What has Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice changed compare to Dark Souls
Updated: Apr 15, 2019
Before we start...
If you are already a Dark Soul player or a Sekiro player, you can skip this part; If you have no idea about what this game and soul-like games are, check these 2 videos below:
They all come from a Japanese company called FromSoftware. And they are all known by players for their hard difficulty. It's clear that FromSoftware made many hard decisions this time. Is Sekiro still a soul-like game? What has it changed?
No more heavy customization
As you can see from the picture in the left, in Dark Souls, players have high freedom to customize their characters. However, they cannot change any part of the character's outlook in Sekiro. There is also no alter appearance for them to select.
I used to think about the reason for it because I was so disappointed at the very beginning when I knew the news. However, I didn't find it until I actually beat the first playthrough of this game. Compare to Dark Souls series, Sekiro is more narrative-oriented and focus more on the character image shaping of Okami, the protagonist of Sekiro.
It sacrificed the freedom of customization to provide players a higher immersive in-game story. Instead of a nobody undead, you can feel more weight of existence as the only one shinobi to your master in Sekiro.
No more rich equipment selection
One of the reasons why I love Dark Souls is that I can get lots of interesting information from colorful equipment and try different types of weapons. In the Dark Souls series, each weapon has a unique skill that player can take. Besides, as long as your attribute meets the requirement, you can hold any weapon in different ways: left hand, right hand, or both. The high variety of weapons and armors in soul-like games encourage players to try different battle style and develop their own one. You can play as a tank character, waving massive giant great sword; or play as a mage that casts powerful spells; or a heavy armored character holding two shields in each hand, or just hit your enemies by your bare hands!
In Sekiro, you are not allowed to select your equipment and even your weapon! That's another painful sacrifice in this game. The first time I knew this I almost cried and didn't understand what Miyazaki Hidetaka (the game director and president of FromSoftware) was thinking: there is no reason cancel the equipment system in game! And I just gave up thinking of any reason to explain it. After my first playthrough and watched many video records from other players, I realized that we are all fight in the same way: fight as a shinobi. As what you saw from the videos above, the only weapon you fight with your foes is your katana. Nothing else. No axe, no spear, no mage (Onmyoji), just shinobi only.
Is that boring? Not at all! It's super fun and brings me an entirely new experience of fighting! Just after a few minutes' gameplay, I forgot everything about the mono equipment but the strong feedback when two swords hitting together! The bright fire spark and bright sound make my blood burning.
What's more, in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, there are still many selective prosthetic tools for some special tactic requirements. And one prosthetic tool can be used in different ways. For example, the shinobi firecracker can be used in both aggressive and defensive ways. You can use it to create attack opportunity or force stop your foes' incoming attack. Also, there are a variety of skills that the player can acquire in the game. And these special moves all have their own purposes. e.g., you can perform Whirlwind Slash to hit multiple enemies or open a path to escape when surrounded by enemies.
No more stamina limit
In Dark Souls series, there is a setting of stamina: if you run out of stamina during the battle, you will not be able to move (or take action) for seconds, which will be long enough for your enemies to eliminate you. On the contrary, there is no more stamina limit for players in Sekiro. By doing this, Miyazaki sends us a clear message: be aggressive.
The tradeoff of unlimited stamina is, you need to take care of your posture (the orange bar at the bottom of the screen). While every enemy is also limited by the setting of posture. You can only kill one elite enemy by performing shinobi execution when his posture bar (at the top of the screen) is full.
The posture will increase when your attack is blocked by your enemy or hit by your foes when not defending. When your posture is full, you will be collapsed, exposing your flaws to your enemies, which is very dangerous. The posture can recover automatically, and the recovery rate of posture depends on the character's current HP. The lower the HP is, the slower the recovery rate will be.
So what's the difference between "Die Once" and "Die Twice"? Why "Die Twice"?
In Dark Souls, players will revive near the latest bonfire they rested. Then they can go with the same path and rechallenge their strong opponent. Every time they die, they will lose all of their "souls," which is the primary currency in the game. And they have to retrieve them after the resurrection. What if they are killed again before they regained the souls they lost? They will lose them forever. (If you are interested in the death mechanic of soul-like games, you can check this post)
What will happen if you die in Sekiro? The answer is: you can revive in where you died! Good news! But wait, without any cost? The answer is: your frequent death will cause NPC to end in illness called "Dragonrot" caused by your undead ability. "Player should take the responsibility of their death." That's what Miyazaki want to tell us. The most direct reason for players' can die twice in Sekiro is that "Die Twice" itself, which is also called "Dragon Heritage", is a unique ability given by your master, Kuro. And the story of Sekiro is also expanded from this ability: as the shinobi of Kuro, you need to help your master to end this endless loop by extinguishing the undead.
