game into a homogeneous singular form: deflect attacks and swing your sword. Rinse and repeat. You can absolutely get through this game using easy stealth to brush aside most enemies, and you can spam your attack to overpower guards to easy kills. The timing window on thrust counters is incredibly lenient. Getting through most of the levels in this game should be a cakewalk compared to previous From titles.
In Sekiro, big attacks you have to avoid literally flash red on the screen. You don’t get that luxury in Darks Souls all the time, with everyone.
The mini-bosses and bosses is where your roadblocks come for most people, and it can be a real entry exam to playing through the rest of Sekiro. But when has giant boss battles become such a particular problem for people NOW when they were downright unfair before? Dark Souls games can be cruel when it comes to these fights, and I found that with less monster types with their big sweeps and projectiles, you can’t just stick close and wail on their legs. Fine, we’ve been there and done that, and with less invincibility on your dodge you shouldn’t be encouraged to do that much now anyways.
The majority of bosses are just dudes (or ladies) with swords and spears. You approach them in the same way you do with most enemies, the dance of the duel is already so inherent by the time you reach your first mini-boss. The mechanics are reused so often, not just with re-skinned bosses later on, but if you can block and attack in a rhythm, you can basically master this game in a way the previous Dark Souls games could never offer. The bosses in those games were so unlike the typical enemies, and your kit was so varied, there was freedom to express yourself in clothing and level and weapon, but no strict way to master those games unless you were godlike (which is the appeal to some people, and those can stop rubbing it in everyone’s faces, no one gives a shit).
Sekiro, more so than Bloodborne, channels all of us to play in the same way, and that way is so finely tuned and balanced, the design of the world and the enemy types and boss fights made me think it was so much easier than Souls games before. You block, deflect, jump, or dodge/counter into enemies. No shield types, no pyromancy, no parry guns or grinding for titanite chunks. If you can get the central conceit to click, it becomes a breeze.
Older Souls games had you learn things until the very end, and no one lesson carried over from level to level. The progression in Sekiro was so much smoother, by the time you got to the lightning throw thing in the end it wasn’t a huge deal. Maybe it’s just me, but I really didn’t think any of the mandatory bosses were at the same hair-pulling stratosphere as From Software’s history. If you just stay aggressive, and attack first, you force the Sekiro bosses to block, that builds their posture, and you can force quick attacks that can be deflected. YOU determine the pace of the fight, which makes them all easier than Souls bosses who don’t give a fuck and will just eat you no matter what you’re doing.
If you can figure out pattern recognition, you can blow through Sekiro. If you’re patient, you can do it. The previous From games have some of those, but are more about twitch reactions and knowledge and understanding your chosen build and it’s just more upkeep and grinding and the armor and bullshit, it’s a lot. This is the least Souls-like game they’ve ever made, and I think that makes it a lot easier since they didn’t keep a lot of the same garbage that usually gets you killed in those games. I also think that Sekiro is shorter than all the previous games, and on my second playthrough I am FLYING through this game. It’s so easy to stutter and interrupt and stagger enemies, and you just blow through their defenses. Plus you have a powered up sword and 10 healing gourds, it’s just a far more simple and fun experience than previous New Game Plus modes.
Ironically, the headline about the fans I started with kind of just vanished because I was so wrapped up in talking about the nuts and bolts of Sekiro. But to address all the idiots and trolls out there who only rep the From games for their difficulty and nothing else: go to hell. You people are the worst and understand nothing and I hate you and you make the internet a worse place, which is also making the planet worse off too. Okay I’m done talking about this, I will never defend a “Souls fan” who is only interested in making sure no one else plays those games because they got there first and are hipsters about it — those people are jerks, plain and simple.
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