Sekiro and the question of good game design

Honestly, this is something I wanted to speak about for quite a while and it’s not going to be about how the new FroSoft being hacks or any derogatory rants about the Souls series or anything like that. I did it for months and it doesn’t help, especially since the problem is something else when it comes to Sekiro. I’m not a fan of the Soulsborne series, even though I do like Demon’s Souls and liked it for its sense of a knight facing off against Lovecraftian entities into what I can only call a 3D Castlevania experience but with Berserk references instead of JoJo ones. Before we move on, I’ll say this : it’s a shame that people don’t credit Demon’s as much and only default to Dark Souls, given it was more casual, more accessible and more distributed game so the masses and more importantly the figureheads they annex and follow, be they journalists or another type of public figure like a Wiki moderator or a youtuber or even a streamer, attribute to it those ideas and influence while making it the superstar it is today, for reasons that weren’t exactly the focus of Demon’s Souls. Bloodborne was a good direction though, I’ll give them that. Sekiro is very unique though, because it’s tainted by the very DNA of a series people believed for almost an entire console generation, if not more, that it is the height of gaming design and of a good, challenging hard game when it is this very same Dark Soul that holds back a very decent action game with ninjas, both in ideas an execution.

We must start a bit from the begining to understand a bit of the design philosophy of not only the company but the games they made here and it’ll be worth it, I promise. However, FromSoftware changed over the years and even though it’s not the company I grew up and loved, the company known for its whacky ideas that unfortunately doesn’t get enough credit for their past innovations, like with the Armored Core series and how it affected Mecha games, even if it was short-lived, how they were among the few japanese companies to develop great japanese action games for the original XBOX with the Otogi games and the King’s Field games that people knew them mostly for, among many others. The great thing about their games, was that despite them not being trailblazers, with the exceptions of Armored Core, they always added their personal twist and ideas into a game genre or even a game they liked and make it unique, which was needed back in the PS2 days. Sure, Ninja Blade may have been a Ninja Gaiden clone but it was unique enough and offers a very different experience from those games, Yoshitsune Eiyuden may look like a Samurai Warriors game but their take on how to control a swuad affects the game in very different ways, Kuon may look like an old japanese Silent Hill game at first glance, has enough differences to stand on its own feet and finally, while the co-developed Another Century’s Episode games look like Zone of the Enders fanwank, they make the necessary changes and add new and interesting elements that wouldn’t have worked with Kojima’s games. But just like Resident Evil 4’s item management system, a lot of their ideas were tossed to the side by the industry and themselves, which is especially sad in these days of stagnation and overhomogenization. This last part stands in stark contrast to the current FromSoftware.

The current FromSoft era started around the time Miyazaki got to direct some games, in 2008. During that time, some of the older staff walked out of the company and went to do their own thing, with some of them uniting years later to make the spiritual successor to their Armored Core games, Daemon X Machina :

It’s good, ok? Anyway, Miyazaki broke into the scene with Armored Core 4, a reboot of the series that isn’t exactly…good and itnroduced parts of what would later be synonymous with Dark Souls. The Lore. This kind of cancer deserves its own post and despite all that, at least Miyazaki had the sense to ammend his mistakes with Armored Core : Fore Answer and Demon’s Souls, so no harm done by the end and he proved his worth. At the time though, Demon’s Souls didn’t do very well for a variety of reasons and so FromSoft was getting oddjobs from various publishers and either did a good job due to the low standards of the game they were given or just half-assed projects completely out of spite, while at the same time striking a deal with Bandai Namco for their next big thing : Dark Souls. The rest is history, everybody knows what happened next to a disgusting degree at this point, let’s move on.

Sekiro is just the latest game Miyazaki and his team developed as of the making of this post, The Eldar Ring is being developed but for all we know, they might just be yakking it up with George R.R. Martin without even having developed solid concept art, so let’s assume that Sekiro is the latest and last thing for now. Sekiro is a game about a one armed ninja that stealths around, has a prosthetic arm that Guts probably wants very much given its utility and absurd ability to function like a real hand. He also traverses the environment running and dodging like a madman, grappling around in a mnner closer to Spider-man than any ninja with a grappling hook and his arsenal seems innocuous but becomes robust and unique enough to make him an avatar of carnage or the best damn ninja of his clan, with his resourceful tactices and techniques borne out of the new tools he aquires. Here’s the thing : it all falls painfully short as an action game and as a ninja-themed game, in all facets. And it doesn’t help when Sekiro isn’t looked upon as its own unique thing but rather as an extension of the Souls series or even the Tenchu series.

A short addendum for those who think that Sekiro is a continuation of their Tenchu games or their own new take of Tenchu, that is not the case and if it was, whatever articles, that strangely only exist in english and not in japanese, state that it started as a project to utilise said IP but quickly moved very far away from it due to the ideas becoming larger than a simple sequel. To iterate, From Software only developed the Shadow Assault : Tenchu game for the Xbob360 Arcade, an abomination of a game comparable to Bomberman Zero in terms of bismerching a franchise and in a fit of irony, tried to copy the style of the Bomberman series as well. The rest of the Tenchu games were made by Aquire, who lost the rights to it after From Sofware bought the rights but had the state of mind to understand that they need experts to make good games of that genre, so they hired K2 LLC, a fantastic small studio made by ex-SNK and ex-Squaresoft members, starting with the excellent Tenchu 3 or Tenchu : Wrath of Heaven as it was more commonly known with their talent showing when they created Tenchu Z, a very underrated game unfortunately. Aquire was meanwhile pre-occupied with their Shinobido series, which was a continuation of their ideas about Tenchu 2. Though FromSoft technically ported Wrath of Heaven and added some new things, so they did one direct good thing about the series, which is a miracle on itself, given how much they despised the PSP because incopetency wasn’t the problem with their PSP games, they were dicks about porting stuff and making games for that little thing.

That being said, they shouldn’t try and thankfully, they aren’t emulating Tenchu to make Sekiro. But the game is held back by conventions of the Dark Souls series specifically. Let’s go over the mechanics of Sekiro in depth and I’d also like to present the depth the game can have in the hands of really good action game players, from simply udnerstanding the core mechanics on a fundamental level :

to becoming aquainted with the concept of Hard Mode and the utility of several techniques :

to full blown mastery of everything the game has to offer :

And despite what seems to be a boring moveset of left and right slashes, it can transform into a beautiful display of swordfighting between two pros, with one of the pros playing dirty. It honestly reminds me of the Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask battle system, it’s basic and all but it was also compromised by locking on to the enemy and slashing left and right or pushing a direction to do different slashes and thrusts while having three different tools at your disposal at any time, ready to help you defeat enemies and bosses.

