Sekiro – too good to rage quit

Thanks to the lockdown I’ve been whittling down my backlog of games, films, books, and TV. Mostly Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Not playing Sekiro until a year after its release invariably leads to a number of questions, conclusions even: that I’m not an enthusiast gamer, or being a wee masochist I resolutely (and unnecessarily) maintain a balance when it comes to leisure activities. Finally, maybe I’m just clueless for not playing it earlier.

But the real reason for the delay is, after playing Dark Souls 3, I was hesitant to throw myself into another one of FromSoftware’s offerings. Their releases aren’t synonymous with relaxing and enjoying a sense of ease – in this climate, the prospect seemed much less appealing – they envelop you with dread inducing atmospherics, in part due to a lingering awareness that the combat’s always unforgiving and there’s no respite. Plus, their games all have a steep learning curve, which, at the start, can be aggravating, infuriating even.

To contradict that last paragraph, and to trash any attempt to absolve myself, I’ll say this – the best games are those that require some form, or forms, of application. FromSoftware’s titles, be it Bloodborne, and particularly the Dark Souls games, place a heavy demand on your reactions, composure and patience, but Sekiro ups the ante in this regard. You learn exclusively through failure that’s agonising, and, at first, comprehensive. However, I found immense gratification in seeing my incremental improvement when it’s presented this forensically. Each perfectly timed deflection and move learned and successfully anticipated greatly impacts success. The skill moves and weapons are so plentiful and their utilisation often intricate amid the velocity of the boss fights, that experimenting to find the right tactic against the right enemy is as vital as it is satisfying when you’re successful.

Maybe I’m the exception here and I don’t take the thought of failure, the agonising snatching defeat from jaws of victory variety, in a game, personally. It’s not that important if I couldn’t get past a boss by Wednesday bed time. At least that’s what I told myself during multiple attempts to defeat Isshin The Sword Saint. However, by the time I’d finally succeeded I’d learned his first and second phase moves so comprehensively that I’d completely mastered them, giving myself a better chance of succeeding in the final phase. Even in exasperating failure at the final hurdle the game’s process builds your confidence that you’ll succeed with just a bit more patience and perseverance, experimentation even.

On that point I have no sympathy for those (quite a few of them journalists) who complained it’s too difficult, or that it’s unfair or some other such shite. While this can have amusingly childish results (see below – SERENITY NOW!), it’s just mis-placed egotism. At best you lacked patience, at worst, resolve, to endure to learn, which is pathetic. Still, this is just a game, quitting it is no biggie. I mean, most people who enter Navy Seals basic training quit, mainly because, by design, it’s too physically and psychologically gruelling, and they aren’t treated with contempt or viewed with dishonour by those outside of that milieu.

And yes that’s a ridiculous comparison to make with quitting Sekiro, but I suspect the feeling of burning dis-satisfaction from quitting anything, albeit something trivial like Sekiro, will be somewhat similar. So it’s best to offer some emphatic advice – like Navy Seal training, Sekiro, isn’t for everyone, it’s for people who want to be challenged. You should know that going in, you’re going to fail, or in this case die, a lot, in exasperating, even irritating ways. Sure, you’ll waver at the start, the game mechanics, nor the right tactical approach to combat, did not come instinctively. Indeed, mastering the Mikiri Counter, and what moves it does and doesn’t work on, was a typically first world ordeal.

While there’s a way to Cheese most bosses, if you do that you’re only cheating yourself. Particularly as there’s several ways to beat each boss using the prosthetic tools you acquire and upgrade, and that you can defeat them by wiping out their health bar or breaking their posture bar is an additional mini-game/challenge. Breaking their posture requires anticipation and a defined tactical approach, and therefore is the more gratifying method. You’re a real Shinobi when you can do this to those purple ninja bastards that do the poison punches, and yes, I own these motherless fucks now.

While this game is visually spectacular, it manages to be both quaint and creepy, it’s also directly related to the weakest part of the package, the Lore. I can’t get enough of Japanese culture and its mores, particularly the supernatural mythology of the Sengoku and early Edo periods. Sekiro leans on the aforementioned in a clichéd, though not degrading, way. At worst it’s a bit geeky, an example of what most non-gamers would rubbish as stereotypically appealing to ‘sad’ blokes with no wife or girlfriend.

My main gripe is the elaborate processes for deciding some of the game’s potential endings, they were either too narrative reliant or situationally obscure, and I wouldn’t say I played this game casually, with sixty hours racked up to complete the first playthrough. For example, to activate the Purification or Dragon’s Homecoming endings you need to eavesdrop on two NPS’s by going to a corner of the room and hugging the wall, which you’d have no inclination or need to visit unless you already knew it was required. Activating the Dragon’s Homecoming ending involves the tedium of visiting the Divine Kid a million times. To fight Wolf’s father in Hirata Estate you need to speak to an NPC twice, which if you don’t at the time, you miss the chance in that playthrough.

Needless to say I needed Google to help me decide which ending to plump for and the correct sequencing to achieve it. Perhaps by doing so I fucked the experience, rather than discovering it all organically and letting the chips fall as they may. Still, that the Shura ending essentially ends the game early and locks you out of a number of bosses, is odd, but FromSoftware are backing the addictiveness of the game’s combat.

And they’re right, because there’s an ultimate challenge, you have the option to play this game without Kuro’s charm, which sees you sustain damage without perfectly timed blocks, and to ring the Demon Bell, which applies the sinister burden and makes all enemies more powerful and less susceptible to your attacks. The path of further hardships? Challenge accepted.

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Song Of The Day – Goodbye Pork Pie Hat by Rahsaan Roland Kirk

From the album ‘Return Of The 5000 lb. Man’ (1976)

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Song Of The Day – Marijuana In My Brain by Dillinger

From the compilation album ‘Cocaine In My Brain’ (2000)

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Coronavirus can be lethal, but all it’s done is place me in an anti-social, nihilistic bubble

Initially I was blithe about Coronavirus, ‘Oh what’s this, another strain of that bird flu or that Sars thingy? So what?’ For a layman such as myself underestimating Covid-19 at the start was defensible. Doing so now is absolutely fucking stupid. Despite the dire effects of not implementing the correct suppression strategy at the start, we now have British exceptionalism creeping in to the public discourse as a core justification for easing the lockdown. The pining for normalcy ‘we’ll meet again’ *vomits* is partly due to boredom but mostly fear of imagining a future that doesn’t resemble the recent past.

This rush to reopen too quickly is being inculcated by Tory morons (they’re nearly all Brexiteers you’ll notice), loons and complicit opinion pieces, just check out the shite published on this ghoulish wormhole. As Orwell rightly put it – ‘Ignorance is Strength’ and as Alan Bennett rightly said ‘they are in the grip of ideology, and ideology tends to drive out thought’. The Dominic Cummings fiasco conclusively proves how demoralised we are by it all – that ideology (and self-preservation) can be placed before the jurisdiction of the government’s own lockdown guidelines, and the public’s health, without any consequences. And just what was the new advice? Go back to work you lazy cunts, stay alert (it’s a virus, it’s invisible you cunttwats), but use a facemask if you’re using public transport cause there’s no social distancing on The Tube or the buses which we recommended youse not use. Crystal clear.

We live in an era where scepticism and believing what suits you prevails, and the bungled handling of coronavirus has finally made me succumb. Of course it’s rational to believe that this Tory government made up of Neo-con vampires is likely thinking it’s a good thing that a bunch of pensioners get offed under the guise of herd immunity. Fact is, it will save some cash. But even malicious intent can be incompetent. If protecting the economy is that important, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand have executed effective trace, track and isolate strategies that have helped them re-open much sooner, so why hasn’t something similar been implemented here?

Perhaps we’re supposed to kowtow to all of this ineptitude and let it slide because of the furlough scheme. Don’t look at it as a handout and a holiday, because we, the taxpayers, will be paying for it all. Because of this the mounting accusations that isolating, and therefore not working, is a form of selfish, lazy hedonism (“skiving” according to some cretinous twats) is unforgivable. To these people I say fuck off, you pick some fruit.

Being in Morrisons, not at home for weeks on end, is where the oddity and paranoia built by Coronavirus reaches its zenith. Navigating through indoor public spaces is nearly always a dire experience, but now there are new layers and etiquettes of mistrust to contend with. You approach someone in the aisle, look at them, try to anticipate their next move, only now it’s accompanied by them automatically giving you the ‘you’re infected – stay away cunt’ stinkeye. And god forbid you should be focused on the shelves and nearly come into contact with someone or their trolley, this is followed by a recoiling Zumba style move of two steps back and to the side from both parties. I haven’t left the house since Sainsbury’s started offering me delivery slots again. I also felt like a proper tit wearing a mask when a good few weren’t. In the absence of being tested (ho-hum) and some people not bothering to don one, wearing one feels like a waste of time. Amongst the sizable number of abstainers, its greatest effect is serving notice that you believe in science. Wearing a mask in public connotes altruism, it’s a display that you’re a concerned citizen, are serious about this, your health and the health of others. But the maskless mob clearly aren’t bothered about spreading it to you. Arseholes.

Social media has become a mechanism for confirmation bias(es). But what of public service broadcasting? I’m inclined to question whether, to survive, it too must serve that same purpose. I was in for a shock when, for the first time in eons (thanks to the additional time lockdown has afforded me), I randomly watched the six o’clock news. I was met with a wretchedly jingoistic and irresponsible BBC report from a street in some English backwater where a morass of fucking melts were celebrating V-day by having a street party where social distancing didn’t even manage to be an afterthought. We’ll meet again? Hopefully for you lot it’ll be in an ICU with no ventilators.

And, just to confirm my malaise is real, I just can’t stand this applauding of NHS workers at 8pm on Thursdays. Fucking pack it in. If anything, it reminded me of the two minute hate. The show of self-denial, hypocrisy and abdication of responsibility really grates. It’s easy to applaud someone, having voted for Brexit and a conservative government at the ballot box, isn’t it? The sheer opportunism and cynicism of parliament encouraging it and partaking to obfuscate their incompetency is equally sickening. ‘But it boosts morale’, some will say. I reckon hospital staff would’ve preferred not being overworked and not faced with a shortage of PPE at many hospitals in April. Nor had successive Tory governments essentially stunt the wages of nurses below inflation for a few years, cut funding generally (sorry, ‘improved competition’), and as a result of Brexit have made it harder for the NHS to recruit EU nationals, a good chunk of whom make up its workforce.

If all of this is considered doing enough, or the right thing, during ‘difficult times’ then count me out. Extinction is richly deserved, and you can’t get more nihilistic than that.

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Song Of The Day – Cradle To The Grave by Mobb Deep

From the album ‘The Infamous’ (1995)

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