This interview is from Dengeki Online 664.
I translated the Famitsu interview as well, which you can find here.
A new project based on a completely new IP. Today, we ask Mr Miyazaki about the choice of a Japanese setting as well as the game’s design.
We’ve been looking forward to this game since the December teaser video. What’s the meaning behind the title “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice”?
Sekiro means “one-armed wolf”, and represents the main character. He lost an arm, yet is as a wolf, that’s the feel. As for the subtitle “Shadows Die Twice”, it was originally supposed to be a catchphrase for the teaser, but the publishers really liked it, and made it a subtitle. “Shadows” is a metaphor for the essence of the ninja, and “Die Twice” signifies both the unique revival system in this game, as well as a warning to the player that they’ll die a lot.
The last new IP From worked on was Bloodborne. When did development for this one start?
We started this project about when we finished Bloodborne’s DLC. That was about the end of 2015.
When you wrote the planning document, did you already know this would be a Japanese-style action game?
That’s right. When we were discussing ideas for new titles, naturally, one of the ideas that came up was a Japanese-style game. The planning document was based on that idea. From has worked on many Japanese-style games, but it’s been a while since then, so for myself and many of the younger staff, this would be our first experience with a Japanese theme, so we expected to be able to create something new.
There seem to be a lot of influence from Tenchu. Was that intentional?
Yes. Tenchu was the original inspiration for this work. When we started the project, we initially thought about putting it under the Tenchu series, but we gave up on that quickly. Tenchu had been developed by a very different set of people, and we felt that we wouldn’t be able to make anything but an imitation of it. So while this work was originally sparked by Tenchu, and borrows mechanics like the grappling hook and the ninja kill, it’ll ultimately be our own new game.
Did you start working with Activision while this was still in the Tenchu stages?
Activision had held the IP for Tenchu before us, but that’s not why we decided to work with them. Although it’s a funny coincidence (laugh). The most critical reasons that we decided to work with Activision were that, first, they had great respect for the idea, and second, we thought we’d be able to work together in an interesting partnership.
What kind of work does Activision do on this project?
We follow their lead on ease of play, pleasure of play, and proper onboarding/tutorializing. Embarrassingly, it’s something we’re not that good at (laugh). The rest of the advice they give us on the game is founded, though, on respect of the game we want to make and the idiosyncracies we want it to have. While preserving the uniqueness of our design, we want to have as many people as possible experience interesting and fun play with this game. That’s the perspective from which they give advice, and it’s why we thought we’d be able to work together in an interesting partnership.
We want to merge the beauty of decay and the beauty of freshness.
Why did you choose the end of the Warring States period for the setting?
We decided very early on that the main character would be a ninja. That was the basis on which we built our game design. For a setting that could thus contain a ninja, we had Warring States or Edo, and we chose Warring States. There are a few reasons for that decision. First, the Warring States period is conceptualized as more raw and dirty. Then — and this is something that’s less definite — Edo is more modern, while Warring States has that medieval feel, which still holds mythological significance. On top of that, we chose the end of the Warring States period in order to incorporate the nuance of decay which informs our conception of Japanese beauty.
What kind of imagery are you thinking of for your first Japanese-style game in so long?
With regards to Japanese beauty, we considered its two faces, one of decay and one of vividness. It may seem a contradiction, but we wanted to unite them. In our recent works, we’ve really been suppressing vivid beauty, so we consciously emphasized it this time. We really enjoyed creating the imagery, and we hope the players will as well.
The portrayal of blood in this game is a lot more vivid and showy than in previous games.
We often compare it to Bloodborne. In Bloodborne, blood is thick and gloopy, but in this work, it’s more watery. I think it’s a matter of the difference in worlds, or the characteristics of the work. But portraying blood is a difficult task, and we may still make adjustments to it.
I’ve seen that a certain character appears at certain critical important points in battle.
Yes, the appearance of the kanji! It is a Japanese-style game, so we thought to try that (haha). As a result, we found a unique flair for this game. By the way, the kanji will appear overseas as well, with nearby text describing the meaning for each localization. Initially, we wanted people to think of it as an effect instead of as a letter, but they wouldn’t listen (haha).
A character-focused tale of rescue and revenge
This time, in contrast to Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series, the main character has a defined style and look. Will the depiction of the story likewise differ from previous works?
That’s right. This work features a fixed main character, who serves as a focal point of the story. Since the story revolves around this fixed point, it’ll be significantly different compared to Dark Souls, which lacked anything similar. The themes of this story would also be difficult without the fixed main character, so this will also serve as a fresh aspect of the work. But, in order to prevent any misunderstandings or undue expectation, this isn’t a game that will particularly focus on storytelling. With respect to how we tell stories, this will be the same as our previous works.
The prince the main character serves — will he and the samurai who abducted him serve as a key to the story?