Look, he even has a grappling hook that can get him to his opponents, stun them and bring the smaller ones to him…the latter of which Sekiro cannot do. More on that later, to be specific my second talking point. To be frank, I know the combat of either isn’t as combo deep as other games but for the type and genre of game both Zelda and Sekiro go for, they don’t have to reach such complex levels, so long as all the tools are fully used to their maximum potential. So let’s start :

1.)Exploration and movement

The exploration in the game is one of its strong points along with how Sekiro moves. Wolf / Sekiro is a very nimble and agile ninja thankfully so even without the grappling hook he can move in a very ninja-like way and speed around his given environment which makes exploration all the more satisfying when sneaking around and when speeding through places the player has full knowledge of and the grappling hook’s utility only sweetens that feeling. It also helps that the grappling hook is pretty ok and can grapple in several good places so the player can escape from a losing combat scenario and rethink their tactics and strategy, like a ninja would. However, there are two small problems with that : Sekiro has to actually dedicate a button to grab unto ledges and while in other games it may be perfectly fine, here is takes away from its controls(more on that later) and it makes the player do tedious work, especially because you can’t exactly go from ledge to shimmering from that ledge with the push of that button without major jank(and only on specified ledges mind you) and the second is the way Sekiro does stealth, by crouching and the way the crouch is used is the absolute worst. If anything, the way Sekiro should grab and shimmy along a ledge he is standing on should be done manually with multiple crouches to help streamline the cotnrols and give new purpose to the crouching near ledges or on top of trees while the grabbing of ledges and walls should be automatic when Sekiro jumps and even wall jumps to reach a high place and I’d even go as far as to make it so the way he climbs up is different : first of all, when the specified ledges for wall hugging appear, the wall hugging is automatic, second of all crouch, dodge and run are all on the same button and require different situations to be used, along with the fact that now not only can Sekiro crouch, he can only crouch again to crawl on the ground and stand up from either position by pressing the jump button. Near ledges or on top of trees, crouching automatically becomes the ledge-hanging action. Grabbing ledges from a jump is automatic now but that doesn’t mean that the action of pulling Sekiro up should be as well, as the player should have more tools to maneuvre Sekiro along now as now pressing the crouch button again while hanging will make Sekiro let go, the jump button while instead result in Sekiro leaping from his position to the ground in a flashy manner while pressing up on the analog stick should result in Sekiro quietly climbing up. If this still doesn’t satisfy the people then how about this : keep my version but add the stipulation that the dodge button also acts as the button that lets Sekiro grab on things when jumping instead of it being automatic. Another thing that ties to the movement are the limitations of the Grappling Hook, a carryover from the thought process of Souls games, where exploration has to be done with uncontrollable leaps of faith from a super janky jumping system or the more safe roads on foot which is fine when you’re a knight decked out in 20 kilos of sheet metal but not for a shinobi. Initially those limitations aren’t a bad thing as the upgrade progression of a lot of things is done in a well designed manner but fumbles in other places but the hook gets the shaft in a major way and I think that every time Sekiro’s prosthetic arm receives a story “upgrade” by inserting certain new parts on it to enable for more tool upgrades, he should also get upgrades to his grappling hook to make it act far more like the hookshot from the Legend of Zelda. To give an example, in Sekiro, you have to move your camera and look at the place for a certain part of the terrain that has a very specific symbol appearing on it that indicates where you can grapple on :

Grappling hook indicator

The problem here is that for the player to grapple on such a place two conditions must be met by Sekiro : he has to be at an acceptable distance, as in the hook must have enough rope to reach it, and it has to be in the player’s field of view, not necessarily Sekiro’s. And one can even grapple when running, dodging or even jumping but the distance is a bit short for the acrobatics of Sekiro and the vastness of the areas/ I’d say about as long as the Longshot’s from Ocarina of Time but the distances in that game were smaller compared to what Sekiro crosses and grapples on, so by comparisson it’s more akin to the Hookshot, the un-upgraded version of the Longshot. Like I mentioned, at certain parts of the story you get new parts for your prosthetic arm that allow you to unlock certain tiers of tools but I believe the system should be expanded a bit and this time the upgrades should be more frequent and should also upgrade your hook capabilities; let’s say the first time you upgrade your arm, the player gains the ability to hold down the button for the grappling hook to enter a first person mode where he can grapple freely by turning the camera around, granted there is a red laser dot on the place he’s allowed to grapple, allowing for more nuances grappling this time like in Zelda. The second upgrade should be about the distance the hook can now cover being much longer or just twice its original distance but only for the first person mode with carryover functions from the Clawshot of Twillight Princess like being able to grapple unto certain terrains and then be able to grapple again. The last upgrade should be the one that allows Sekiro to grapple on certain enemies and pull himself towards them but also be able to pull certain enemies towards himself like small animals or one or two bosses under certain conditions, like Oniwa for example, by not only being able to grapple towards him but also choose to make him fall of his horse.

2.)Combat and controls

The controls in Sekiro suffer initially from Souls syndrome, where the set-up for the controls is intuitive when you play a first or third person shooting game but when you go to an action game it all falls apart from the seams and induces some artificial difficulty. It worked initially for Demon’s Souls due to the pace and speed of the game along with how your character controlled and acted due to the camera which carried over to a certain capacity over to Dark Souls 1 compared to the other games by Miyazaki and From, which was far ifier and became an annoyance. To iluustrate, here are the controls :


Unlike Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, the player can of course change the controls, which is very nice and an approved mark for player accessibility as always. To give you an idea for my reasoning and my playstyle as well, here’s my ideal set-up for the game :

Square Button : Attack
Triangle Button : Use Prosthetic Tool
R1 Trigger : Cycle Prosthetic Tool
R2 Trigger : Action, (hold) Collect Loot
L1 + Square : Combat Arts

It fits far more into the mold of action games that Sekiro tries to emulate and fit into…is what I’d like to say but the core problems go a little deeper with the controls given how some actions are tied together and how this is due to the default layout, with devs ultimately being restricted in their creativity and horribly boxing themselves in a Dark Souls combat mindset that holds Sekiro back. So I’d like to propose a new kind of default control layout, that can be reconfigured of course but takes in acount the creative ways to overcome all the limitations a controller has.

