'Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice'
Who it's for: Action game fans looking for a very hard, nuanced challenge
Console: Xbox One, PS4, PC
'Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana'
Who it's for: Those looking for an underrated action/RPG that deserves recognition
Console: Switch, PS4, PS Vita, PC
That is such a loaded term. It implies that everyone is going to love the thing in question, be it a movie, album or video game.
As someone who has reviewed media for more than a quarter century, and who admits to being easily amused, it becomes awkward when an object of universal acclaim falls flat.
This happened recently with "Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice," the new action game designed by accomplished masochists FromSoftware.
Those familiar with the "Dark Souls" trilogy know all too well the type of game FromSoftware has made its name with: bloody, visceral and harder than hell. The type of game that punishes you for wanting to play and rewards those who stick with the extreme level of challenge.
While the "Dark Souls" games have never been my favorite, I've always admired the artistry that went into them, and I managed to slog my way through them, something I consider a badge of gameplay honor.
I was expecting the same sort of experience with "Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice." Set in ancient Japan, players take on the role of a shinobi tasked with beating back hordes of skilled warriors in order to save his master.
It's a beautiful game; the environments pulse with a life of their own. The character moves with balletic fluidity, attacking, dodging and parrying while facing off against equally skilled swordsmen.
With his prosthetic shinobi arm, Sekiro has the ability to grapple to rooftops or trees, adding a wonderful layer of verticality to game.
Stealth plays a major role as well, as it's much easier to eliminate foes if they don't see you coming.
Combat is precise and difficult. You must learn when to block, when to move and when to attack. You'll have to dodge certain attacks or jump over them, which places a premium on paying attention to your opponent's "tells" that telegraph their attacks.
Like other From Software games, plan on dying a lot. Unlike the "Dark Souls" games, however, there is no multiplayer or online connectivity, so there are no hints left by those who came before you as to what may be coming ahead.
There's also no pesky player-vs-player combat to worry about, so that's a plus.
So here I am, reviewing a technically beautiful game with a setting and graphics I love, and I cannot get into it.
Perhaps it's because the story didn't draw me in. Maybe I just got tired of dying with relatively little reward. The fact that the game lacks RPG-like character progression (along with the ability to grind and become more powerful to take out difficult bosses) certainly didn't help.
Whatever my personal problem is, for the first time in a very long time, I encountered a game of undeniable quality — one I expect to find something resembling universal acclaim — that I didn't want to keep playing.
For a proper review of "Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice," I would need to beat the game, something I expect would take me more than 50 hours.
I couldn't do it.
Instead, I can acknowledge that those looking for a tight, graphically beautiful action game with loads of spraying blood and an extreme difficulty level should give this game a try. What's there is technically amazing, and I'm thinking my personal dislike will make me the odd one out here.
Side note: While beating myself up over my lack of interest in "Sekiro," I popped in a game on Switch that I had been meaning to play for a while.
"Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana" is a mouthful of an action RPG that stunned me every step of the way.
It doesn't matter if you have played any games in this series or not, "Ys VIII" stands alone. It features creative action, a massive world to explore and a story that RPG fans haven't seen a hundred times before.
So, if you're looking for an under-the-radar action/RPG that is sure to put a smile on your face, check out that game with a terrible title, "Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana."