21 May
  • By John Wiswell
  • Cause in

Sekiro: Disabled and Not Alone

Wolf being an amputee in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice isn’t special. Punished Snake in Metal Gear Solid V and Nero in the Devil May Cry series also have arms replaced by special prosthetics. This disability is usually an excuse for game designers to give the player powers. This can be empowering for disabled players, but in Sekiro does more.

But the man who saves Wolf’s life is also an amputee. After the tutorial, after your shinobi has lost his arm and been left for dead, he wakes up in the Sculptor’s shrine. The Sculptor dragged Wolf to safety and patched his arm. He is withdrawn, taciturn, and has taught himself to chisel Buddha statues with one hand. Carving lets him maintain a peaceful mind since retiring from the harrowing life of violence.

That prosthetic arm that lets Wolf swing around levels on its grappling hook? It used to be the Sculptor’s. He’s passed it on to you because you need it more. You’re not the first amputee warrior in this world. Another one looked out for you.

There are even mods for the arm, including a spring-loaded axe and a spray of firecrackers. You find them along your journey to rescue your young lord. Unlike other games, you don’t unlock these mods at a creepy merchant or a sexy engineer. You bring them back to the shrine so the Sculptor can install them. The disabled guy knows the ins and outs of his old tool. He’ll help you without question.

Because of a connection to the magic of his young lord, Wolf always resurrects from death. The more times Wolf dies, the more a plague of Dragonrot will spread through the NPCs. The Sculptor is its first victim. He succumbs to a racking cough, but gruffly insists it won’t kill him and to ignore it.

No player is going to ignore that. It broke how I played the game. I went to every length not to die, so I wouldn’t make his plague any worse. The prospect of a cure made me run around the world map chasing blood samples. I’d do anything for this guy.

In working with him, you learn that the Sculptor gave up his shinobi life because he was succumbing to an ethereal hatred. All the pain of all the wars in the land was swirling around, looking for a host. It was turning the Sculptor into a literal demon.

Enemy forces keep getting closer and closer to his shrine, but he won’t venture out and face them. Wolf’s work is keeping the Sculptor safe and at peace, while the Sculptor is keeping Wolf equipped for his quests. I can’t remember the last game that gave me a relationship between disabled people like this.

But at the end of the game, the Sculptor goes missing. Two armies turn the sky orange with their fires and fight on the bridges. The war is everywhere, but there is no trace of your friend.

If you stray far enough into the war zone and you find a giant demon tearing enemy soldiers apart. He’s part devil and part orangutan, mostly made of flesh and hair, although one of his arms looks like a construct of living fire. When he attacks you, his fire prosthetic even does tricks like your wooden one.

Yes. The enemy got too close to the shrine, and the Sculptor succumbed to his old hatred. Defeating the demon lets the Sculptor finally pass on to the next world and be at true peace.

Afterward you can visit his shrine. If you sit at his workbench, Wolf hunkers down and modifies the prosthetic himself. Watching the Sculptor taught him. Their time together is still with him.

Wolf’s own story echoes the Sculptor’s so much that two of the endings of the game are echoes of his life. For instance, if Wolf betrays his allies, then we never make it to that point where the Sculptor becomes a demon. Instead it’s the emotionally shattered Wolf who becomes the demon of hatred, his prosthetic wreathed in flame. He rampages for years, presumably leaving no survivors. It’s the darkest ending because literally nobody gets the peace that the Sculptor hoped for.

If instead Wolf follows his young lord’s plans entirely, he becomes like the Sculptor in a more profound way. He retreats to the same shrine, trading his prosthetic for a chisel and the comfort of carving Buddhas. Now he’s done harming others and seeks the peace. He keeps the prosthetic tucked away in the shrine, in case another disabled person needs it someday.

That second ending is still grim because Wolf knows he could succumb to wrath like the Sculptor. But it never invalidates what came before. It isn’t shameful that Wolf fought for his lord – it was as exhilarating as the Sculptor described his own adventures. Now, he is simply creating a space that is emotionally safe for himself, while saving the tool in case another disabled person one day needs it. Disabled people will keep looking out for each other.


 

John (@Wiswell) is a disabled writer who lives where New York keeps all its trees. His work has appeared in Nature Magazine, Uncanny Magazine, and Fireside. He adores Horror and Fantasy fiction, and is in the middle of writing a novel. His blog can be found at http://johnwiswell.blogspot.com.