Sifu is about the pursuit of a moment. For its nameless protagonist, that moment is the vengeance that lies at the end of a road paved with bodies. For the player, that moment can come in a number of forms throughout the game – parrying and weaving between attacks, firing off a vicious-looking combo, or downing an especially tough enemy.
Specifically, it’s the moment when all of the mechanics that developer Sloclap has meticulously fitted together click for the player. Here, the combat system from games like the Batman Arkham series has been honed to produce choreographed fight scenes. Players will be required to juggle combat inputs to gain experience and score to unlock more skills.
Much like actual fight scene choreography, however, Sifu’s moments of mastery require time. Visually illustrating this is the game’s other main mechanic: the Death Counter system. Any character in Sifu is capable of laying out the unwary player, so deaths can quickly stack up. The player can immediately rise again from being struck down, but at the cost of their own life span.
As the character visibly ages from their 20’s into their 70’s, each decade before death holds the promise of dealing and absorbing more damage. The Structure meter is this in microcosm. Echoing the Sekiro’s ‘poise’ mechanic, Structure keeps track of how long your blocking ability can hold out under an onslaught of enemy attacks.
These distinctive choices separate Sifu from its roguelite contemporaries. Unfortunately, the quest for vengeance isn’t the only thing wearing on the player character. As exciting as the promise of playing the hallway fight from Oldboy can be, the white elephant in the room needs to be discussed.
Sloclap is a white French game studio, publishing a game that centers Asians without any direct input from the culture they’ve chosen to represent. What’s more unsurprising is how consistently the appropriation of culture as costume keeps happening. Biomutant’s (2021) Orientalism, Ghost of Tsushima’s (2020) cherry-picking appropriation – the list continues.
Sure, Sloclap may not have Sucker Punch money, but the Chinese aspects of Sifu makes it feel like getting a tattoo in a language you can’t read…or Gordon Ramsey being a little enthusiastic about opening a Chinese restaurant. For a game so good at asking its players to do better, surely its developers can take their own advice?
8 Fists of Fury