Loosely Defined Bo(nus) Levels: Sekiro and Community

Illustration by Nicki Diacik

Beating the Elite Four and becoming a Pokemon League Champion for the first time. Witnessing the end of The Last of Us. Performing that-one-combo-that-you-can-never-pull-off to win the game. Actually getting a W with a bunch of randoms in competitive Overwatch. These moments represent some of the greatest moments in many-a-gamer’s memories. They remind us why the medium is so powerful and they full us with a tremendous and very real sense of accomplishment. They are beautiful and they are why I play games.

All that said. At this moment - as I descend into the sweet depths of nostalgia and reminisce the good times I’ve had, the battles won, the stories told, the achievement unlocked - I can only see them through the eyes of the cold, unfeeling universe because HOLY FUCK BEATING LADY BUTTERFLY WAS THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY GODDAMNED LIFE – but I didn’t do it alone.

If you follow me on instagram (@brothergrimm.bo) you’ll know two things by now:

1) I love Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice VERY much and

2) I hate Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice VERY much.

Playing through Sekiro is like trying to take a test that is intentionally overly challenging. You read the first question and regret every decision that you’ve made to lead you to this point, then you start screaming or crying or both. But then someone tells you the test is pass fail, and not only that, but cheating is encouraged and the smartest kids in class are trying to make their answers as legible as possible for you. It’s basically like that with the added bonus of getting a sweet grappling hook.

My history with Sekiro’s developer, From Software, has been one of both fear and respect, but mostly fear. Looking at their catalogue of brutally difficult, dark and depressing games, I never understood the “slam your head against a wall until it breaks” design of From’s past games. Even then, I still tried to play Dark Souls and Bloodborne and I couldn’t find the motivation to keep playing. I picked my weapons, spammed dodge roll, and died A LOT. I love rogue-likes, but the SoulsBorne formula was so off putting, that’s why I was shocked when it finally clicked for me with Sekiro. Is it the ninja gameplay? Maybe. Does the “in your face” combat appeal to me more as a twitchy boi? Definitely. Do Dark Souls and Bloodborne give me the genuine heebie jeebies? I mean a little, but the deeper I dive into this insane masterpiece of a game, I realize the magic comes from the community surrounding it. Initially this started as a general overview of my experience with the game so far but honestly I just want this to be a love letter to you, my fellow Shinobi in prosthetic arms.

THANK YOU for showing me I’m not in this alone. For those who haven’t put themselves through the pain and pleasure of playing Sekiro or any of it’s sadistic older siblings, the best way I can put it is this:

You’re climbing up a hill. It’s steep and raining hard. But for some dumb reason, you want to get to the top of that hill. There are other people already at the top, so you know it’s physically possible to get there, but the first time you try to climb, you fall hard. You keep trying and you actually make some progress, but it’s tough. Luckily, there are a ton of other people climbing with you. It’s never easy, but as people climb higher and higher, they’ll tell you the best way up. You can take their advice or leave it, you just have to get up the hill.

I’m nowhere near done with Sekiro. I’m not going to lie, it’s kicking my ass swiftly and plentiful but I’m still pushing. And that’s what matters. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is definitely not for everyone, and that’s okay. To my fellow Shinobi, again I thank you. And for those who thrive in the struggle, who laugh at their pain and who love falling down, I am confident that I won’t be the only one offering you a hand back up.

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