Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was one of Tokyo Game Show’s most popular games. If you wanted to play FromSoftware’s new game, but weren’t in line at Sony’s PlayStation booth within the first few minutes of the convention center’s doors opening, you were out of luck.
But Hidetaka Miyazaki, president of developer FromSoftware and the creative force behind the company’s popular Souls games (and Sekiro), said he was initially a little apprehensive about revealing his new game — something that wasn’t a Dark Souls or Bloodborne sequel — to the world.
“At the same time,” Miyazaki said through a translator, “we were very keen to show people what we could do with Sekiro. We believed people would enjoy what we could do without the limitations from our previous games. And you know, we’re seeing that at these shows. We’re seeing people having fun and giving us their feedback. That is a relief.”
Sekiro, a game set in a mystical fantasy version of medieval Japan, will forgo many of the gameplay elements seen in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Sekiro won’t have online multiplayer. It won’t have character creation or a vast array of weapons, armor and spells. And Miyazaki’s involvement in the development of Sekiro is a bit different from his previous games, because he wants to explore a new approach.
“We’re not intentionally trying to create Sekiro as an antithesis to the Souls games,” Miyazaki said, “or turn the whole company direction of making games on its head, or trying to pull the rug out from under people. We love the Souls games ... I loved creating those games. Sekiro is just going to be something fresh and different, but it’s going to have things that are familiar to player of these old games. I want to keep that intact because I enjoy the aspect of those old games, but new components and mechanics is a way to keep it fresh. And keeping it fresh — providing something new — is what’s going to lead to a better game.”
Sekiro will star a shinobi armed with a katana that you’ll wield throughout the entire game. He’ll also have a secondary sword known as the Mortal Blade, which serves a “special function,” Miyazaki said. Then there’s Sekiro’s prosthetic arm, which, along with a series of hidden techniques — “sword arts” — for his katana, will provide more combat variety.
“The right-hand katana is fixed, that will be your primary weapon for the whole game,” Miyazaki said. “That will allows us to [deeply explore] what it means to master that katana as your single main weapon. We obviously lose the customization and some breadth, so in the left hand, we’re compensating for that. Having various prosthetic tools, having these be upgradable and having this element of user choice and freedom, how they want to strategize and use these two weapons in conjunction.
“There’s also what we’re calling the shinobi deathblow, which is a kind of instant fatal attack. There is a way to activate a deathblow technique which is sort of like a devastating special skill that you’ll be able to acquire and choose throughout the game. These are going to provide extra options for how you want to change up the battles as you’re playing.”
Another element that will help set Sekiro apart from its Souls forebears is its stealth-based mechanics. While players can choose to quickly and violently dispatch enemies in hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield, they can also take a quiet, more covert approach.
“We’re preparing a number of ways for the player to feel like they’re able to [use] everything in their arsenal in order to take on these situations,” Miyazaki said. “With stealth elements, it’ll allow you to sneak undetected, to an extent. While you’re undetected, you can eavesdrop on enemies to get hints about other enemy weaknesses, strategic hints about how to approach the map and certain situations, or [learn] story details as well. This is a kind of a new element ... and it relates nicely to be the theme of the shinobi.”
Some familiar Miyazaki and FromSoftware gameplay traditions will return, like a new game plus mode. “This is still taking shape,” Miyazaki explained, adding that the mechanic will be similar to previous titles and will tie into Sekiro’s story. Some traditions won’t, like a cameo from recurring Souls series ne’er-do-well Patches. “Nothing is final just yet,” Miyazaki said, “but we don’t believe he’s going to be in this game.”
Miyazaki said he knows Patches is a fan-favorite running gag, but there are two good reasons he likely won’t appear in Sekiro. One, Miyazaki said he feels unsure about being obligated to repeat a particular in-joke or meme. Two, he’s not writing this game. Someone else at FromSoftware is handling script duties this time.
The story of Sekiro will still employ the storytelling techniques of FromSoftware’s recent games.
“There’s still going to be this kind of fragmented element to it,” Miyazaki said. “You’re still going to have to explore it to a find all the clues and depth for yourself. We feel like it’s not going to change too much in that sense. Our approach to storytelling has not changed.
“This time we do have the fixed protagonist. We feel like he creates the axes for the main core of the story. The characters, they revolve around him as well. This allows us to frame the story and the settings in a much simpler light than previously. So it’s going to be initially easier to understand and easier to relate to.”
The gradual sense of understanding the story that FromSoftware is trying to tell will remain intact, Miyazaki said. The sense of a narrative slowly coalescing appeals to Miyazaki’s tastes, he said, based on his own storytelling preferences.
“When I was quite young, instead of reading very simple picture books and stories, I chose to read very difficult books,” he said. “At first I didn’t know what was going on, but then I gradually started to understand. I felt a certain enjoyment from that. This kind of filters into my games as well. It’s not like I want to force that approach on people, but I feel like we have a lot of relatively easy to understand game stories out there. So why not have this kind of approach from time to time?”
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will be released on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One next March.