New Details Revealed in Our Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Interview with Producer Robert Conkey

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After its debut on our stage during the Xbox E3 2018 Briefing, From Software’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice quickly became one of our most anticipated games of 2019. After all, what’s not to love about a game that combines dynamic movement, challenging-yet-satisfying combat, just a dab of mythology, and a feudal Japanese setting that’s been underutilized in modern gaming. It’s going to be a lot fun when it releases on March 22, so we were excited to have the chance to chat with Producer Robert Conkey about what fans can expect from this unique Xbox One game.

The Dark Souls games were probably best categorized as Action RPGs, but it feels like Sekiro is a different type of game. How would you categorize it?

Some games are harder to categorize than others, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in particular had us scratching our heads for awhile. The combat is hard as nails and requires quite a bit of mastery to succeed at. The RPG elements differ from their previous games, with less emphasis on stats and more emphasis on progression through unlocking prosthetic tools, new abilities, and special techniques. Then we’ve got 3D traversal, stealth, and a set protagonist. All these things considered, we and FromSoftware decided “Action-adventure with RPG elements” was the best way to describe the game.

How does the life/death and resurrection mechanic work, and how does it differ from the Souls games?

Unlike From’s previous titles, if you die and aren’t able to resurrect, there is no “corpse run” where you have a chance to recover your currency if you can reach your body without dying. In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, you automatically lose half of your money on hand and half of your skill experience points toward the next skill point upon death. This loss can’t be recovered.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

However, there is a small chance to avoid this loss completely, which is through the benediction of unseen forces, which we call Unseen Aid.

The likelihood of Unseen Aid occurring depends on another aspect of the death mechanics, which is a disease known as Dragonrot. If you die repeatedly, you’ll still resurrect, but you’ll notice that people you’ve met in the world will come down with a hideous disease called Dragonrot. The more people that are infected, the less divine sympathy you’ll receive, meaning your chances of receiving Unseen Aid are reduced. There are ways to cure Dragonrot, but not without a cost to resources. There are other effects of Dragonrot that you’ll need to play the game to discover.

As for resurrection itself, the player has the ability to resurrect in combat, which can be used to turn the tables on enemies who thought you were dead, or just to get a second chance at a fight. However, upon using resurrection, it can’t be used again until the Wolf has taken the lives of his enemies to pay for it.  Dying before this means you’ll lose half your money and XP (unless you’re lucky enough to receive Unseen Aid).

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro tells the story of a particular character, rather than putting the player in the shoes of a nameless hero. Can you give us an idea of what happens in Sekiro?

I don’t want to spoil too much, but I can set up the story for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

The Wolf is sworn to protect Kuro, known as the Divine Heir of the Dragon’s Heritage. Kuro appears to be a young boy, and his bloodline carries the unique power of immortality. You’d think an immortal wouldn’t need protection, but that’s very far from the case – immortality is a power that is so potent, anyone with even an inkling of ambition would do nearly anything to get their hands on it. The beginning of the story shows Wolf reuniting with the Divine Heir, who has been captured by Genichiro Ashina. As they try to escape the lands of Ashina, Genichiro stops them, cuts off the Wolf’s arm, and takes the Divine Heir into custody.

He’s picked up by an aging mysterious man, known as the Sculptor, who equips Sekiro with the Shinobi Prosthetic and informs him that the heir is being held in Ashina Castle.

Per the Iron Code of the Shinobi and his duty to his lord, the Wolf sets off to take his master back, and to exact revenge on Genichiro at any cost.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Game lore, either found via collectables or in-game dialogue, has always been a huge part of From games. What sort of world are you building in Sekiro? Is it something that’s meant to expand across multiple places or is this a standalone story?

While the beginning of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is relatively straightforward in terms of storytelling, the indirect, item-based storytelling that From’s fans know and love is very present here as well.

Additionally, there are a few new ways the story is told – the player has two-way conversations and some involved interactions with many NPCs throughout the game, and one of a shinobi’s tools is the art of eavesdropping. By overhearing conversations from afar, you can gain crucial information about the world, enemies’ weaknesses, or simply listen in on someone talking to themselves.

As for whether it’s meant to expand across multiple places/whether it’s stand alone or not, I’d rather not spoil that.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Would you consider the game open or linear? Fans loved finding shortcuts and backdoors between areas in the Souls games, so will we be seeing much of that here?

FromSoftware describes Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as “closest to Dark Souls 1” in terms of world structure, where the world features, with some exceptions, interconnected environments with multiple paths. Within that framework, parts of the game are relatively linear, but around the midgame things open up, and the order of completion of various areas is up to the player.

I can say there are many shortcuts, secrets, and “Does not open from this side” type doors in this game.  Much effort has been put into ensuring that curious players who aren’t afraid to look in dark, scary corners will have something interesting to find.

