FromSoftware games are notorious for their difficult and challenging gameplay, but is this really the real issue about them?
Fine, I’m not going to lie to you: Adam kind of already wrote about this issue regarding Dark Souls. Granted, he talked about the topic of “being a true hardcore gamer”, but I share his beliefs about that issue. But now that Sekiro came out recently, the usual mantra of “FromSoftware games need an Easy Mode” has arisen once again. And of course, I’m starting to get a little bit annoyed with articles claiming that the last game made by the studio is “too hard for everyone to beat it”. Thus, I want to bring to the table a topic nobody seems to give a crap about it. The studio doesn’t need to implement an Easy Mode but instead, care about HOW we play and interact with their games. And this is why I’d like to talk about the biggest issues I have with all FromSoftware ‘Soulsbourne’ IPs: accessibility and the level of quality present in their titles.
Accessibility: the final frontier
Let’s start with the control layout. If you know Souls games, you should know that, at least on consoles, the button configuration is really weird. Attacking with R1 and R2 and mapping run and evade on the same button is not that comfortable, to begin with. But don’t worry, because you can customize it however you like! Oh wait, you can’t do that (on consoles). And in Sekiro, you can change the buttons but you can’t separate actions mapped on the same button. One step forward, I guess? But yeah, this is not a friendly way to make players interact with the game. You might be all cool and dandy with your 10 fingers working great, but there are people who can’t do this as well as everyone. And it’s great that we have things like the Xbox Adaptive Controller (pretty damn expensive if you ask me, but still an important step in gaming), yet by not allowing things like these you are just excluding players who may not be able to play with that format.
Then we have the things nobody seems to talk about and I don’t really know why. Subtitles sizes and closed captions, color-blind options, fully remappable buttons… And the list goes on. Granted, it may look like a long list, but that’s not an excuse to not implement it, isn’t it? And now that we are talking about this, let’s talk about games that do this without putting at risk the game experience.
Way of the Passive Fist
Do you really want to know why I never shut up about this game? Because Way of the Passive Fist began as a project that had accessibility as their first priority. Not only you can select the distribution of the buttons, but also it offers the option of playing it however you like. Do you want enemies to deal less damage? Lower the Enemy Strength bar. More health items and checkpoints? Tweak the one that says Resourcefulness. All these options make things easier for the player in order to learn and play at their own pace without getting rid of the fun factor.
If you want to talk about incredible features that work flawlessly with a game’s main theme, look no further than Celeste. The number of things you can choose in this title is incredible. From Infinite Stamina to the speed of the game, everything is up to the player. This works wonders with the main theme of keep going in order to reach your goals, no matter your gaming skills. Another great example of how games can be for everyone if developers care enough to add these things.
The last title of the Metro franchise was amazing, and in more ways that people seem to care for. Aside from its great atmosphere and details, it actually addressed issues present in their previous entries. You can add subtitles for the signs present in the world, closed captions for background sounds and change the size of said subtitles. Heck, you can even change how QTE work in the game. And they recently said the game works with the already mentioned Xbox Adaptive Controller, which is great!
These games (and some other titles I didn’t mention) understand that people who play games come in different types of flavor. And as I said, Sekiro is actually a step forward in this aspect, but it has a long way to learn. And that leaves me to talk about the biggest issue: quality control.
If it is broke, just fix it later
I’m a PC player with a decent computer, so I don’t usually have problems with frame rate and all of that mumbo jumbo. That’s it when the games are actually well optimized. But there’s this thing about FromSoftware games that people don’t seem to really ever talk about: technical issues. Just like if it was part of the charm, Sekiro follows this trend too, and in the console version of the game the FPS go full Blighttown at times as you can see here:
— Super SEGAjin カルドナ (@JoseAndCardona) March 26, 2019
And this is quite present on consoles, but not exclusive to them. On PC I found bugs that softlocked me for no reason whatsoever. It also froze at random times for a couple of seconds. The input lag is one of the worst one for an action game like this one. If you play titles like Bayonetta or DMC 5, the action occurs instantaneously when you press the button. This makes you feel in control of the character at all times, and that’s a great thing. However, in Sekiro, there’s a delay of almost half a second between pressing the button and watching the action happening. This is present on the attack, jump and block buttons, yet not on the evade one. We are also presented with hitboxes and IA that doesn’t feel tweaked enough. You can literally throw 12 ceramic fragments to an enemy and there’s an 80% chance he won’t come towards you.
Hitboxes are broken at times too, as enemies can grab and hit you even if you are not on the logical area of danger. The lock-on feature is still as awful as always, and in some bosses, you need to aim the camera towards them. Despite all this, people complain about Sekiro not having an easy mode. Why?
Sekiro: Shadows are actually quite friendly
I finished Sekiro in 25 hours, and I didn’t think it was as hard as some of the media wants to picture it. In fact, I believe Sekiro is quite a beginner-friendly game with its tutorials and how NPCs interact with Wolf. You don’t need to go online in order to reach that hidden obscure object for that extra area: the characters will tell you. You can hear conversations of enemies talking about the weaknesses of the Elite enemies or the boss battles. I mean, a poster literally teaches you how to counter one of the abilities of certain bosses, what else do you need?
Sekiro (and from now on, other FromSoftware titles) don’t need an easy mode. What these actually need is a better way of being accessible to all players in the form of quality of life improvements. Fix the frame rate issues on consoles. Make people able to change the mapping of all buttons. Don’t make action games that require pinpoint accuracy with input lag. Add closed captions, subtitle sizes, colorblind modes. As you can see, I didn’t mention difficulty problems with Sekiro because I didn’t have any. Did I die? Of course. Did I have a fun time? For sure! Is Sekiro so hard that it needs an easier mode? Far from it.
Instead of thinking all the time that hard games need an easy mode, we should ask ourselves why this game can be hard to access at first. If that game lacks features like the ones I already mentioned, that’s a big issue. If the game presents optimization problems on consoles, input lag (even if it’s intentional) and a really dumb IA and hitbox, that’s a big issue. And if you think everything has to end with “git gud”, you are a big issue.