Right Analogue Stick / R3 : Movement
Left Analogue Stick / L3 : Camera Movement / Change Target
D-Pad Up : Use Item
D-Pad Left : Cycle Quick Items (Left to Right)
D-Pad Right : Cycle Quick Items (Right to Left)
D-Pad Down : Cycle Prosthetic Tool
X Button : Jump
Circle Button : Step Dodge, (hold while moving) Sprint
Square Button : Attack
Triangle Button : Use Prosthetic Tool
R1 Trigger : Lock On, Lock Off
R2 Trigger : Crouch, (hold) Crawl, (near Ledge) Hang / Grab Ledge, (near wall) Wall Hug
L1 Trigger : Deflect, (hold) Guard
L2 Trigger : Grappling Hook, (hold) First Person View Grappling Hook
L1 + X : Combat Arts 1
L1 + Circle : Combat Arts 2
L1 + Square : Combat Arts 3
L1 + Triangle : Combat Arts 4

This set-up feels far better and closer to home and believe me, this only seems busy but it’s as intuitive as Zelda’s controls were back in the N64 days, every button had its purpose and I only just expanded the aspect of the game since fance genuinly wanted more combat arts avilable. It should be noted that unless specified, the mechanics don’t change that much, so Enemy Jumping, Wall Jumping etc, all those various techniques remain.

As you may have noticed, Eavesdropping and the “Colelct Loot” actions have been removed, because for this game they are far better as automated actions, by having Sekiro be in a stealthy position, be that a crouched position, him hugging a wall, whatever it is, and just panning the cammera to listen to his surroundings, as it is evidently greatly demonstrated in the first minutes of gameplay in the game. No need to have super special instances where only then will a certain button be useful. As for loot, Sekiro should automatically get that by either going over it or even better aquiring it without fanfare by defeating the enemy, no need to spread various shiny things along the way since this is neither Souls nor Diablo…nor Nioh(that is the only bad thing of that game). As for the Lock On, it should now work closer to that of Ocarina of Time’s in essence, not only requiring the press of a button to Lock On or Off, now the player can change targets with the Camera Controls, like in Devil May Cry and not only that, due to the nature of Lock On from Zelda, Sekiro’s moveset opens up more, in a very easy and nice way that doesn’t discourage players like Zelda did. To give you an example, Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask had a very certain system of attacks that in my humble opinion, worked perfectly for this type of Action Adventure games and Sekiro can improve a bit on it with what he already has. Here’s a really good video demonstration that I highly recommend everyone who don’t know about about Ocarina of Time’s battle system, watching and taking notes as well :

Of course, one of the major if not the most important innovator of that kind of combat system and logic, believe it or not, was none other than Capcom with their Devil May Cry games and how combat changes entirely by having the character being locked on or not. Sekiro shouldn’t go that far as it is not point of the game to have stylish combat but rather ninja-like combat but it needs just a pinch of variety that no Soulsborne has offered yet, because the idea behind those games was that of a weakened avatar whose abilities are determined by numbers on a status sheet, with clear limits and not-so-clear diminishing returns like the older Tabletop RPGs. Sekiro’s five hit combo with the Kusabimaru is very nicely animated and fits the loop of animations for the character while pausing just enough after the final slash to be able to start the loop all over again with breaks, not unlike Dante with his Rebellion A combo from the Cevil May Cry series, which is a combo consisting of three very fast slashes that can loop on repeat. The difference between Dante and Sekiro however is that whenever Sekiro attacks any opponent that guards, his slashes transition to a smooth deflected slash that is the same animation mirrored depending on which side that slash lands, which is monotonous to not only see but execute as well because the other option of the basic combat is to hold down the button and execute a stab that takes way too long too charge and the stab isn’t even safe nor damaging enough nor does its follow up warranty a clean hit due to the animation and frames. Instead, Sekiro should now be able to do a quick stab if not different stab animations to throw the enemies off by pressing forward on the analog stick and the attack button, just like Link’s stabs work. And alternatively, should the player wish for a good guard breaking attacking by holding down the attack button, I have it covered down the road. Alternatively, by pressing back on the stick and the attack button should have Sekiro make slower overhead attacks for one purpose only : to change the way the enemy deflects and guards against them by leaving their lower portions open for a quick attack, preferably the stabs to chip away at health and posture in a more methodical and tactical manner. This is the basic sword combat and those are minor improvements on the basic swordplay for mostly humanoid enemies but even if it is a minor thing, it will improve the gameplay, just like how Ocarina of Time’s various Lock-On slashes didn’t seem to improve much but their different angles and timming soemtimes helped with some enemies, especially in Majora’s Mask with the Fierce Deity Mask equiped.

Something I’d like to point out before we move on is the essence and usefullness of the Spirit Emblems in this game. That is because Spirit Emblems not only affect the use of tools but also the use of certain Combat Arts and even Ninjutsu. I’ll talk more about the tools later but for the Combat Arts, quite often it is not only unecessary but also not worth the cost the game stamps on you, the player. While the game does give you a lot of way to replenish your spirit emblems, it also falls into the RPG trap of making them a farmable resource in various ways because running out of resources “is a difficult challenge”…in survival horror games, which Bloodborne is the closest of them all, hence the player had to farm and even buy Blood Vials and Silver Bullets instead of just replenishing them in a bonfire like the magic flask his Dark Souls counterpart carry. If anything, Spirit Emblems should be bought but without their prices ever going up for one and second of all, the game needs to tone down some of the costs or make the abilities that cost and absurd amount of Spirit Emblems into OHKOs to balance it out. The way it is now, it actively discourages not only tool use but also Combat Arts use, at least one that uses Spirit Emblems.

