Sangseok: The Hero Slayer

On My Quest to Speedrun Skul


Courtesy of SouthPAW Games Corp, Ltd.

After spending nearly 240 hours on the Korean roguelike platformer Skul: The Hero Slayer, I realized that there was no new content for me to explore. So, I eventually decided to fulfill every gamer’s dream: I wanted to have my name on the world leaderboard. Since the start of my quarantine last month, I’ve been constantly playing Skul to try and beat the game as fast as possible, getting myself in the top rankings for global speedruns. Besides, I thought it would be funny to mark my victory by putting a ridiculous, nonsense Korean name on the world leaderboard, like SangSeok Paik, since that’s what many people do; for instance, there’s a name “Sookja” on the leaderboard.

Initially, speedrunning seemed impossible, as most notorious runners had over 500 hours of playtime, while I had less than 250, which was indeed lower than how I expected it to be. However, when I found that the leaderboard of Skul was relatively less competitive compared to some of the more popular titles like Minecraft or Dead Cells, I figured that there was a silver lining.

Despite silver linings, reality is often disappointing. Doing what I used to do at a way faster pace was another level of difficulty. Health management was a huge struggle, too, since some of the enemies had attacks that forced the player to back off and wait a bit to avoid taking damage. Under the pressure of time, it was definitely hard to keep my head cool and restrain myself from mindlessly charging into the mob.

Not having enough time to think was also a struggle. Normally, players have a moment to premeditate before making any moves, considering whether to go for an item or ignore it or how far back to move in order to dodge a hit. These choices can be crucial, as a single item is enough to add seconds or even minutes onto your time – and worse yet, a single hit is enough to end an entire run. Under the ticking clock, players aren’t given much time to think about these decisions, which in most cases, results in a run’s lack of success.

Fortunately, my first successful run came to me at just my seventh attempt, where I managed to beat the final boss in roughly 23 minutes, which would put me at 22nd place on the leaderboard. My video of the run was ready, and I thought I was good to go. However, as it turned out, the verifiers required in-game audio for the run to be admitted, which Quicktime Player – the program my laptop provides for screen-recording – doesn’t support. 

It was indeed frantic. I was around 80% sure that I would not get a run that was as good as the previous one. Hence, finding out about the audio-less video recording was such terrifying news. 

Eventually, with the help of Youtube tutorials, I was able to give a voice to my video. Then, after a few more attempts, I completed another successful run, where I managed to beat the final boss in about 24 minutes. That would rank me right at the 24th place at the time, though the record has slipped down to 25th as of May 9th, 2022. 

Sangseok Paik proudly secures the 24th spot on Photo courtesy of DongJin Kim.

After all the playthroughs with which I’ve succeeded and failed, I’m still trying to improve my time. Recently, I completed Skul in 19 minutes and 54 seconds, my personal best so far. Unfortunately, this run was meant to be a “fun run” for my own enjoyment, which was why I didn’t record it from the start. 

My most recent run where I probably got a little bit lucky. Photo by DongJin Kim.

Speedrunning, albeit daunting at the start, is a ton of fun when you actually try it out. Familiarizing yourself with the mechanics and becoming more and more confident in your skill is an addicting feeling. If you have any time to spare, try beating a record in your favorite game. The best part about this playstyle is that unlike the actual content of the game, there is no end to speedrunning; you can always try to improve your time and aim to be the best.