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Stop Asking for a Sekiro Easy Mode

VO: Riccardo Tucci WRITTEN BY: Mark Sammut
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is FromSoftware's latest, and possibly hardest game yet. A lot of people are asking for a difficulty slider, and there are strong arguments to back that up. But we're here to defend the decision to leave one out, and here is why.
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No, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Should not have an easy mode. Stop asking.

Another FromSoftware release, another debate on game difficulty. Welcome to MojoPlays – today, we're putting our foot down on this topic. I'm Ricky and I'll do my best to argue both sides of the topic, but in the end, we stand with series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki and FromSoftware.

If you accept that video games are art, then you also have to accept that a game, like any other medium, is a form of expression. The creators of the Soulsborne series and Sekiro have a vision for their game, and an intended experience they want the player to have. Miyazaki himself has said multiple times that the Souls games are fundamentally about getting the planer to "feel a sense of achievement". So in our mind, asking him to include an easier difficulty would rob the series of it's ultimate goal, it's 'raison d'etre'. For the same reasons you can't, say, ask the author of a novel to change what happens or dumb down the language to make it into something you want. It's not your book, just like Sekrio is not YOUR game.

A critical and commercial hit, "Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice" has all the makings of another FromSoftware masterpiece. Similar to the studio's previous work, Wolf's bloody journey through Sengoku-era Japan is laden with unforgiving enemies designed to ensure the shinobi becomes intimately familiar with death.

In what seems to have become a tradition, "Sekiro" has sparked the old "Dark Souls" and "Bloodborne" discussion on whether FromSoftware should include more than one difficulty setting. Valid points have been presented by both sides of the debate.

What better place to start than the source? "Demon's Souls'" no-hands-holding approach might have been a welcome change of pace, but FromSoftware has been urging users to "git gud" since the days of "King's Field." As the director of the majority of the "Souls" games, "Bloodborne," and "Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice;" Hidetaka Miyazaki’s vision determines the way these games are intended to be played.

During an interview with GameCentral prior to the release of "Dark Souls III,” Miyazaki expressed a desire to provide players with a feeling of accomplishment by overcoming adversities. The higher challenge serves an artistic purpose, although the director is ready to explore other potential avenues capable of delivering a similar journey.

In a later interview with GameSpot about "Sekiro," Miyazaki explained the omission of different difficulty modes is a byproduct of wanting to create a singular playing field to promote a sense of community among the user base. While the method of execution may vary from person to person, everyone must overcome the same challenges.

Putting aside a handful of similarities, “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” is quite a different beast to “Dark Souls.” Eliminating most role-playing elements and multiplayer, "Sekiro" is a third-person action-adventure game with a relatively prominent narrative and basic stealth mechanics. While dodging has its uses, parrying must be mastered to stand any hope of completing the campaign.

While traditional difficulty levels are not available, "Sekiro" technically has a hard mode in the form of the "Demon Bell." Once rung, the enemies receive a boost in health, posture, and attack prowess. "Sekiro" has been described as both harder and easier than FromSoftware's previous games. Parrying arguably comes with a steeper learning curve than dodging or ducking behind a shield; on the other hand, Wolf is a super ninja capable of stealthily one-shooting most common enemies. The lack of multiplayer is also a double-edged sword. Summoning “Sunbros” to lend a helping hand is no longer an option, however “Sekiro” can at least be paused.

Although "Sekiro's" skill tree system allows for a certain degree of customization and there is usually a trick or an item designed to help with specific enemy encounters, most battles can only be approached in a small handful of ways. For a lack of a more suitable phrase, getting good is the only means to press forward. There is no overpowered sorcery build to act as a secret easy mode.

The simplest way to lessen a game's difficulty is to cut the AI's stats by a moderate percentage. This works in something like "Devil May Cry," another notorious difficult series that is just as much about executing stylish kills as it is about overcoming obstacles. "Sekiro's" combat prioritizes efficiency over scoring an SSS rank and neutering the challenge may disincentivize players from properly mastering the mechanics. In an article opposing the inclusion of multiple difficulty modes, Forbes’ Erik Kain says easy mode is automatically unlocked once gameplay proficiency is attained. Although encounters progressively grow in intensity, the first few areas in most FromSoftware titles tend to seem the hardest. Normally, someone’s first “Dark Souls” is regarded as their toughest “Dark Souls.”

Kotaku’s Alex Walker presents an idea for an easy mode that may complement "Sekiro." Identifying the mastery of the core mechanics as the game's true appeal rather than merely beating a boss after 20 straight losses, Walker suggests expanding "Sekiro's" tutorial to enable users to grow more accustomed with the combat's rhythm. Rather than reducing an enemy's health or strength, the window to execute a parry or dodge could be extended during the initial few areas before steadily shrinking to its default state. Along with easing newcomers unaccustomed to a FromSoftware experience, an expanded tutorial provides an alternative teaching style besides jumping in the deep end. Now, in all fairness, “Sekiro” has a training area and a more detailed tutorial than typical for the studio, but neither are particularly great.

Promoting accessibility tends to be dismissed as an attempt to cater to a casual audience at the expense of the creator's vision. Although this counter is not without merit, accessibility does not unequivocally translate to selling out. Largely responsible for triggering this entire debate, David Thier's Forbes article focuses on how a lack of difficulty settings automatically pushes away users who – be it due to physical or situational limitations – cannot adjust to "Sekiro's" default challenge.

As the writer of a Paste Magazine article entitled "The Physical Glass Ceiling: When the Git Gud Mentality turns Ableist," gaming journalist Holly Green spoke candidly about the challenges faced as a disabled person participating in the industry. Published in the aftermath of Dean Takahashi's infamous "Cuphead" video, a journalist who garnered a fair amount of hate for not being particularly good at the demo, Green states there are countless reasons someone may struggle to complete a game that have nothing to do with being a passionate gamer. Skill should be appreciated rather than adopted as a metric to decide whether someone has the right to engage in an activity designed fundamentally to act as a source of entertainment.

Green's point is echoed in a “Dark Souls-themed” blog post by Garrick Burford, an indie developer and journalist diagnosed with chronic fatigue and pain. In its default state, “Bloodborne” is not welcoming to a user who cannot play for long sessions without experiencing physical pain. By expanding the difficulty options, FromSoftware’s incredible works of art can be appreciated by more people.

“Sekiro” is an entirely single-player experience. Without PvP, user interaction is limited solely to external forums and discussions. Even more so than “Dark Souls” or “Bloodborne,” “Sekiro” seems receptive to the inclusion of an easymode. If ringing the “Demon Bell” raises the difficulty without breaking the game, then theoretically the same should hold true in reverse. Introducing sliders to decrease the AI’s health or slow the spread of Dragonrot is admittedly notan elegant solution, but such a tiny option could make a world of difference for some.

"Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice" embodies FromSoftware and Miyazaki's artistic vision. For better or worse, a developer is under no obligation to tailor their projects to suit any specific audience. Challenge is an integral component in the design of "Sekiro's" levels and reflects the theme of overcoming insurmountable odds explored by the narrative. "Sekiro's" mechanics are educational in nature while also demanding agile reflexes. Death paves the way to victory, permitting the amassed information can actually be translated into an executable action.

So ultimately, yes, there is, like any game, room for a difficulty options, and it's hard for us to argue that making the game more accessible to people with disables is a bad thing. But ultimately, and we're sorry if we sound like elitist gatekeeprs here, but there are thousands of other games out there that let you adjust and change the difficulty. Sekiro is not one of those games, stop trying to take that away from us.
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