And now we reach one of the absolute worst points of Sekiro that will bleed over and carry throughout the other sections I’ll talk about : the skill system and the way it handles its upgrades. Initially this seems fine but it has some very glaring and obvious flaws it baffles the mind how the devs, of such series as the greatly praised Souls franchise and its tight and compact formula could ever implement a system that makes Ubisoft’s games seem deep and nuanced in their RPG elements. It’s that horrible. At first the player doesn’t think of it but the problem arises when one unlocks the skill Ichimonji. For all intents and purposes, Ichimonji is a basic vertical slash in a lot of schools of Kenjutsu but depending on how long you hold the attack button, the attack can be charged for timing and more damage, even in the air, a very good Comabt Art to have. After that, you need to unlock one more Latent Ability in that talent tree and you can get Ichimonji Double, the evolution of Ichimonji that lets the player do a second overhead attack by pressing the atack button again and is guaranteed to hit the enemy and deal damage. A slight problem though : Ichimonji Double doesn’t replace Ichimonji nor upgrades it. It is treated as an entirely new and seprate attack. Let me re-iterate : the new and improvement ability that makes the previous ability completely obsolete is an entirely new ability that just exists. This is either a fatal misunderstanding in designing games or Miyazaki and team just give a single flying fuck about the combat beyond the basic clangfest considering their boner for Berserk and they may have been influenced by the latest anime given how Sekiro plays out. And this becomes far, far worse when we reach the Shinobi Tools because even if they were to be inspired by Guts’ awesome metal arm, Sekiro’s prosthetic shits the bed so hard his arm might as well be the shodilly animated thing that hangs from Guts in the recent Berserk anime. So for reference, here are all the arts and techniques in the game and I’ll go over them in the order the video presents them and fix them, because this is an utter disgrace.

I.)Shadowrush : This is very much and very clearly intended to be the Stinger of the game, a move popularised by Dante in Devil May Cry. In Sekiro, it is abysmally bad and it even costs 2 Spirit Emblems. First of all, the art should be quick, cover a lot of ground and be safe on recovery and enable the player to attack almost instantly off of it. If you still want to give it a Spirit Emblem cost, then how about Sekiro being able to charge up the attack before hand at the cost of 2 Spirit Emblems in order to augment the attack’s power and even piercing capabilities for multiple instances of HP and Posture damage. Shadowrush can’t be charged in the air and its airborne animation now resembles Nero’s Payline from the Devil May Cry series.

II.)Shadowfall : Normally I’d make Shadowfall Shadowrush’s upgrade but this is one of the few “upgrades” that needs its own spot due to its uniqueness. First of all apply the upgrades I mentioned for Shadowrush here as well but instead of giving it the ability to charge, have its follow-up attack drain 2 Spirit Emblems to execute by having the player press the attack button again only if they damage the enemy. Shadowfall can only be used on the ground.

III.)Nightjar Slash and Nightjar Slash Reversal : These two can remain unchanged in the game however, Nightjar Slash Reversal should be a technique that completely replaces the original Nightjar Slash completely but I’d have the Reversal this time come out a lot faster and being able to cancel the frames of the normal Nightjar Slash, in case the player needs to back away very quickly. Of course, the Reversal’s distance should be extended a little bit.

IV.)Ichimoni and Ichimonji Double : These two can remain virtually unchanged from how they are right now in the game, even their added aerial capabilities are great. Obviously, Ichimonji Double should be a Latent Skill instead of a new Combat Art this time around, adding the second slash to Ichimonji. Beyond that, should the player not charge the attack(indicated by the spark that travels along the blade), the uncharged strikes should come out as fast as the player presses the buttons, even if they don’t break guards.

This time, Ichimonji will still be able to be performed while Sekiro is airborne but the animation will change completely to something closer to Dante’s Helm Breaker, with very similar properties.

V.)Praying Strikes and Praying Strikes Exorcism : Again, Exorcism should be the Latent Ability that adds a finishing move to Praying Strikes and this whole ability should not only come out faster and have be useable in the air as well but it should have an extra trick up its sleeve : being able to charge up its individual strike of the attack by holding down the button so that the damage is increased and the timing is off. This is one of the attacks that can only be performed on the ground.

VI.)Senpou Leaping Kicks and High Monk : Same old story, one should make the other one obsolete since it’s the upgrade but the two kicks at the end of Leaping Kicks should come out faster since they aren’t heavy kicks lke the final one from High Monk. Alternatively, I’d propose a “hidden” ability of this Combat Art, only present if the player has any of the Sabimaru Shinobi Tools equiped, where Sekiro slashes with both Kusabimaru(his sword) and the Sabimaru for two additional hits, totalling four slashes done in pairs of two. Both should be doable while airborne like in the current game.

VII.)Dragon Flash : The problem here is that this is one single move and its uncharged form costs 2 spirit emblems while not having enough power to back it up. Ideally what you’d want to do is have Dragon Flash be the Power Attack of Sekiro, the attack that essentially replaces the generic stab he has by holding down the attack button. This Dragon Flash now can be done at any point in a normal combo(not a Combat Art) by holding down the attack button to do the basic Dragon Flash slash, quick and wide iai basically as the video demonstrates at the start.It should also be doable in the air as well. The actual Combat Art now should be True Dragon Flash and its that one which should cost two Spirit Emblems total to use with the player being able to use a quick version with no charging that still does the two strikes and a heavier version with a faster and more devastating second slash by holding the button down. True Dragon Flash should also be doable while airborne. Both Dragon Flash attacks should suspend Sekiro in the air for just a second while the attack comes out if the player hasn’t touched the ground yet but in the case of True Dragon Flash, he should also gain a bit of height as push-back from the attack and the animation of the second wave should change.

VIII.)Floating Passage and Spiral Cloud Passage : This one isn’t as obvious to discern but these should be one skill, albeit Spiral Cloud Passage should be unlocked. First change is that Floating Passage is faster now and Spiral Cloud Passage is the charged version of the Combat Art that actually costs Spirit Emblems to use. Once the attack is charged, it automatically does the full combo without further inputs. While Floating Passage should be doable from an airborne position, Spiral Cloud Passage shouldn’t be.

IX.)Whirlwind Slash : This is just pure trash. The way it acts now, this should be its charged input while the normal input should be faster and have more spins if the player presses the attack button some more times, with the charged version justifying its wide, weighty and slow slash. Can be used on the air as well and almost works better due to having less start-up frames.

X.)Ashina Cross : Lower the Spirit Emblem cost to two instead. It can be used while airborne but the attack animation must change and the attack comes out immidiately before touching the ground while giving Sekiro a bit of air time.

XI.)One Mind : It’s pretty good as it is. Can only be used on the ground.

