The first Souls game with a Japanese theme.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the sixth game of the Souls series. For the first time, a fixed character with a more accessible story was used in a Souls game. It is also the first action-adventure game in the series, instead of the usual action RPG.
Sekiro is a colorful and beautiful game set in Japan, unlike in the previous games, where darkness, decay, and desolation were the visual themes of the games. With Sekiro, FromSoftware has finally crossed the chasm of niche hardcore gaming. The company has finally achieved mainstream acceptance culminating in Sekiro’s win of both the VGA 2019 Game of the Year and the 2019 Best Action/Adventure Game.
Discover how Sekiro was created and the development story behind Hidetaka Miyazaki’s fifth masterpiece.
- Development Start: Dec 8, 2015
- Official Reveal: Dec 7, 2017
- Gameplay Reveal: Jun 10, 2018
- Release Date: Mar 22, 2019
The Origins of Sekiro
During the Video Game Awards of 2017, nobody expected to see a teaser trailer for a new game from FromSoftware. It only lasted for 31 seconds, and it contained the words “Shadows Die Twice.”
The Creation of a New Game
Bloodborne was a success for both FromSoftware and Sony. Unlike Demon’s Souls, it achieved immediate commercial and critical recognition. Not bad for the second collaboration between the two companies.
It was during this time when FromSoftware started planning for its next project. The DLC for Bloodborne had just finished development, and true to tradition, they needed a parallel game to be directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki, who was also working on Dark Souls III at that time.
Miyazaki: The project began around the time when we finished the development of Bloodborne’s DLC. It was at the end of 2015. At the time, we were still developing Dark Souls III, and we had a few ideas for games to develop afterward.
A New Japanese-Themed Game
Up to this point, the settings of the Souls games created by Miyazaki used western fantasy, even using the English language by default. For the new game, he wanted to create something that uses Japan as the setting. A new Japanese-themed game.
Miyazaki: When we were discussing ideas for new games, one of the suggestions that came up naturally was a Japanese-style game. The planning document was based on that premise. FromSoftware has worked on many Japanese-styled games, but it has been years since then, so for myself and most of the younger staff, this would be our first project with a Japanese theme. We were excited to work on something new.
Selecting the Hero - Ninja Vs. Samurai
For the new Japanese-themed game, Miyazaki had to choose between a ninja and a samurai. For the latest game mechanics he wanted to introduce, he selected the ninja. This does not prevent him, though, from including samurai characters and NPCs in the game. It’s just that the main hero had to be a ninja to achieve the innovations in combat and movement that Miyazaki envisions.
Miyazaki: So, when you say “Japanese inspired,” you can typically go in one of two main directions, one’s samurai and one’s ninja. The reason we opted to go with ninja is that samurai is usually more grounded, more fixed. Their combat is mostly on the ground. Ninjas, at least as far as a Japanese person is concerned, can do anything and go anywhere with the design. Ninja is fantasy.
I have been aiming to traverse these rich, multilayered environments the studio designs in a more dynamic and free-form way. A ninja represents an archetype that can use everything at its disposal. They don’t follow a fixed fighting style and use every means and everything they can get their hands on. Ninjas exploit every weakness. This multifaceted hero was something the whole team wanted to explore.
Selecting the Period - Sengoku Vs. Edo
Now that Miyazaki had selected the settings and the hero type, he had to decide next when in the history the story takes place. For this, he chose between the Sengoku period and the Edo period.
Miyazaki: In terms of setting and world design, the main periods in which ninjas operated in Japan were the Edo and the Sengoku periods. One of the two main reasons we selected Sengoku over Edo was because it was a time filled with war and violence. It was the period of warring states in Japan. It was full of bloody battles and conflicts. This fits quite nicely with the ninja aesthetic and the kind of game that we wanted to create.
The second reason we selected Sengoku was that Edo is generally considered the early modern period of Japan, while Sengoku is more medieval. And from this medieval period, we were able to create motifs and ideas from this ancient Japanese mysticism, a timeline of beauty, and include that into the world design.
What is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice?
Origins of the Title
When Sekiro was revealed during the VGA 2017 teaser trailer, it didn’t have the title yet. Miyazaki explained that Sekiro is the name given to the hero of the story. The subtitle, Shadows Die Twice, was just meant to be a placeholder, but it became popular with their new publisher, so they kept it.
Miyazaki: Sekiro means “one-armed wolf” and embodies the main character. He had lost an arm and yet stayed fierce as a wolf. The subtitle, “Shadows Die Twice,” was initially just a catchphrase for the teaser, but the publishers quite liked it and made it a subtitle. “Shadows” is a metaphor for the nature of a ninja, and “Die Twice” conveys both the unique revival mechanics in the game and a warning to the player that they will die a lot.
The Story of Sekiro
Miyazaki rarely reveals the full plot of his games in interviews. But Sekiro is the exception. It is the first title in the Souls series that uses a pre-defined character that the player can use to experience the story and the lore of the game.
Miyazaki: I can’t reveal much info right now, but the main character is a skilled ninja. He’s a lone wolf without any specific affiliation and is a cool-headed man who rarely shows emotion. He serves a prince who got kidnapped, leading to his arm being cut off and eventual death.
After losing everything, a one-armed sculptor of a Buddhist temple found him, revived him, and gave him a prosthetic shinobi arm. This is where the story begins. Then, the hero’s main motive becomes retrieving his master while taking revenge against the opponent who cut off his arm and resolving the mystery of revival. The story starts with the ideas of rescue and revenge.
The Relationship of Sekiro to Tenchu
For those who are fans of FromSoftware before the Souls games, they will recognize the similarity between Sekiro and Tenchu, an older game that also includes a ninja.
Originally, Miyazaki was planning to make a direct sequel to Tenchu but changed his mind later. He decided to create a new IP from scratch.
Miyazaki: Tenchu was the original inspiration for this game. We originally thought of placing it under the Tenchu series when we began the project, but we gave up on the fast. Tenchu had been created by a very different group of people, and we felt that we wouldn’t be able to create anything but an imitation of it. So even though this game was originally influenced by Tenchu and borrows from that game the mechanics like grappling hook and the ninja kill, it will ultimately be our own new game.