The Easy Mode Fallacy
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice released on March 22nd and the reception from players has been mostly positive, with many enjoying the latest game from Hidetaka Miyazaki, director of the ‘Souls’ series, and the growing collection of games in that same style.
However, while most players seem to be enjoying the game, or are more than happy to ignore it if it isn’t for them, there has been a very vocal minority crying foul on the games difficult nature, despite it being from the same company and director that essentially established a sub-genre of Action Role-playing games, where challenge is a major focus.
We’re about a month out from Sekiro’s release and seemingly everyone has crawled out of whatever rock they’ve been under to go after this one game after a decade of releases like this. In particular, game journalists and developers appear to be the loudest voices, while anyone actually concerned with playing the game seems to either be too busy playing it or has already moved on and no longer cares.
Throughout the years thousands upon thousands of games have released without any form of difficulty selection, as far back as the beginning of this industry and throughout each genre, but even ignoring that fact, Dark Souls, the first game in the series to really take off, not only launched with the same difficulty configuration, but was nearly universally praised for it, with those holding an opposing view either respecting the fact that players enjoy different games or just relenting to the fact that it wasn’t going to change despite their complaints.
But now various news outlets have been flooded with articles on the subject; “Should <game> have an easy mode?”, “Why every game should have an easy mode!”, “Easy mode doesn’t ruin games”, it goes on and on.
Taking a look at ‘accessible.games’ you’ll find that Sekiro actually implements a lot of the ‘Design Patterns’ that they recommend, such as design choices relating to precision, clarity, and interface.
As this wave of outcry has carried on it warped into an argument of “accessibility” which, if we’re being honest, is misguided at best and disingenuous at worst. Accessibility isn’t something FromSoftware is responsible for, that lies within the capabilities offered by the medium and the platforms it is available on, and is something that is being addressed as well as it can be with hardware releases like Microsoft’s accessibility controller.
When the developers DO take action, the implementation of an easy or ‘assisted’ mode can sometimes lead to confusion. Ace Combat 7 also released this year, and the reviewers over at IGN had a few complaints such as the lack of “training” for new players, despite the fact that whatever amount of the game they played, they played on the ‘normal’ setting, which is technically the easy mode of the game, and features heavily assisted flight controls, something lamented by the director Kazutoki Kono.
Overall, this movement honestly seems to me like a group of people looking to justify the fact that they aren’t that great at a game that provides a higher level of challenge and this group is dragging people with ACTUAL disabilities into the mix as an attempt to add validity to their arguments. After a certain point whether you can play a game or not is out of the developers hands, there will always be people who either A. Do not want to improve, or B. Can’t improve, regardless of whatever options and modes are added into games.
However, even without multiple options laid out, players with handicaps have worked around their own personal struggles in other games. Notably, there are multiple disabled competitors in the fighting game community, that play at a level higher than their peers, despite various afflictions, such as lacking functional appendages or blindness, which in particular has more than a few success stories in multiple genres.
A little closer to the topic at hand, many able players actually opt to increase the difficulty in the Souls series rather than decrease it, with some playing through portions of the games blindfolded, or with unconventional controllers, alongside the typical challenge of speed-running and various other stipulation based playthroughs.
This is natural, but if it needs to be spelled out, harder difficulties are often seen as means to further enjoy a game and in most games are unlocked post initial completion, adding additional replay value for anyone willing, which is why some developers use harder modes to change level layouts and enemy tactics as opposed to arbitrary incremental changes to things like enemy health and game speed.
Mike “Brolylegs” Begum, who has arthrogryposis, is known as one of the best Chun-Li players in both Street fighter IV and V and is an active competitor. Playing by using his tongue and cheek, Begum has had success at multiple high-level tournaments for both games.
Lastly, tied up in this is argument is the aspect of the developers’ vision, many of those who are arguing for an easy mode claim that it wouldn’t take away from the vision that developers would have for games that are deemed ‘too difficult’.
This just isn’t the case, you can have as many developers as you want say: “well we did it”, that doesn’t change the fact that Miyazaki’s vision of these games is derived from the difficult nature that was established back when Demon’s Souls released. It’s something that he has been very consistent about, aiming to create structured worlds and challenges where the draw and satisfaction of the game is overcoming these challenges through learning to use the tools available and formulating strategies through observation. So while you can mod a game like Sekiro and do whatever you want with it, you certainly aren’t playing the game as it was intended, and your experience there shouldn’t set the course of any series going forward.
All this said, whether a game structured like Sekiro is for you only you can decide. For me, and judging by the sales more than a few others, a bit more challenge is preferred, and even if it weren’t that’s something that isn’t for us to decide.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is available on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC.
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