tl;dr Thought vomit of feeling underwhelmed/disappointed by the lore, left not wanting to bother finishing. Not a hate post, more interested in discussion if anything (hopefully that might rekindle my interest and the world's overall intrigue)
I'll preface this by saying I'm sure a part of this stems from fighting Demon of Hatred for an hour, beating it, forgetting some bosses have you do a second Deathblow (akin to QTE fashion) after winning, dying because of it, and having to beat him yet again – but thankfully just two attempts later. So, did all of that, then moved onto Isshin with about an hour to go before turning in for the night.
I'm at the fight with ya boy Sword Saint and I just kind of don't feel like playing anymore. Yes it's difficult, but that's not wholly what's got me halted. I've only even attempted the fight twice so far. Apart from some early game hiccups as I tried to re-learn how to play after drifting off from the game near its release, I haven't had a whole lot of trouble. Since getting back into the groove of the game, only Owl and Demon of Hatred have taken me more than 2-3 attempts. It's been pretty smooth. Intense as fuck, but I haven't been hitting road blocks. My point is just that, as much as I'm sure this boss is really hard, my present feelings don't stem from difficulty. I feel confident I can learn the fight and win without too much of a time commitment, but I just don't care.
It's been a wild ride, I've had a blast playing whenever a fight clicked with me, but do I really want to learn three whole phases of a boss just to watch a cutscene that won't leave me in any way satisfied? Not really. Hell, what I know of the endings (I spoiled them for myself after experiencing this crisis), the only one that sounds remotely appealing to me is the Purification one. And that's not to say it resolves my disappointment in the world, but would at least be something of a decent capstone to send off this story. But it's my first playthrough, so unsurprisingly I'm getting the Immortal Severance one, and even before now I hadn't planned on replaying Sekiro. Even at the highest point of my enjoyment with it, I never once thought I'd replay it or move onto NG+.
But I don't know. I just feel altogether kind of let down by the story and world-building, and although I can't say I haven't enjoyed the game mechanically, the bulk of my drive has been that the world had me intrigued. It felt like there were a lot of things being set up and I was just waiting for some crazy pay-off. No real "holy fuck that's fucking fucked up" moments or twists – what you see is, pretty much, what you get. I guess it's at least partly linked in a way to the way Sekiro walks a weird line between a more traditional game's storytelling and a FromSoft style. The latter had me reading into things far more than actually need be, and I've kind of spoiled it for myself by anticipating more.
Some things off the top of my head: The recurring imagery of left arms being severed – the Sculptor, Sekiro, the Divine Dragon (and a stretch, but I still thought it worth making a mental note that the purple-clad Ministry shinobi wear a cape that covers their left arm, although they do seem to have their arm wholly in tact). As far as I can tell, though, there isn't any deeper significance to that beyond it simply being a recurring visual.
The Memory having an in-universe explanation for why you're able to actually relive it had me expect there to be other memories than just Hirata A and Hirata B. As far as I can tell however, the Memory shtick really only exists as a means of conveyance for From to do a flashback without having to actually do a flashback (which I should say, I do like, but feel kind of let down by).
The Interior Ministry felt set up as some sort of Boogyman or something, but after getting to the end of the game and finding them sorely underdeveloped, I looked online and it sounds like the name, Interior Ministry, is almost if not outright a translation error? I doubt I'd have been left so curious by them and what role they might play had the game simply referred to them as the Shogunate (just an example of one proposed alternative name for them I saw tossed around).
Now some more miscellaneous observations that may be a combination of nitpicks or issues stemming from different endings:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Divine Child seems to be exactly what she appears and claims to be? An artificial facsimile of the Divine Heir whose gift of immortality derives from parasites (centipedes), but she herself isn't malevolent. As freaky as the centipede stuff is, it doesn't seem to me as though there's anything underneath the surface there. What the game tells you is indeed exactly what there is.
The Divine Dragon's creepy almost humanoid little fellas coughing and wheezing. What's up with this? When I first saw them I got my hopes up for deeper implications, but I don't think there's any real bearing on the plot tied to them. Not going to lie, at first, given their human-like faces, I thought they might be something messed up like past Divine Heirs, but without additional information and with none of the endings having Kuro meet a fate like this, I'm more convinced they're largely unimportant. Actually, given the creepy appearance as well as the obvious negatives that stem from the Divine Dragon and the "gift" of its blood, the dragon itself's lack of its left arm, my imagine was running wild with what could be. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't think its interesting or has some thematic connotations, but I just hoped there might be something more tangibly tied to the plot. I think that could be said about most aspects I found underwhelming.
Very nitpicky for sure is how they handle Genichiro and the Black Mortal Blade. He just fucks off after we beat him and shows up at the end with the other mortal blade that nobody mentions until/unless you pay a visit to Isshin like… I think after returning with the second piece needed for the incense? It might even not be until after you return from the Fountainhead Palace, in fact, but I don't remember precisely. It honestly feels pretty weak to me. The final act of the game feels rushed to me, so it all kind of read like "Hey Sekiro, there's another Mortal Blade by the way–oh look, there it is, the other Mortal Blade I just told you about." And on that note I want to take a moment to mention how lame and even downright silly it feels to me that, even at the end, when facing an opponent wielding the Mortal Blade, Sekiro still does not use the Mortal Blade. Maybe you can make some in-universe excuse for it, maybe you can even handwave it as a conviction Sekiro has. This is less important to me as a plot point and more just as a personal grievance that I can best express as "aww come on dude." I think it would have made for better storytelling if there had just been the one blade and Genichiro managed to yoink it from Sekiro at the final battle. I really don't want to hang on this point so much, but it's one of aspect of the game that just has me WTFing and wondering why. Maybe someone can shine some light on this – for all I know the Mortal Blade is based on existing Japanese mythology. I do realize having twin swords may play off the idea of Yin and Yang, but for that to work, they would have to be opposites to strike a balance, not both weapons of destruction. It's whatever and honestly an element of least concern for me, but the more I got writing on the subject, the more I got thinking, which led to more writing and more thinking and…
I struggle to pinpoint what and how exactly the lore fell flat for me, just that the when of it was pretty much right at the very end of the game. I'll stress again, I don't mean for this to come across as rage, hate, or shitting on the game. I've just never played another game where I had such hype developed entirely whilst playing only to be left at the end sort of just feeling let down. Anyway, I'm pretty much going to just hit Post now, because I'm sure I've rambled more than enough and I had a big lunch that's run me out of steam :C Unsure if this rambling better suits a Discussion or Lore flair. A bit of both, but eh.