It’s a ritual whenever a new Souls game comes out. People starting getting wrecked by the bosses, they take to social media or their preferred forum, and a divide emerges. On one side, a legion of fans crying “harder daddy” and praising FromSoftware for their brutal treatment. On the other, gamers left out by the series’ punishing difficulty, questioning whether fairer options couldn’t be implemented.
All of it hinges on a key question: At what point does a game’s difficulty start to unfairly impede upon its accessibility? Better yet, what would a Sekiro easy mode look like that doesn’t compromise its creative vision?
Answering that question is a little trickier than it first seems. By default, easy modes tend to focus on minimising the impact of a mistake, rather than helping players avoid one in the first place. Typically, that flows through in two ways: Extra damage (or weaker enemies) for the player to make fights go faster, and increased resistance/armour to lessen the blow of combat.
Fundamentally, both of these approaches wouldn’t work for Sekiro.
Like Bloodborne and every Souls game before it, the dance of Sekiro‘s combat is the true reward. Nailing a boss battle perfectly isn’t so much a test of wills or endurance, even though it seems like it for anyone who’s exhausted themselves for days trying to beat Lady Buttterfly or Knight Artorias. It’s more like performance art, or even learning a piece of music.
You take it slowly, learning every note and chord one at a time, until you come to understand the full flow of the music. Time is not of the essence, because the ultimate goal is to have everything in sync so as to not disrupt the harmony of the music. Once you can reliably hit the notes in the correct order – dodge, deflect, jump, Mikiri counter – then, you can focus on speed.
It’s not that dissimilar from how veterans recommend fans learn new boss fights. Deflect as much as possible, observe the attack patterns, the variations that occur up close and at distance, and gradually start to feel the flow that the designers want you to be in.
So if we assume that the rhythm of Sekiro is what should be honoured most, as opposed to the principle of just brutal, punishing difficulty, then we have a base from which an easy mode could be built.
To make this work, we need some base principles. Firstly, it’s safe to reason that all easy modes exist to facilitate a player’s progress through a game. Secondly, if we’ve decided that the underlying appeal of Sekiro isn’t the mechanical act of beating a boss per se, but the choreography of that fight – the perfect dodges, deflections, the dance in and out of range – then the idea of a Sekiro easy mode starts to take shape.
The object isn’t to reduce the health of a boss, or reward the player for the little damage they’re able to do. It’s teaching the player the flow of the fight, the same way you might progress through a song in Guitar Hero or Rock Band. It’s not the act of landing a jab or a blow on an opponent that makes Sekiro special – it’s the art of avoiding enemy attacks.
One way you could introduce players to this is by, at least at the beginning, slowing down the moment of impact to allow for players to nail the correct inputs. Most games with some form of tutorial already use this principle, at least in the first few minutes or levels, and an idea for a Sekiro easy mode could build upon this.
As the fight starts out, the game could offer maybe a half second to 3/4 second window for the player to nail the first few dodges, blocks or jumps. It would be up to the player how they choose to respond in those instances: much of the joy lies in the flexibility of how people proceed, especially as not every player fights bosses in the same order.
Once more damage is dealt – and there would be no reduction or increase in damage dealt or received – the timing window would gradually recede. By the second stage of most boss fights, the timing input could be narrowed by half to perhaps a quarter or tenth of a second. And all of this is in addition to the attacks that the game already telegraphs, through the unblockable glyphs, audio cues and animations.
By the end of the fight, there should be no timing window at all. If the whole objective is to teach players the rhythm of movement, rather than simply progressing through a fight, then players should have that rhythm down pat by the end of the fight. Precisely when that assistance runs out would need to be adjusted on a boss by boss basis, and it’s something that (theoretically) would be more generous in fights at the start of the game.
Another option could also be to remove the window entirely from certain fights until progress has been made elsewhere, offering an implicit hint to users that they while they can fight a boss right now (like the Chained Ogre), they probably shouldn’t.
Every Souls game has always kickstarted a discussion around easy modes, and where that line between accessibility and creative vision lies. It’s a debate that’s especially contentious with Dark Souls, because the game’s difficulty is part of its charm – and a huge source of pride for its fans. On one hand, nobody wants FromSoftware to sacrifice their unique creative vision, especially given the indelible mark it has left the gaming industry. And it’s also true that, for some people, Souls games are completely inaccessible. Players with disabilities or other physical ailments can find themselves left out of the Souls universe entirely.
So having a conversation about a potential middle ground doesn’t hurt. It’s a natural part of gaming discourse, but it’s also incumbent on us to have that discussion in a more nuanced, healthier way. And for Souls, that starts by having a better understanding of what the spirit of a game is actually about, and how that spirit could be conveyed to an even greater audience without losing what makes it so great in the first place.
FromSoftware might even be more partial to this than you think. The fact that players could summon help in Dark Souls and Bloodborne shows their partiality to the idea of players getting some kind of assistance. It was part of a broader system that was borne out of players being able to invade each other’s worlds, but it was a tacit acknowledgement that getting help was entirely OK.
Sekiro is still a wonderful game as is. And the game doesn’t “need” an easy mode like some suggest, partially because games are not required to service every segment of the gaming market. Development doesn’t work that way, and as everyone should be well aware, making games is infinitely harder than anyone ever expects.
But an easy mode in Sekiro can work. It just starts with asking better questions, questions about why we really keep butting our heads against a seemingly insurmountable wall for hours, days, weeks on end, and how the spirit of that can be communicated to more people.