(Trying) to compare Enlightenment and Sekiro, Corrupted Monk becomes a Helicopter and a look at the Riven Cave

Enlightenment and Sekiro and Deflecting: Sekiro is a game with some overt Buddhist themes and imagery, so let’s try applying a Buddhist quote to the game play. I’m going to use footage of the Corrupted Monk – in part because it’s one of my favourite boss fights, and she’s a Monk. She fits right in with this topic. A quick tangent – why isn’t she the Corrupted Nun? There are Buddhist Nun’s. The original Japanese uses the character for Monk, so there’s no mistranslation. So, yeah,

“Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.”

Dogen Zenji.

So, how is any of that applicable to Sekiro? I guess on the surface there might not be much there. But I’ve been thinking about it more and more after I saw someone mention it in a comment section for a fighting game video. I think it can be applied in a similar manner to Sekiro.

I do love Sajam’s videos.

“Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters;

When I first played Sekiro, a weapon swung towards to me was a weapon swung towards me. It was nothing more, and nothing less. I saw it coming, I hit L1 and a block came out. If I timed it right I got a deflect. In any case I reacted all the same. I stopped a weapon headed towards me. Sometimes. Sometimes I just missed it. In which case it was just a weapon hitting me. Nothing more and nothing less.

“after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters;”

The more I played Sekiro, the more I learned about it. I learned that weapons swung towards me were different. They came at different speeds and different angles. I had to pay attention to these things. Identify which attack was being used, account for me position relating to these attacks and alter my timing for each individual attack. I had to think about these things. The game became more complex, and rather than simply reacting I was thinking and processing. Sometimes this was good, sometimes it could lead to bad results – overthinking can happen.

“after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.”

And finally, here we are. It turns out, all along, it was always a weapon being swung at me. Nothing more and nothing less. I am still engaging with the thought processes from the second part of the quote, but it has all been internalised. I don’t think about it, I just do it. An attack comes in, and without thinking I press L1 as it needs to be. The Corrupted Monk has her attacks and combos, they all have the individual properties – but it’s of no concern. They get deflected without much thought. Because all along, she’s swinging a weapon at me, and I need to deflect it. Nothing more, nothing less. 

It’s been a wonderful journey getting to this point with the game.

She did the thing: A while back I wrote a series of posts about the Corrupted Monk. One of those posts talked about all her attacks and combos. It turns out I missed one because I confused two jump attacks. She has one that is straight jump in the air and a slam down:

And she has this one:

I knew that this move existed, but I had not seen it in so long that I mistook it for the other attacks. This attack is a much more expansive move – the Monk swings her Naginata/Nagamaki (still haven’t figured it out) in a flat arc, intent on clipping everything around her. She’ll hit Sekiro somehow. It’s one of the games most spectacular attacks – she turns into a Sengoku era helicopter for a precious few seconds. There aren’t many other attacks that have same scale or expansiveness.

I’m pretty sure it’s a move that is meant to clear players out of trees. And I think sometimes, when the player is in the air near the trees the AI thinks that a person is in the trees, and then uses tree clearing moves to get them down. Very rarely, at least for me, it picks this one. I think I’ve only seen this move 2 or 3 times (including this instance) – it’s super cool when she brings it out.

A weird obsession with Riven Cave: Riven Cave is one of the rest points in Sekiro. In all honestly there’s not much too it. It’s pretty much just a cave. A stopping off point before heading off to Bodhisattva Valley. For the vast majority of folks (I’m guessing), the Riven Cave is simply a rest point before the rest of the game unfolds, and nothing more.

I sometimes get weirdly obsessed with stuff. The Riven Cave is one of those obsessions. There a few things that got me interested. The elements of human habitation – I am fond of things human beings have left behind. There are lanterns leading up to the entrance. There’s a half ruin rope ladder hanging from a ledge – I always take a little gander at it. There are ropes hanging across the ceiling and there are some Jizo sculptures. I dig all of it.

And while it is a rest stop, it is the rest stop that comes right after being hounded by a giant snake, so it’s a good chance to get one’s bearings and regain composure, after escaping the attentions of a colossus. Right outside, there is a skeleton of a monkey. A sign of things to come. It’s a neat bit of visual story telling.

In the games story, Bodhisattva Valley is where the Sculptor and King Fisher lived and practiced. It would make sense for Riven Cave to be one of their refuges. Prior to King Fishers disappearance it is pleasant to imagine the pair of them living in this cave with one another, honing their skills and sharing each other’s company. It’s nice to think about.

