From Software should want an Assist Mode in Sekiro

From Software should want an Assist Mode in Sekiro

The From Software discourse is back. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice launched March 22, and the conversation has shifted from its nearly universal critical praise to the question of accessibility.

Here’s the gist: Some people are arguing that Sekiro should have an easy mode to enable more people to enjoy it. Others think this is blasphemy.

I agree that Sekiro should have an accessibility option. If I were in charge of From, I probably wouldn’t just put an Easy mode on the New Game screen. Instead, I would add the easier difficulty as an “Assist Mode” similar to the hyperdifficult platformer Celeste. In that game, you can slow down the action or make yourself invincible. But when you do this, Celeste dev Matt Makes Games warns that you’re circumventing the intended experience.

I never opened the accessibility option in Celeste. And knowing it existed did not ruin my experience. Actually, ignoring the easier option made me feel even more accomplished.

But a lot of From Software fans don’t care about that. To them, adding an accessibility mode would destroy From’s “vision.” And these fans claim that nothing is more sacred than the creator’s vision.

The arguments go something like this:

  • Not every game is for everyone, and that’s OK. Play something else.
  • You shouldn’t force a developer to add something it doesn’t want to add.
  • Accessibility just means being able to remap buttons, not making games easier.
  • It’s fine that Celeste has an accessibility mode, but that’s not From Software’s intention.

I hear these people, and I’d like to offer this counterpoint: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

You are only pretending to know From Software’s intention

According to From Software’s defenders, Sekiro came out as a perfectly formed work of art. And I can see why you would believe that, since From has not updated the Steam version since its launch. Sure, it would be nice if it would fix the weird performance issues, the locked 60 frames per second, the lack of a borderless window mode, the finicky HDR that doesn’t work half the time, the bizarre controller-support problems, the multimonitor bug, or the broken graphical options that don’t seem to do anything.

I’m sure it was just From Software’s intent that the game runs at 20 frames per second unless I unplug my second display. And it was From’s vision that its Automatic Rendering Adjustment feature doesn’t seem to do anything.

That’s just art.

But the reason you don’t know From’s intent is because it’s ethereal and intangible. On the other hand, From has an obvious goal.

“I personally want my games to be described as satisfying rather than difficult,” From director Hidetaka Miyazaki said in an interview with Metro. “I am aiming at giving players a sense of accomplishment in the use of difficulty. Having said that, however, it is true that Dark Souls is rather difficult and a number of people may hesitate to play. This fact is really sad to me, and I am thinking about whether I should prepare another difficulty that everyone can complete or carefully send all gamers the messages behind our difficult games.”

So Miyazaki wants to challenge people, but how From Software accomplishes that goal can shift. Not every choice it makes is canonically perfect.

And From fans know this, which is why it’s funny that they say, “If you don’t like it, play something else.”

From fans did not go play something else when From locked Dark Souls at 30 frames per second. They complained about it until the studio changed it to 60 frames per second in the Remastered version.

It was clearly From’s intent to run Dark Souls at 30fps. But the truth is that no one actually thinks the artist’s vision is more precious than frames. They only think it’s more important than disabled people.

From should intend to do the right thing

But let’s just pretend that we know for a fact that From’s intent is to never include an accessibility mode. Let’s pretend that the studio has said explicitly that it wants to make games that are too hard for certain people.

Although, again, it hasn’t said that. In an interview with VG247, Miyazaki said he wants to strike a balance. But let’s ignore that and pretend he wants to make something certain people cannot overcome.

If it is From Software’s intention to make a game so hard that some people cannot really play it, then that is bad. It should have a better intention than that.

“Intent” is not a “get out of criticism free” card. Go back to the framerate. From is not immune to criticism just because its intent was 30 frames per second.

And after playing Celeste, I know that games are better when they are more accessible. They take nothing away from the intended experience, and they give someone with slower hands (or no hands at all) a fair shot at overcoming the game’s obstacles.

I’m not suggesting that we need to break down the doors of From Software’s offices to arrest Miyazaki. I cannot force him to add these options.

But it’s fair to criticize From for failing to do something that is harmless to its canonical difficult experience.

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