Sifu - What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Older
I am not the sort of person who thrives on the challenge presented in Soulslike games. Over the years I have made many attempts, only to quit soon after, overwhelmed by rage and feelings of inadequacy. A big part of this comes from my playstyle. I have never been the sort of person that focuses on defence, instead, charging into the fray and face my enemies head-on while beating them to a pulp. This was exactly what I had planned when I jumped into Sifu. Needless to say, It did not go well for me at all, however, in my defence I had no idea Sifu was like a Soulslike game at all.
Developed by Sloclap, Sifu places you in control of a young martial artist, the sole survivor of an attack on his school that took the lives of the students, his master/father, and even the martial artist himself. Revived by a magical talisman, the martial artist trains for eight years to perfect his skills and seek revenge on the five fighters that attacked the school.
At its core, Sifu is quite simply a revenge tale, one that does not bother with cutscenes full of heavy exposition and dialogue. You are one man, fighting his way through numerous thugs until you get to your target. Once you take them out you move on to the next location, rinse and repeat. Where Sifu does shine is the showcase of kung fu on display. Here the developers have thrown everything into making it look as authentic as possible with outstanding results. Don’t expect the flashy flips and kicks seen in Hong Kong cinema films. The kung fu on display is based on one of the traditional Shaolin kung fu lineages from the days when the Shaolin Temple warrior monks were a significant fighting force. This style of kung fu is not about entertainment, it is about finishing your opponent quickly and brutally.
It was this philosophy that I took into my early runs in Sifu, attempting to beat down my opponents quickly, always moving forward. Putting up a strong defence was not something I paid much attention to, and Sifu punished me for my folly. The deaths were stacking up, wiping out my life force and keeping me from progressing past the second level. It was only when I combined a solid defence, learning when to block and when to dodge, with the ever brutal offence that I managed to get past the second boss. Was it perfect, hell no, but it is a constant learning experience where you hone your skills, building up to the point where you can have that one beautiful run that is as close to perfection as one can get.
For all the excellence of the kung fu in Sifu, there is a lot of stuff that is not explained very well. The first and major of these is the reasoning behind your resurrections upon death. Unlike games that have a traditional life count or other Soulslikes’s that respawn you at a designated area, Sifu uses a completely different mechanic. Each time you die, the martial artist ages. So your first death will age you by one year, second death by two and so forth, capping off in your seventies where that death will be your final one. For every ten years you age you will gain increased damage in your attacks, however, the trade-off is a decrease in your overall health.
In the early game this does not affect you too much, but once you start ageing by four, five or six years you will age very quickly. Fortunately, the game will only make you restart from the beginning of your current level, however, if you want to start the level at a younger age you will have to play through the previous levels again without dying so much. The thing is there is no explanation for why the martial artist is constantly resurrecting and how it is tied to his age. Yes from the cinematic early in the game and when resurrecting it is made clear that it is due to the talisman he wears on his waist, but there is never an explanation for why this happens.
The lack of information extends to other aspects of the game as well, such as unlocked moves not carrying over until you have unlocked them as a permanent upgrade, that the shrines will return you to full health upon use, or that there is a way to spend your XP at your home base in between levels. These are simple things that most games would explain during the early part of the game, but Sifu just throws you in and lets you figure it all out for yourself.
While these are annoying, once you have figured it out you are left with an authentic kung fu fighting experience that will test your finger dexterity and perseverance. With colourful backgrounds and sound effects that give the hits that feeling of solid impact, Sifu is a game that will be loved by those who are martial arts fans as well as those who love their games to grind them into dust. If you are not the sort of person that thrives in the Soulslike genre then there is a confirmed easy difficulty mode coming, although at this time there is no confirmed date.
As for me, I plan on sticking to the normal difficulty level. I am by no means a master yet, but my journey continues, ever pushing forward.