Hidetaka Miyazaki, president and game director of FromSoftware, is one of the most renowned game designers of his generation. The director of “Demon’s Souls” (2009), “Dark Souls” (2011) and “Bloodborne" (2015) recently took the time to answer some questions about “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice,” a game about a one-armed ninja, set for release on March 22.
FromSoftware has a reputation for making challenging games. Has this reputation shaped the types of projects that the studio is willing to consider? How much flexibility is there to pursue more offbeat projects like the recent VR game “Déraciné”?
Hidetaka Miyazaki: While I don’t think it’s fair to say there’s zero influence, we as a studio don’t tend to worry about such things. We plan on taking a shot at anything we think would be interesting that also incorporates our own unique style and flavor, regardless of the genre. As mentioned earlier, maintaining a flexible and diverse approach is important to us.
“Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” was inspired by the Sengoku period of Japanese history. But the marketing materials have been quick to point out that the game is not rooted in historical facts but rather draws aesthetic inspiration from the times. What attracted the team to this period? Were there any key texts or artistic works that proved useful reference points throughout the development process?
Miyazaki: As we wanted to create a setting in which a ninja character could play an active role, we considered both the Sengoku period and the Edo period. The reason for picking Sengoku over Edo was that the former is an era during the Middle Ages, whereas the latter is closer to early-modern times. A more medieval setting allowed for the impression that various ancient and mystical elements still exist in the world, which is something we found very appealing.
“Sekiro” means one-armed wolf in Japanese. How did the idea of centering the game around a shinobi or a ninja with a prosthetic arm come about? Are there any interesting anecdotes you can share with us about FromSoftware’s approach to creating characters for its games? Has that process changed over time since “Demon’s Souls” became a surprise hit in the West in 2009?
Miyazaki: The main points of “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’s” game play come from the dynamic multitiered movement made possible by the Grappling Hook as well as the wide variety of combat approaches made possible through the Shinobi Prosthetic. We decided to go with the concept of the shinobi prosthetic and a one-armed ninja protagonist in order to visually display these two gameplay points on the character in a way that made sense. This probably raises questions about whether this idea is “From-esque” or not, and to that I feel it can be said that we are quite fond of gimmicks (laughter). As far as the approach to creating characters, I personally don’t feel it has changed all that much from the days of “Demon’s Souls.” Our ideas have always — and will continue to — stem from what we like and what we believe to be cool.
Death has always been an important component in the Souls games whereby players would lose their souls — the materials used for leveling up — if they died but would then have one chance to revisit the spot where they died to reclaim those dropped souls before they disappeared forever. The new game ditches this system. Can you explain how death functions in “Sekiro?”
Miyazaki: The main intention behind the new approach to the death mechanic is to avoid having a negative impact on the pace of play. “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” is a very fast-paced game, both in terms of movement and combat, so we felt this was necessary to take into consideration. Resurrection is not a simple “do-over” and avoiding this break in pace was something we had in mind when we decided to not include the “picking up dropped resources” [corpse run] element for the Dark Souls series in “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.”
One of the first things that Souls players will notice about how “Sekiro” distinguishes itself from the Souls games is that the hero’s prosthetic arm allows him to grapple up to higher surfaces like the roofs of buildings thus allowing for a greater sense of mobility. Aside from the death mechanic, are there any other ways that “Sekiro” looks to separate itself from the prior Souls games?
Miyazaki: I feel there are many differences. For example there is no character creation aspect; the protagonist is a set character and the growth and customization mechanics are quite different. However, the main differences I feel are the dynamic movement made possible through the grappling hook, and the intense, white-knuckle combat. Another difference is the variety of choices one has surrounding combat; from stealth to the various Shinobi prosthetics.
Did the studio encounter any unique challenges in the development of “Sekiro” that led it to rethink or revise its approach to game design?
Miyazaki: From the initial stages of development, there were surprisingly few changes in “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’s” concept. This meant there were no instances in which we were forced to rethink anything as far a game design is concerned. However, one of the biggest ideas we adopted partway through development was “Resurrection.” It is now, of course, a core part of “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’s” world-view and story alike, and I feel it’s working well. It’s actually an idea I’m quite fond of.
From the little that I’ve played, combat in “Sekiro” seems to revolve heavily around parrying attacks and delivering ripostes in a way similar to “Bloodborne.” But unlike “Bloodborne,” “Sekiro” asks players to sometimes dodge unblockable attacks by, say, jumping over a low-sweeping sword slice. In your estimation, does “Sekiro” require more skill to play than “Bloodborne” or the other Souls games?
Miyazaki: It can be said for sure that “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” was designed to be more of an action game than “Dark Souls” or “Bloodborne.” However, at the same time, “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” provides the player with a wider variety of means in overcoming many of the game’s challenges; the freedom in character movement (in and outside of battle), strategic use of the grappling hook, stealth, etc.
The Souls games have always been known for shrouding themselves in mystery insofar as the games typically avoid info dumps in favor of allowing the player to piece together (or theorize) about what is going on based off of scraps of information gleaned from item descriptions and the like. Was it important to the studio to imbue “Sekiro” with similar levels of mystery and ambiguity? Do item descriptions play as much of a role in intimating what is going on in the game? Are there any new ways that the studio has gone about implementing the story line in “Sekiro” that you would like to share with us?
Miyazaki: There is not a huge difference in the way the story is told. The focus of the story is shifted to the characters and this does make the story somewhat easier to understand. We hope players will feel the story has a different air to it this time.
What is your favorite aspect of the game or one that you think will delight longtime Souls players?
Miyazaki: My favorite aspects are the dynamic movement made possible through the grappling hook as well as the intense, edge-of-your-seat combat. I hope many players will enjoy these elements as well.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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