XII.)Mortal Draw and Empowered Mortal Draw : One is an upgrade to the other, you know how it is by now. However, both skills are trash because FromSoft just gives the Mortal Blade the shaft. If anything this art shouldn’t even cost Spirit Emblems, it should cost HP, second of all, it should have three slashes max and it should be able tor estore Spirit Emblems. Not only that, its attack power should be based upon how many Petals(retries) Sekiro has left, with fewer retries reducing the power and range of the Mortal Blade. So at three full unused petals, Sekiro should not only have a very powerful and wide attack with each slash, it should be stronger and wider than it is in the game. They can be done while airborne but they should also change the animations to defy gravity a bit, like Dante’s Aerial Rave.

3.)The developers’ inability to understand tools

Sekiro’s tools are a vital component to his identity as a ninja and to his reportoire of tricks and insane battle techniques…on the surface that is. It is a cool idea and having a ninja with Guts’ prosthetic arm that has as many functions as the Mega Buster, is something inherently cool. It’s too bad the devs just don’t seem to understand what makes the tools great but also how they should work in the context of this type of game and an action game in general. However, due to the way the upgrades work in this game, not only are the tools busted, they cost a lot more than they are worth, due to the way the attack is calculated, most of them are utterly worthless beyond New Game and some of them are very situational at best. Another thing that makes the use of Shinobi tools discouraging and at the same time a very spammy affair is the fact that they use Spirit Emblems, a currency that should be used for certain Arts only, rather than tools. Instead, the tools now have limited uses indicated by a number next to each tool when selected and when it runs out, the player has to rest to an idol to replenish the counter. This way, the tools act more like tools and the player can’t go spamming the most broken ones around enemies but complain when they don’t have enough spirit emblems while facing a boss. Suffice to say, that even with the substitution of emblems with uses of the weapons, the mechanisms won’t change; if a tool uses an X amount for Spirit Emblems for one move then the tool will be used once but if a tool uses X amount of spirit emblems for a prolonged period of time or for a combo / multiple actions, then it should be counted as one use for that situation as well. It should be noted that not all upgrades of the tools are straight upgrades as some of them change type or element in which case, I’ll mention how that should work in each category. So I’ll go over all of them, with the exception of the Finger Whistle due to how its used in game, and fix them one by one :

I.)Loaded Axe

The Loaded Axe requires very little work from its current state and it’s one of the tools that is very straightforward in its progression meaning that there shouldn’t be multiple axes but instead just one axe that starts as the Loaded Axe with just 5 uses, then is upgraded to the Spring-Load Axe upgrading its uses to 10 and unlocking the Whirlwind Slash by holding down the button instead of hitting it just once. The next upgrade is the Sparking Axe adding the fire element to its attacks, as well as raising its attack power by from 100% to 125% and upgrading the uses to 15 and lastly, the Lazulite Ax that adds chip damage to guards while raising the attack power from 125% to 150% and increasing the uses of the axe from 15 to an overall of 20.

The Prosthetic Art associated with all of the axes is the Fang and Blade, costing two spirit emblems but Sekiro should be able to press the attack button again to execute a final, devastating cross slash to complete the attack. Once upgraded to the Sparking Axe onwards, when using the Fang and Blade, Sekiro should imbue the Kusabimaru with the flame element for that one attack only, dealing fire damage as well and extending its range a bit.

II.)Loaded Shuriken

The shuriken are unique in the sense that they are the only shinobi tool to have more than two branches and have the absolute lowest attack power even when fully upgraded. The Loaded Shuriken have about 20% attack power, dispersing that power equally between both HP and Posture and have about 20 uses. The hidden abillity of the shuriken is that if an enemy is airborne and defenseless during a wind-up, like Genichiro’s helm breaker attack, the player has a small window to attack the enemy successfully causing them receive twice the regular damage the shuriken deal along with stunning them and interrupting their attack. It is the fastest of all tools as well, allowing the player to rapid fire in ver quick succession as long as they have ammo. The first upgrade it gets is the Spinning Shuriken and with it the player gains the the ability of Spinning Shuriken by holding down the Shinobi Tool button at any time, even when the player is furiously pelting his foes with shuriken, to very quickly charge up a shuriken throw so that the tool can spin when thrown, causing the enemy to be hit twice with the shuriken and increasing the ammo from 20 to 40. The next upgrade is the Gouging Top that increases the ammo from 40 to 60 shuriken and gaining the ability to pierce through enemy guards along with gaining the ability of an increased hitbox for the charged attack, having the hitbox be a rectangle around the enemy it hit thus causing other enemies to be caught in the second strike of the charged attack. The final upgrades are all different branches of shuriken and the first one is the straightforward Lazulite Shuriken that increases the base damage from 20% to 40% and gives the player the ability to throw multiple shuriken at once in an arc when they use the charged attack, similar to how Owl uses shuriken, on top of the previous benefits. The second branch is the Sen Throw that replaces normal ammo with money instead by having Sekiro throw his own money to the enemy like Goemon, thus the ammo is determined by how much money the player has left in their wallet, each shuriken beign one sen. The charge attack also gains the ability to throw multiple shuriken, 6 to be precise, thus 6 sen is used. The attack power of this version of the shinobi tool however is calculated by the amount of sen the player has on his person, thus the richer the player, the stronger the attack. A downside of this shuriken is that it loses its Gouging Top upgrade and the the charged attack shuriken now fall halfway in an arc. The final branch is the Phantom Kunai that changes the animation of the tool from a shuriken to a very thin kunai and granting the player the ability to use Phantom Butterflies instead of the Gougin Tops rectangle hitbox. The Phantom Butterflies are a swarm of 6 luminous butterflies that fly after the kunai is thrown and hits an enemy, tracking the enemy and dealing damage akin to 30% attack power each, meaning the player can deal up to 200% damage with a single good placed hit. Unlike the kunai itself though, the butterflies can’t pierce guards.

The Prosthetic Art associated with all the shuriken is Chasing Slice, costing two spirit emblems and its unique in the sense that it covers the longest amount of ground compared to other tools that share this Prosthetic Art.

III.)Loaded Spear

The Loaded Spear is a straightforward upgrade this time for the most part but has a branch, resulting in the player being able to choose between two different types of spear at any given time. Starting with the Loaded Spear, it has 5 uses initially and then splits in two different branches : the Loaded Spear Thrust Type and Loaded Spear Cleave Type and both get 10 uses each and both get their special attacks, the Three Thrusts in Succession and the Sweeping Cleave Attack. The Loaded Spear Thrust Type has a final upgrade to the Spiral Spear and gets 15 uses along with near double the damage(~200%) and the spiralling effect on its strikes while the Loaded Spear Cleave Type gets its final upgrade as the Leaping Flame that also ups its uses to 15 and gives it near double the damage while adding the flame effect on it.

