When you hear talk Sekiro, you are probably thinking of From Software, the makers of the notoriously difficult game Dark souls franchise. Although the term “soul-like” is used more times than you would die in a Dark souls game, it is actually not a genre used to describe Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. In reality, Sekiro is more of a rhythm game like Dance Dance Revolution wrapped in feudal Japanese skin rather than a traditional action role-playing game like Dark souls.
First and foremost, what defines “like souls”? While definitions may vary from person to person, soul-like games contain some very challenging gameplay elements from powerful enemies and sparse checkpoints. They also punish players by dropping all of their souls when they die with a chance to get it back, otherwise they will be lost forever.
However, Sekiro departs from the traditional titles of its creators as it lacks many RPG elements that its predecessors contained. While previous Soulsborne games allowed you to seek souls to improve your stats or have exploitable cheese layers, Sekiro forces you with a limited “upgrade” path and requires you to legitimately fight bosses. The game also limits you to wearing a single outfit and wielding a weapon for the entire game, depriving you of any variety of build or character customization. Although you will lose half of your uncashed experience points and money when you die in Sekiro, there is no element of souls at all. This all makes sense because none of these game elements are relevant to mastering a rhythm game!
Instead of, Sekiro introduces an arsenal of shinobi arts, such as a slash or mikiri counter, to vary your playstyle. SekiroThe gameplay comes down to feeling the ebb and flow of your enemy. You have a posture bar that will fill up and ultimately leave you vulnerable to stab wounds from your enemy. To maintain your posture, you must learn the pattern of strokes and sweeps to react accordingly. Perfect Blocks will alert you with a distinct clicking sound that doesn’t raise your posture bar at all. Unblockable attacks should be avoided by jumping or countering with your shinobi arts.
Let’s take a look at the basic rhythm game design principles. Rhythm games tend to favor simplicity over complexity. Games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution restrict players to a limited input range, such as button presses and directional steps. Perhaps the most crucial aspect of a rhythm game is the feedback and flow. There is usually a visual or audio cue for the player to notify them of upcoming actions they need to take. When a player actually enters an action, they should receive responsive feedback. Without feedback, the action can seem unrewarded and thus fuel an unresponsive gameplay loop. Identifying the flow is also imperative when playing a rhythm game, as games like this depend on the player finding their inner sense of rhythm. Additionally, rhythm games tend to offer various musical genres and difficulty levels, where complex songs are perfected by learning and practicing.
So how is it exactly Sekiro even comparable to a rhythm game? Instead of music, it uses animations to define its difficulty. For the most part, it only takes two buttons to defeat enemies, deflect, and jump. The shinobi arts arsenal that must be entered acts as the added difficulty of the diagonal directional entries of a DDR game or multi-button press of a Guitar Hero Game. This is analogous to the concept of simplicity for traditional rhythm games.
In fact, it all comes down to a press of a precisely timed button to respond to what you see on the screen. Most attacks are telegraphed in advance, and visual cues, with a perfect, deflect the reward and alert you with a separate audio cue, comparable to the feedback principle. Every movement of an enemy has a visual and audio signal that is reminiscent of the melody of a song. Musical variety and difficulty levels are translated into Sekiro via different types of enemies and boss fights, where success in a demanding boss fight is achieved by learning and training.
Suppose it still doesn’t convince you that Sekiro plays more like a rhythm game than a traditional action RPG. In this case, you should know that an enemy’s health bar doesn’t matter, as each of your attacks deals a ridiculously tiny amount of damage. Also notice how Sekiro is more reactive than proactive, where the emphasis is more on defense than attack. The key to defeating a boss is filling their stance bar and can only be done through the aforementioned flow of perfect blocking and counterattacking. Once their stance bar is full, the enemy will be staggered and vulnerable to your finishing song. I mean stab.
Deflect, attack, jump, deflect, counter, deflect, repeat. Master the flow of the sword dance, and the victory will be yours. As Isshin once said: hesitation is defeat!