Notes and Asides:

Gfycat is still not playing ball. So, no gifs. Hopefully it will work soon. Hopefully. I miss making gifs.

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Sekiro: For the next few weeks this will be Sekiro the blog. If you’re down with that, great. If not, well, come back in a few weeks. Or maybe even longer, because I love this game. Now, I’ll only really be able to confirm this come Halloween when I play Bloodborne again but I right now, I think Sekiro is better than Bloodborne and thus, becomes the greatest game I’ve played.

There are a few reasons for this. Essentially it’s the combat, the world design and the strength of the boss fights (last weeks post covered this in detail). In addition, I love the cast of characters in this game and their assorted quest lines.

One thing that has surprised me immensely is how I dealt with the lack of different weapons. Or rather, how it didn’t bother me whatsoever. Granted, you have the prosthetics but the combat does revolve around the katana. And I think by only having that, the developers could focus entirely on building the combat around that weapon, and with the combat being so tight, responsive, fun and visceral I feel they made the right decision with this.

In addition, this has been mentioned by a few people but it’s so true. The fights in Sekiro actually feel like fights. There’s back and forth, give and take and for once, critical attacks kill people. Super Bunnyhop brought this up on his podcast A lot of the time (Dark Souls and Bloodborne are both guilty of this) you’ll do an attack that looks utterly devastating (a riposte or a visceral attack) and the enemy just gets back up. But in Sekiro, you jam a Katana in someone’s throat and yeah, they die. I mean, some enemies do have multiple deathblows, but again, you don’t have to whittle down every health bar. A deathblow will bring that down to nothing. Which again, makes sense. These would be deep wounds that would have such consequences.

Speaking of things I don’t miss from Soulsborne, it turns out there’s quite a few. I thought I’d miss the character creation, but Wolf is a damn fine character all by his lonesome. I figured I’d miss the silent protagonist, but Wolf has a mighty fine voice actor. I don’t even miss fashionsouls half as much as I thought I would, which has surprised me. It has all been quite the revelation. Hell, I don’t even miss the multiplayer, in both a PVP and a Co-operation capacity. In addition, I thought I’d dislike the music in the overworld, but again, not a problem.

There is one thing I miss from Souls though, and that’s gestures. Mainly the lie down gesture from Dark Souls III. I like to make environmental gifs, and with the lie down gesture I could hide the player character. Not having a PC means I must force a photo mode of sorts into the game. Sometimes I would like Sekiro to leave the screen, but it’s a most minor gripe and nothing more.

Given that I’ve talked about the bosses and world design before, I’m going to talk about some other things I like about Sekiro, that may be do not get talked about elsewhere. One thing that I’m most fond of is the artwork for the skills. Each skill comes with an ink wash picture, and they are very reminiscent of the real thing. Upon seeing them I felt a sense of joy, and I still get that whenever I see them.

The cast of characters is something I want to highlight as well. The questlines in this game are some of From Software’s best to date. They can go in many different directions, certainly more than previous games. Characters can interact, they can lead to whole new areas and in some cases they can become enemies to the wolf. Some questlines filled me with joy, some left me disgusted with myself (don’t volunteer people for surgery by crazy monks) and some left me full of sorrow. Why did I have to go back and check on Kotaro and Anayama the Peddler?

On the subject of questlines, (brought up by Fightin Cowboy – go watch his guides) a neat touch in Sekiro is the ending choices. Finally, different endings can have different boss fights. Normally in a Souls game, an ending is chosen after the final boss and everyone has the same run of boss fights (optional depending). But one ending in Sekiro will essentially remove 1/3 of the game and have a different final boss. That’s great. Certain decisions have consequences now, which not only makes actions feel weighty, but it’s a nice way to encourage further replays.

The movement is something that I’m digging a whole lot. Sometimes I’ll play Sekiro, and do nothing but grapple hook around various places. Senpou Temple, the roof tops of Ashina Castle, anywhere with a lot of grapple points. There freedom of movement here is amazing. Hell, addition of a dedicated jump button added so much, and then came the grappling hook. Future From Software games might need to keep this, because going back will be hard thing to do.

Lastly, the subject of getting better. I have my own system for grading progress in one of these games. If I come back and do a boss in 5 attempts of less, particularly after a massive struggle I conclude that the attacks are indeed readable, learnable and fair, and that I was just fucking up a whole lot the first time around. Every boss and encounter the second time around were cut to one or two attempts, which felt great. Particularly with Sword Saint Isshin. He went down to two attempts. The boss fights are fair, learnable and most of all, fun.