The Prosthetic Arts associated with all of the spears are Fang and Blade and Chasing Slice. Under most circumstances Chasing Slice should be used but Fang and Blade should be used for the Drag function all the spears have. Both of the arts now cost two spirit emblems and in the case of Spiral Flame, both arts should imbue the Kusabimaru with the flame element for that one attack only, dealing fire damage as well and extending its range a bit.

IV.)Loaded Umbrella

The Loaded Umbrella is one of the few tools that has variations, with both of them appearing as final branching upgrades. Starting with the Loaded Umbrealla, the player can tap the Shinobi Tool button to use the Loaded Umbrella to deflect and attack. If the button is held down, then the deflecting animation will play out and continue by having Sekiro deploy the Loaded Umbrella over him while crouching, resulting in a situation where Sekiro has an almost omnidirectional block. If the player let’s go of the button, Sekiro will put away the Loaded Umbrella and stand up. The Loaded Umbrella has 10 uses and the way unless Sekiro successfully deflects and attack or blocks a hit, they don’t count down. The Loaded Umbrella gives Sekiro Physical Damage resistance, diverting the damage from HP to Posture if blocking since deflecting just deflects physical damage. The first upgrade is the Loaded Umbrella – Magnet, increasing the uses from 10 to 15, adding a Spin attack that Sekiro can use during the umbrella’s block by pressing the guard button, causing the umbrella to spin around and perfectly deflect any incoming attack by using one charge each time the player spins the umbrella. It also gains the ability to absorb the enemy’s power and use it against them with the smoking ability : if the player deflects or guards against 3 hits, the umbrella will start smoking and it will strengthen the Prosthetic Art associated with it but if the player changes Shinobi Tools while the umbrella is smocking, the effects will disappear and must be regeained. The final upgrades come in the forms of the of the Phoenix Lilac Umbrella and the Suzaku’s Lotus Umbrella with both of them increasing the uses of the tool from 15 to 20, reducing the attacks needing for the smoking to just two and gaining resistance to an additional element; the Phoenix Lilac Umbrella gains resistance to and can block all Terror based attacks while the Suzaku’s Lotus Umbrella gains resistance to and can block all fire based attacks. The Phoenix Lilac Umbrella also deals some HP damage to apparition-type enemies with every deflect or spin.

The Prosthetic Art associated with all of the umbrellas is Projected Force, costing four spirit emblems and has poise at all times. Projected Force comes out faster than normal, deals considerably more damage and creates a shockwave that travels quite a distance if any of the umbrellas are smoking. Once the player has received the final upgrades, the art will gain additional properties : if Projected Force is used with the Phoenix’s Lilac Umbrella, the Art will gain an effect similar to that of Divine Confetti for that attack along with its shockwave and if the player has the Suzaku’s Lotus Umbrella then the attack will gain the fire element to deal additional fire damage on top of the normal damage while building the Burn Abnormality on enemies. If the Suzaku’s Lotus Umbrella is smocking however, the player can instantly inflict the Burn Abnormality on enemies if they are hit by both the physical part of the attack and the shockwave created from the absorbed force.

V.)Flame Vent

The Flame Vent is also one of those Shinobi Tools that are very straightforawrd in their upgrade path, starting with the Flame Vent itself, having 5 uses dealing 150% attack damage while also building up the Flame Abnormality on enemies, requiring up to two or three uses in quick succession to successfully deal it, granted they don’t have fire resistance or if oil jars aren’t used on an enemy. It also has the additional effect of stunning beast-type enemies for a bit. The first upgrade is the Spring-Load Flame Vent that raises the uses from 5 to 10 and allows for the use of a charged up attack by pressing down the Shinobi Tool button, pushing Sekiro back, dealing the twice the damage(300%), inflicting in most cases the Burn Abnormality and knocking the enemy down but it uses two charges instead of one. The enxt upgrade is Okinaga’s Flame that raises the charges yet again from 10 to 15 and gains a new attack, by pressing and holding the Shinobi Tool button after a non charged attack to create a flamethrower. The flamethrower allows Sekiro to move around, albeit slower, while costing one additional charge to start it. Every 4 seconds, the flamethrower uses a charge from the counter. The final upgrade is the Lazulite Sacred Flame and ups the attack power from 150% to 200% along with gaining the blue flame visual that Lazulite has, allowing for the player to now damage and stun apparition-type enemies but it can never burn them.

The Prosthetic Art associated with all of the vents is Living Force, costing 4 spirit emblems but this time, Sekiro’s slash should not only coat his sword in flame but also vent the flames in the arc of the slash to reach the enemy, since Sekiro doesn’t dash forward like he does with Divine Abduction and the Flame Vent’s stronger attacks cause him to be pushed back. Living Force should last much longer than it does in the current game, either 30 seconds or just 10 strikes whichever comes first, with executions not counting towards the strikes. When the player aquires the Lazulite Sacred Flame, the effect of Living Force coats Kusabimaru in a Lazulite Flame, enabling Sekiro to deal damage to apparition-type enemies, as if he had Divine Confetti thus making his weapon grow in range along with dealing 25% more damage to all enemies for 30 seconds, at the cost of removing its ability to deal fire damage or build up the Burn abnormality.

VI.)Shinobi Firecracker

The Shinobi Firecracker also has a straightforward upgrade path, starting with the Shinobi Firecracker that has 4 uses with the ability to stun all enemies, while dealing posture damage to beasts specifically and has the added effect of also stunning them longer than any other type of enemies. The downside is that the firecrackers can only be used every 10 seconds to beast enemies but for every other enemy, there is no such limitation. The Spring-load Firecracker raises the uses from 4 to 8 and adds the 360 degree AOE firecracker attack if the button is held, at the cost of using two charges instead of just one. The next upgrade is the Long Spark allows the firecrackers to burn longer in the ground and that is achieved by not only having a much faster start-up in the explosions department but the explosions are now doubled, thus the explosions and the field of sparks lasting longer. The last upgrade is the Purple Fume Spark that ups the uses from 8 to 10 and releases a purple smoke now that stuns and deals posture damage to apparition-type enemies and can be used every 10 seconds to stun them. The tool is mainly used for stunning and can interrupt a lot of attacks.