That’s right. This story fouses on rescue and revenge, so the prince and the Ashina samurai will be keys to the story.
The one-armed Buddhist statue carver is also interesting. What kind of place does he occupy in the story?
He’ll provide hints to the player, and serve as a sort of curt navigator. To compare to Demon Souls, he’s kind of like a Crestfallen Maiden in Black, I guess? Of course, he has a backstory too, and it’ll become more clear during the game’s story.
What kind of enemies will appear?
In addition to runaway soldiers, armored warriors, and bandits, there’ll also be many types of enemies from demonlike giants to great white snakes — as seen in the E3 trailer. The enemies will be quite unique, so look forward to them!
Will the story diverge based on choices made during play?
Most of the story will be the sam, but there will be multiple endings.
Action emphasing “Kill Wisely”
What is the fighting like in this game?
As in Dark Souls, the goal is to provide a challenging experience that feels good to overcome. In this work, we also emphasize the freedom of strategy, and the creativity you can employ to solve challenges. You can face challenges head-on, or alternatively use one of a multitude of create strategies. Unlike a samurai, the ninja’s image is one of: any method is good, as long as it produces results!
It sounds like this work will have a different essence from previous ones.
True. First, the image of swordplay is different. This work focuses on the clashing of swords, and searching for a moment’s weakness to deliver a final blow as you wear down your enemy. It’s a style that fits both the Japanese and ninja aesthetics, and that serves as the foundation of this game.
Will swordplay involve stamina, as the games up till now have?
“Balance” would probably be more accurate. If you strike at your opponent’s torso, their posture will crumble, and you’ll be given a chance to deliver a finishing Ninja Kill blow. Unlike in previous games, there’s a unique emphasis on massive conditional swings. In normal combat, you slowly whittle down your opponent’s health, but we focus heavily on the Ninja Kill in our design, which emphasizes creativity as is necessary to bring down your enemy’s balance. However, this is only a starting point for our conception of combat, and there’ll be more to it. This swordplay focused around single strikes will open up many strategic options, and the prosthetic arm will be a significant part of that.
What is this prosthetic arm like?
It primarily serves as a ninja weapon. There will be many variants, like shuriken, firecrackers, and sparks, that all contribute to the freedom of strategy and the creativity of approaching challenges. For example, if an enemy is wielding a shield, you can use the hidden axe to take down his shield and strike his torso. It’ll be critical that you select your tools properly to stand against various enemies and situations. There are a few weird tools as well, like the steel umbrella featured in the E3 video. They’ll all serve various creative purposes, as well as give the game a unique feel.
Will you be able to switch your prosthetic tools on the spot?
Yes. You’ll be able to select several tools beforehand, and switch between them in combat..
Can you tell us more about how the grappling hook will be used in combat? It looks like it’ll be focused on providing movement capabilities.
That’s correct. First and foremost, the grappling hook will be a means of movement. As in Dark Souls, the game will feature three-dimensional maps — which I love — and the grappling hook will give you a unique way to traverse the map vertically. Within the three-dimensional maps that we always created, this time we wanted to emphasize vertical traversal, and this actually became one of the reasons we made the main character a ninja. I hope the players will enjoy vertically exploring the maps. However, the grappling hook will also have combat uses. You can use it to maneuver behind your opponents, or beat a retreat into the trees, or make many other dynamic movements.
Are the maps designed with grappling hook traversal in mind?
Yes. The maps contain laid-out points where the grappling hook can be used to move around. Furthermore, with one minor exception, the map is fully interconnected and will allow freedom of game progression.
The revival system seems like it will have a massive impact on the flow of battle. How did you come to add it in the game?
The revival system reflects the image of the ninja, which consists of always being on the edge of death, and therefore capable of dying easily — but also serves the gameplay purpose of keeping the game’s tempo steady. It will also be a critical mystery in the story.
It sounds like you’ll be able to make strategies based on dying.
That’s right. It’s not the main purpose, but sneaking up on enemies who thought you dead and ninja killing them from behind will serve as a unique aspect of this game. There will also be paths this kind of strategy opens up.
Have you decided how many times you’ll be able to revive?
There will be a limit, but it’s a work in progress. This being said, we don’t want people to lose the tension of playing on the edge of death, or to become inured to dying, so we’re considering death penalties balanced with revival. I may be repeating myself, but the goal of revival isn’t to decrease the difficulty, but rather to maintain the presence of death and the gameplay tempo. Perhaps given the revival system, we can make the death penalty harsher…
Finally, why did you choose to focus on singleplayer and omit multiplayer?
There are many reasons. First, multiplayer places many restrictions on game design. With a fixed character and a fixed class, we’ve removed most of these restrictions, ad it seems much more optimal to focus uniquely on the singleplayer experience. As a result, this work will carry its own unique feel and charm, so please look forward to it!