I turn a corner and immediately fog appears behind me. An apparition with a bladed polearm walks out to greet me. It dawns on me that I left this save right before a boss battle. I try to run through a mental checklist of strategies right as the corrupted monk swings at me. I hit L1 and the satisfying deflection sound rings out. That familiar sense of adrenaline starts to rise. The red circle indicator appears above her head as she swings her weapon along the ground. I hit x and jump on her head. I remember all I need to know now, just like riding a bike.
I’m not going to say I won that initial fight (I took her down a dozen tries later) but the familiarity of how to win came back to me with startling quickness. I had previously set aside Sekiro for over 4 months as I played through two major Nintendo releases (Fire Emblem and Pokémon respectively) and was worried about the uphill battle I was in for. Even though the difficulty remained, the muscle memory was surprisingly still there. I knew intuitively how to move, parry, and attack enemies immediately and I felt little to no restrictions to getting back in. I can’t think of a single other game that would make returning to it feel this good and I think that lies in its reliance on reflex based combat rather than accumulating powers like in other action games.
Sekiro came out one year ago. I purchased it within a week after hearing lavish praise from gaming publications (especially
Waypoint Vice Games). I still have not finished Sekiro. The game is absolutely exhausting; as much as I can’t bring to my mind other games that are easy to get into, I can’t think of any other games that are as hard to get involved in and stay involved in. Every enemy can take you down if you mess up and there are no abilities to level up (besides a longer health bar) to make fighting them easier. The game absolutely requires your full attention to react to each enemy’s unique attacks. This means the game absolutely requires you to learn how to play, to build up an actual skill in controlling Sekiro and muscle memory to executing moves with the controller.
I can only really focus on it for shorter play sessions and on days where I have energy to spare. This game came out in a year where I couldn’t rely on that energy being there, meaning that I couldn’t devote multiple weeks devoted to Sekiro. I had to make conscious decisions to step away; I could never make any progress with my personal tank on empty. That’s what has made this game so special to me; the ability to come back and pick it up on days that I do feel full. Those skills I had built up immediately come back to me. Enemy attack patterns and parry timings are ingrained in my brain from repeated failures and victories. There were lots of conversations last year about when the systems finally “click;” mine was overcoming Seven Ashina Spears. When I performed the perfect mikiri counter and performed the death blow, I finally felt like I had it.
12 months later, this same feeling came back as I reloaded and squared up against the corrupted monk spirit. When I mikiri countered her attack, the exact same feeling of outperforming Seven Spears came back. I began to memorize her patterns for the openings and cracks for my counter attack. I’ve made it as far as Fountainhead Palace now and I’m looking forward to finishing it in the future, whenever that might be.