The Prosthetic Art associated with all of the firecrackers is the Chasing Slice, costing two spirit emblems. Unique to this set of tools only though should be two abilities, the first being that Sekiro’s Chasing Slice now has the fire element for just this one attack and the other to hold down the attack button to change the Chasing Slice attack from a slice to a thrust, like Owl does when he uses the firecrackers, travelling about the same distance with the same speed as him.


Sabimaru will work differently from other Shinobi Tools though, as the counter this time refers not uses that remain with Sabimaru but rather how much poison remains coated on the blade, allowing Sabimaru to be used even after the counter for its uses reaches zero, making the blade a normal blade without the additional poison effects it gains, making it a very unique tool, especially for those who want a pure combat experience. Starting with Sabimaru, it gets up to 12 poison uses, is able to do a combo of six hits by pressing the Shinobi Tool button six times and has an attack power of 25%. Once upgraded to the Improved Sabimaru, it gets up to 24 poison uses along with a boost to 50% attack power, a 10% increase in the speed of the attacks while also gaining a unique abilit that replaces the Combat Arts for this specific tool : the follow-up attack with the Kusabimaru. When pressing the attack button after the combo of the Sabimaru has ended, Sekiro will execute a spinning slash that also uses the Kusabimaru and has i-frames. If the player presses the attack button at any point before the end of the Sabimaru chain, Sekiro will do the same spinning slash but hegains the ability to continue into more Sabimaru attacks by pressing the Shinobi Tool button right after the spinning slash, get different animations from the basic Sabimaru chain. The maximum amount of hits the player can now get out of the Sabimaru is 12. The next upgrade is Piercing Sabimaru by getting the piercing effect, making it deal both HP and Posture damage now along with a boost to 75% attack power and a 5% increase in the speed of the attacks. It also gets the ability to do the secondary string of attacks at any time if the player presses the Shinobi Tool button while Sekiro is attacking with the Kusabimaru, meaning after any press of the attack button. The final upgrade being Lazulite Sabimaru, getting the ability to disperse a poison mist that starts building up the Poison abnormality to nearby enemies with every swing. It also gets a final a boost to 100% attack power and a 5% increase in the speed of the attacks, resulting in an overall 20% increase in the speed of the attacks that boosts the start-up frames of the shinobi tool.

VIII.)Mist Raven

Mist Raven is one the only three shinobi tools that use Spirit Emblems instead of having their own counter of uses, the other two being the Divine Abduction and the Finger Whistle. The Mist Raven is a substitution technique, that is activated when the player presses the Shinobi Tool button to cast raven feathers to appear around Sekiro for about a second, during which time no spirit emblems are consumed. If the player times it right with an enemy’s attack, Sekiro will disappear leaving just the feathers and not taking any damage, while allowing the player to move in a direction he wishes by using the analogue stick. If the player doesn’t press any direction while this happens, Sekiro will automatically teleport into the air, to the height of almost one of Sekiro’s jumps. The first upgrade is the Aged Feather Mist Raven that adds the ability to use the ability even after being hit but the player has to use it while Sekiro is still hurting and while he will still get damaged, it allows for a much quicker recovery and repositioning in any direction the player wishes, with the final upgrade being Great Feather Mist Raven by adding the flame element to the trail Sekiro leaves behind by burning the enemies and inflicting the Burn abnormality to them.

The Prosthetic Art associated with all of the Mist Raven tools is the Fang and Blade and upon the player upgrading to the Great Feather Mist Raven, the attack coats the Sabimaru in flames for just one attack, dealing both physical and flame damage while extending its range a bit. It costs two spirit emblems but it cannot be used in mid-air.

IX.)Divine Abduction

Divine Abduction is another straight upgrade line of Shinobi Tools that also uses Spirit Emblems instead of having its own counter. A major change from the base game is that now Divine Abduction costs only two Spirit Emblems but each action is counted separately and costs. So when Sekiro wraps himself in wind he uses two Spirit Emblems and when he uses the winds he also uses two Spirit Emblems, so when the upgraded versions of the tool can use the winds twice, each time they use it they use two Spirit Emblems, for a maximum of 6 Spirit Emblems with each full use. The upgrades are pretty simple, starting from Divine Abduction that gives the player one wind charge that disappears after 5 seconds unless the player either presses the Shinobi Tool button again to use the winds, is hit by an enemy therefore losing the wind charge or uses the Prosthetic Art. The next upgrade is the Double Divine Abduction and it grants to wind charges while extending the time from 5 to 10 seconds this time and the player can get hit twice before the wind charges disappear. Getting hit once though means that the player can only use one wind charge left and using the Prosthetic Art cancels any remaining wind charges the player may have. The final upgrade is the Golden Vortex that makes the enemies drop duplicated loot they have on them, such as money or items, without being killed and dropping the same things when killed, thus doubling the overall haul the player can get from any enemy. That effect only works once on the enemies before they are killed.

The Prosthetic Art associated with this tool is the Living Force, costing 4 spirit emblems and it can be used as long as Sekiro is clad in wind, even if he has used the wind once after the upgrades, granted the player has Spirit Emblems to spare. Living Force should last much longer than it does in the current game, either 30 seconds or just 10 strikes whichever comes first, with executions not counting towards the strikes.

A note about Projected Force is that when used with the Finger Whistle, the soundwaves that travel not only confused the enemies but the enemy directly in the line of sight of the soundwave, they will take unblockable HP damage and it can go through to up to three enemies before it fades.

4.)RPG mechanics without purpose

As I mentioned earlier, Sekiro is a victim to this design philosophy the Souls team has that makes them unable to break free of those JRPG tropes and calculations, resulting in a very unfun experience overall, that hurts the product and its longevity compared to the Souls games. In the Souls games, the souls, a clever way of masking experience points, is vital for making the characters stronger by raising their levels in a way that promotes various builds among multiple playthroughs, ideal for an RPG. Sekiro is not an RPG and should do away with those systems if not for the fact that they break the system and seen previously, have proven that the mold they adhere to only damages this particular title and the way HP and Attack power is handled in this game serve to damage it further and that’s not even taking into account the horrid leveling system this game has and the tacked on “Dark Souls difficulty” with its mechanism of “Losing souls when dying” except this time it’s done in such a half-assed way, it’s outright disgusting and distracting from the game, for no reason. With all that mind, the reason I’m proposing all these changes is due to the current system not only having the most bullshit item ever, the Dancing Dragon Mask, on top of all the problems I’ve been listing so far, it also has fucking Dark Souls bullshit RPG stats calculations that have no place here. More on those down the line when talking about New Game Plus as well.