The combat in Sekiro looks to be much different than that in the Souls games, as it looks like players will be focusing much more on dodging and avoiding combat than they will on blocking and turtling.

There’s not much emphasis on avoiding combat. First and foremost, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an action game, not a stealth title, though stealth is one of your many available tools. While smart use of stealth could get you out of some fights in the game, you’re going to have to fight eventually, and From has prepared a lot of tools that allow players to improve their odds with an optimal engage.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Once combat starts, the focus surrounds breaking your opponent’s posture to land a potent Shinobi Deathblow. The posture system makes it so that a simple hit and run-type strategy is not going to be effective, because enemy posture regenerates over time if you leave them alone.

A turtling strategy will also not be very effective, for several reasons: holding the block button means you take posture damage and your posture will eventually break; only deflecting means that an enemy’s posture regeneration will never slow down. You must hit enemies with attacks to lower their vitality and posture recovery speed, at which point their posture can more easily be broken.

A master shinobi will be up in an enemy’s face, attacking frequently to deal vitality and posture damage, while also deflecting or countering every attack their enemy throws at them. Do this well for long enough, and you’re probably going to win.

Sekiro Screenshot

How much will the game explore Japanese mythology? It might be set in the real world, but the trailers and footage we’ve seen indicate that there will be plenty of supernatural enemies to take on.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice doesn’t explore Japanese mythology per-se. While some of the game’s lore and creatures may have taken inspiration from Japanese mythology in some sense, they are all original creations from the delightfully twisted minds of Miyazaki and team.

Will there be major boss fights as there are in the other From games? What’s your favorite?

You bet there will. Talking about my favorite would be a major spoiler, so unfortunately, I can’t say.  I will say that the bosses in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice are quite difficult, in a really great way. It’s the classic FromSoftware experience, where you learn a little bit more each time you try, and when you finally win, you get that genuine feeling of exuberant accomplishment. I’m really looking forward to seeing players take on the game’s bosses.

Can we expect to see a variety of weapons in the game? Like, can you embrace completely different playstyles through different weapons?

Combat in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is complex, but the basics of combat center around three key aspects – your shinobi prosthetic (left hand), your sword (right hand), and martial arts (acrobatic moves).

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Your left hand is the shinobi prosthetic, which has a variety of tools/weapons that can be equipped and upgraded; some of these are more traditional “different weapon” type varieties with multiple attacks, while others are a little more unorthodox. These tools also have special combos that can be unlocked to work together with your sword, such as the ability “Chasing Slice,” which allows you to perform a gap-closing dash attack right after throwing a shuriken, for example.

The right hand is your sword, which has a 5 hit basic combo, a strong attack, and a number of special, learnable techniques that can be weaved into your combos called “Combat Arts”. There are also contextual sword attacks that can be performed after certain moves, for example there’s a special Vitality-damaging counterattack that can be performed immediately after dodging, and another that can be performed while sprinting.  The sword is also your primary defensive tool as it allows you to deflect and block enemy attacks

Martial arts are acrobatic moves that the Wolf uses his whole body to perform. For example, he can jump-kick off enemies, back flip over their heads, step on their blades, run and slide under incoming arrows, etc.

Sekiro Screenshot

These are the basic tenets, and there is more to discover, such as powerful ninjutsu techniques that become available in the midgame. There is also synergy between these tenets.  As an example that uses all three, you can jump-kick off an enemy, throw a shuriken in midair just before you land, then perform a chasing slice sword attack to rush at the enemy the moment you hit the ground.

Speaking of mid-air, jumping is also an important part of combat. You can deflect while in the air, there’s a mid-air sword combo, and special mid-air versions of each prosthetic tool and even mid-air combat arts. The fact that combat is in 3D this time (for example some attacks must be jumped over to be avoided) adds another interesting layer to the combat experience.

To answer the question on playstyles, the player is given many choices via the Skill system, which allows one to “spec” into the playstyle or methods they prefer most. For example, the Shinobi style is focused on Shinobi Martial Arts as described above, improving stealth, and other tricky moves. The Prosthetic style skills allow one to take their tools to the next level, by adding follow-up sword or special tool attacks, use of prosthetic tools in mid-air, etc. The Ashina style is focused on damaging enemy posture and obtaining potent, posture-damaging sword techniques. All of these are viable in different ways, and your choices will end up dictating what tools are available to take on the formidable challenges the game presents.

Thanks to Robert Conkey for taking the time to share all of this exciting information about Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. For the latest news on Sekiro as well as your favorite Xbox games, keep it tuned here to Xbox Wire.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is available for pre-order today on Xbox One via the Microsoft Store. It will release on Xbox One and enhanced for Xbox One X on Friday, March 22. Click here for additional details.