Back to the gameplay, I think another reason why the character dies twice in Sekiro is to balance the death cost. Though you definitely lose half of your money and experience when you revive at the sculptor's idol that you rest last time, you still have the chance to prevent this loss by using the "Dragon Heritage" and revive at where you are killed. And the setting of NPCs' "Dragonrot" is more like a punishment from the storytelling side because it won't influence very much on your gameplay. (Except your guiltiness when seeing they are suffering from the illness and missing some side missions)
There is another interesting setting about the character's death called "Unseen Aid". It can prevent your loss of both money and experience when you die. And it is triggered by a possibility. The funny part is, the Unseen Aid rate also depends on your death count: the more times you died, the lower the rate will be.
Maybe this is the only good news I heard before I started playing Sekiro. That's what I exactly dreamed about while playing Dark Souls because sometimes it's more than difficult for the undead characters in Dark Souls to reach a high place (even it's just a step of stair!)
Okami can use his prosthetic arm to move quickly between buildings and trees' branches because of his shinobi setting. Reaching high place provides players a special tactical meaning: by observing the layout of enemies from a top spot, the player can pick a perfect stealth path to his next destination or to his assassinate target. FromSoftware is known for its excellent level design. And this system also opens a brand new dimension of level designing. Moreover, this setting also helps players to think and move like a shinobi.
Jump is also a critical move in battle. The player needs to jump to evade the enemy's incoming lower attack and kick it afterward to increase its posture bar significantly. And jump can be combined with shinobi skills and gadgets, too. The player can either throw kunai while or perform a battle skill in the air. "Shinobi should do this." There are many skills related to air combat, which helps players enjoy the flexible fight in a shinobi style.
New rules of level up
As I discussed in the "Equipment" part, Sekiro encourages players to play as a shinobi. Compare to the complex attributes (Vitality, Attunement, Endurance, Strength, Dexterity, etc.) in Dark Souls, there are only two attributes (Vitality and Attack Power), which means there will be one single build for every player. Based on this setting, the level up mechanism in Sekiro is very... strange.
First, there is no level setting for the character. The method of measuring Okami's strength is by counting his vitality and attack power. Wait, what will the experience be used at? In Sekiro, once the player fully charged his exp bar, he will gain one skill point, which is used to unlock new skills. And the player won't lose his skill point after each death.
Since the experience is not used to enhance the character's attributes, how do players level up their vitality and attack power in the game? Here comes the most astonishing part: you will only gain the upgrade materials by defeating elite enemies and bosses. How crazy!
In this way, players are forced to face the boss battle directly. "I can't win the fight because I'm not powerful enough to beat him." As an experienced souls-like games' player, I have to admit that the boss fight in Sekiro is very hard at the beginning. However, after several times' trying, you will find that the boss is not as hard as you thought before. You can manage to dodge their attack after carefully observing it. And you can also find out the opportunity to do damage to them. All you need to do in the battle is:
Face it. As I mentioned above, bosses' posture will reduce if they have not been attacked for a while. You need to be aggressive, the longer the time you fight, the worse the condition will be. When you finally defeat the boss, you will realize that you can make it even without any enhancement. Just calm down, take a deep breath, observe carefully and give it another try. And this is one of the common parts between soul-likes and Sekiro: never underestimate yourself's potential. It's definitely hard for you to beat the boss for the first time. But I'm absolutely sure that you can make it by more practice and give it enough time to try.
This new design of level up makes players treat their upgrade more like a prize for winning a boss fight instead of the necessary preparation for a boss fight.
At the end
As a player, I believe that we love Dark Souls and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice not just because it's difficult; We love them because they are fun. Though Sekiro changed a lot and deleted almost everything in Dark Souls, there are still many valuable features left: The strong sense of accomplishment after each boss fight, the hidden story waiting to be revealed, and the lesson these games taught us to be brave and full of faith.