Let’s start with attack power and how it’s treated and earned in the game : with Memories upon defeating certain bosses. Instead of Memories, Sekiro should instead be upgrading his sword, Kusabimaru, by reforging it to restore its shine and former glory. The ideal calculations done here, should be identical to a previous game FromSoftware made called Ninja Blade, where even on the hardest difficulty, the fully upgraded swords felt worth it and dealt damage befitting them and the player who spent time to upgrade them. Memories can now be just lore but if you still want to use them, how about this then? Have only the memories of Lady Butterfly, Great Shinobi Owl(refight in the Estate), Lord Isshin Ashina, Genichiro Ashina and Isshin The Sword Saint only, without even having to offer them at the Guardian Statue, just have them as key items. That way, the player can have four upgrades to Kusabimaru as story progression of any path, raising their attack level to 5 and have a nifty visual upgrade as well, while the memories are a nice bonus to reach level 10, which would be the overleveled state, indicating that the player did all three endings instead of just one, which is a nice prize and a great way to enter the game’s Hard mode with the Bell etc. The calculations should also be very different and the numbers lowered on damage dealt, damage received etc so that the player doesn’t feel like they slog through mud on New Game +7(HOLY FUCKING JESUS CHRIST!) with their attack power stuck at a mere 20 out of 99…with the softcap being at 15 because…fucking Dark Souls strength calculator I guess.

Fortunately, with these kinds of changes, the way HP is gathered shouldn’t change. The placement of the Buddha statues and the way they are scattered across the land should be changed though, as well as how Experience is gained. First of all, no more of this system where once a player dies, their XP and money get halved, none of that. If the player dies, it’s game over, start over, as if nothing happened, nobody needs a useless and ultimately meaningless reason for why the player revives in a statue with half their shit each time. It worked with Demon’s Souls due to the mechanics tied to it, it worked with Bloodborne, it doesn’t need to be on Sekiro’s ass though. Sekiro dies, the player shouldn’t suffer losses that force them to grind because this isn’t an RPG. It only exacerbates the limited understanding and grasp the team has on a genre that isn’t in the fickle sphere of Dark Souls. In this type of game, the Statues should be used for three things : fast travel, resting and a full restore allong with a full reset of the enemies and a way for the player to buy skills and offer prayer beads. That’s it. To that extend, the idea of venturing in different areas that have you beeline towards the boss with excellent agility once you know the terrain makes their placements meaningless compared to the SoulsBorne games, where the main characters known speeds are slow and mild jogging before they cough a lung out along with their chronic inability to walk over a pebble, let alone jump a simple puddle. Sekiro can jump, double jump, hookshot everywhere and is really fast, he can be at the boss in no time.

Another thing is that there should not even be a counter for experience on the hud nor how many points the player currently has. Nothing like that. Only in the menus and the statues should the player be able to see what level he is and how many points he has. The maximum level of the game should be 125 because that’s how many skill points the player needs to unlock every ability and skill in this game. If anything, a good challenge would be to have the players stop at level 50 or something during their first playthrough, raise the level cap up to 100 in NewGame+ and have the players reach 125 at NewGame++. That way, farming is discouraged but the players also don’t feel like shit when dying without being able to retrieve what they lost.

A final point on the Skill system is that specifically the “Mid-air Combat Arts” should have limitations with having several arts not being able to be done while airborne.

5.)Needlessly broken and busted New Game Plus

Having NewGame+ on games, especially those story driven games where the player may want to just keep replaying the story with all his upgrades is vital for the longevity of the title but as I said before, Dark Souls NG+ is busted and doesn’t work especially when it comes action games and you can cite that on the wiki as well :

Here’s a comprehensive list

  • Difficulty increases until NG+ 7.
  • Players can attempt other Endings in NG+. The One Mind combat art can only be acquired by defeating the final boss of the Shura Ending. Going into NG+ is therefore required if you want to learn every Skill (this is not required for the “Height of Technique” achievement/trophy, however).
  • Conversely, going for the Shura ending ends the game early and locks players out of much of the endgame content, including a gourd seed, several (mini)bosses (some of which require taking the steps necessary for the Purification ending) and access to the highest level of prosthetic upgrades.
  • There are no different items to pick up, but some Key Items that you get to keep have been replaced with new drops (usually a Bundled Jizo or Divine Grass). These include Gourd Seeds and Prayer Beads found in chests, as well as any Shinobi Tools.
  • Minibosses that were previously defeated will drop other items, like Heavy Coin Purses, instead of Prayer Beads.
  • All NPCs and world states reset.
  • You do not gain any further Gourd Seeds or Prayer Beads (excepting what you missed in your first playthrough).
  • Your Posture does not regenerate nearly as quickly on its own and you will need to hold block much more often. This means you will also need to dodge or deflect more, as you cannot block as much, changing the way you play entirely.
  • Enemies deal significantly more damage in each NG+, including Posture damage.
  • XP gain is increased for each NG+, up to and including NG+7. NG+8 and beyond has the same XP gain as NG+7.

Note the bolded parts because those are a major source of bullshit in this game. These are carryovers from the Dark Souls games, where, even if we assume one doesn’t make countless custom characters for different runs of the game without ever delving into New Game Plus, they fuck up the balance of Sekiro so much, it becomes unfun. And it becomes unfun by the thrid playthrough unless you want to farm like a moron and it’s not worth it. Dark Souls, one could argue and Bloodnorne, make the time you spent full maxing your character worth it but not this game. And to destroy any illusions anyone has : when the Souls team say “Difficulty increases” they don’t mean in a meaningful way like say the Ninja Gaiden and Ys games do for example, where enemy aggression and damge start getting higher, with new attacks gained by the enemies or better yet like the Doom and Devil May Cry series do, where they do all that plus give you remixed enemy placement for greater challenge, resulting in completely new and fresh encoutners even on places you thought were ppreviously easy. Taking in account every previous talking point I made, by having the NewGame+ counter go up only twice and increase the aggressiveness and damage of the enemies only two times, the game becomes far better and finds an excellent balance.

And that’s it for Sekiro. I wish it was made that way because if it was, it would be a great experience for everyone involved, developers and the customers alike. Have a good one and I’ll see you later. 🙂

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