Some NPCs get the shittiest luck. But even among that contingent there's a special level, the ones who really get it in the neck – in this case literally.
Fromsoft's amazing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is, as you might have heard, a bit of a tough nut (here's our review). One of the major hurdles players will come across is a boss called Lady Butterfly. She's an unassuming looking old lady who turns out to be a cheap and nasty devil-woman. I didn't keep count, but I definitely died to her bullshit dozens of times.
I say that slightly tongue-in-cheek, of course, because it's an amazing fight. One thing outside of the duel has stuck with me, however, and it's the single NPC that stands between the respawn point and the boss. Fromsoft is generous enough to give players a short run to Lady Butterfly, because she's hard enough as it is, and this 15-second dash is interrupted only by a lone archer at the end of the hall.
Wow, does this guy die a lot. He doesn't have a chance. You the player, aka psycho shinobi, move so fast that simply sprinting at him and hammering R1 will do the job every single time, slash-slash-vicious deathblow.
The thing about Sekiro is that the deathblows are utterly brutal. There's no messing about, the player character just shoves his sword into peoples' faces and necks and rips it out. This is all very satisfying during a tough engagement, and it's undeniably great to watch a boss that's killed you dozens of times (hello Lady Butterfly) finally get a taste of cold steel...
But with this dude, he's so hopeless that I ended up feeling bad. In one sense he represents great game design. The boss fight will be frustrating for many players, and so the presence of this single, easily defeated enemy on the way there acts as a little release valve - sure, Lady Butterfly might hand your ass to you time and again, but at least you can nail this sucker every time. The little sprinkling of currency he grants is also useful when you just need a small top-up of spirit tokens, or to get over a skill point level.
I can't think of this guy in purely statistical terms, however. I've killed him so many times I feel like I'm intimate with him, like we used to go out for beers or something. Initially I looked forward to it: Lady Butterfly would pwn me up, I'd grimace, then I'd shank archer boy and feel better about the world. But as I died again and again, and violently rammed my sword down this chap's clavicle, I started to feel sorry for him.
I mean, it's like the worst version of Groundhog Day possible. You the player might be stuck in an endless cycle of respawning and dragonrot, but at least you can explore the world a bit and gradually get better. Mr Archer's existence from now until the end of time is to 'live' for approximately five or six seconds before an unsolicited sword gets shoved up his jacksie.
Talk about drawing the short straw. Sekiro's director Hidetaka Miyazaki is known for his incredibly detailed world-building, where few if any elements are left unexplained. So what's this guy's lore? In a game stuffed full of Buddhas he's got some bad karma. Why's he here? Why now? Who was his mother?
You start to notice crazy things, after killing this man so many times. On most occasions he notches up an arrow, or begins to do so, before the inevitable hail of blows. But sometimes, you know, he'll look out on the corridor as you barrel down it at top-speed... and he just pops back behind the wall, like 'nope.' Come on mate, at least I don't feel so guilty when you're trying to attack.
He's also positioned next to a wounded NPC. Lady Butterfly has sorted this dude out (his dialogue says as much) and he serves the noble function of warning the player about what lies ahead. But he's alive! Next to archer man! Which means this archer, in a world full of humans killing each other, didn't finish off a wounded man. He's right next to him... was he tending his wounds?!?
Crazy, like I say.
I eventually beat Lady Butterfly, and I've moved on to a boss called 'twat on a horse.' I can't forget this guy though. I went back to take some screens and found myself muttering 'sorry chum' as once more I mercilessly shanked his ass, thinking about all the other Sekiro players around the world doing the exact same thing as me.
Hidetaka Miyazaki's games are full of tragedy. But in the annals of bad-luck stories, this poor archer deserves a special mention. Being born to die is bad enough. Respawning endlessly to die? It's a tough break, brother.