Become the greatest ninja that ever lived … or died (repeatedly.)
In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, death is a means of progression not a symbol of defeat. As the One-Armed Wolf, a disgraced shinobi bound to protect his young lord of a cursed bloodline, you traverse a haunting world set in 1500s Sengoku Japan filled with terrible dangers seeking to annihilate you. Brutes multiple times your own size, beasts as wide as the eyes can see, and the accursed undead are the just some of the ghastly horrors that await you. Expect to perish early, and often—this is a FromSoftware game after all—but like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, the triumph is worth the agony.
A different strain of Soulsbourne
Since the beginning, FromSoftware has been quick to point out Sekiro is not a Soulsbourne game. It certainly has remnants of its DNA, most notably the punishing difficulty reinforced by having no “easy” difficulty setting. However, much has changed, such as the absence of a stamina bar that has long defined this subgenre. Freed from the burden of managing your offensive striking pace, Sekiro’s gameplay is faster, more fluid, and extremely aggressive. It’s a different beast altogether, requiring fans of From’s work to rethink combat from the ground up.
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While my intuition told me to approach Sekiro’s combat with a Souls mentality, after a few deaths it became clear I needed to adapt. Take the dodge mechanic, for example, in this game your dash range is limited and frequently not wide enough to get you out of enemy striking range. Striking in Sekiro is also furious, and split-second twitch reactions mean everything; very unlike the methodical, deliberate pacing previous From titles conditioned us to.
This time, combat largely focuses on well-timed sword deflects that weaken your opponent’s posture. As your swords clash, the enemy’s posture meter will fill leaving them more and more off balance and vulnerable to further strikes. Once their posture “breaks” a red dot appears on their body indicating a brief period where you can perform a Deathblow causing serious damage, and sometimes death. Most common enemies succumb to a single Deathblow, but mini-bosses and especially the powerful main bosses typically require two or more Deathblows to take down.
Aerial combat and verticality
In addition to faster combat, Sekiro mixes up the Souls formula by giving you a dedicated jump button. This opens up plenty of strategic combat possibilities like hopping over enemy sweeps or leaping to high ground to take positional advantage. You also can hang onto ledges and shimmy across, letting you not only peer over the top but also grab foes and yank them down for an instant kill.
Furthermore, early in the story, you’ll obtain a Prosthetic Arm that primarily functions as a grappling hook. This tool expands your mobility significantly as it allows you to latch onto building rooftops, tree branches, wall protrusions, and other high spots. The purpose of grappling is two-fold: firstly, it’s a method of escaping battle to heal up or reduce enemy awareness of your location, and secondly, grappling is essential during platforming segments. However, just because you swing off the battlefield doesn’t always mean you’re safe—often enemies can still hurl objects at you like rocks or flaming concoctions.
Grappling between hot spots is just one of many uses for your prosthetic right arm. As you progress, you may discover items that the Sculptor Monk, located in the Dilapidated Temple central hub, can use to outfit your arm with a new prosthetic weapon. These weapons range from converting your arm into a shuriken launcher to adding a concealed heavy axe to giving you an iron umbrella used to block firearms and light attacks.
Mastering these prosthetic weapons is crucial for gaining the upper hand in what otherwise might be a near-impossible boss battle. Most bosses are susceptible to one weapon or another, such as unloading a Shinobi Firecracker blast that temporarily startles your adversary and leaves them exposed to a few quick blade slashes. Uncovering these weaknesses requires experimentation and ingenuity, often leading to several frustrating deaths in the process. Sekiro is all about perseverance though, and the immense satisfaction of eliminating a tough foe is always worth the time sacrifice. Defeated enemies reward you with valuable spoils of war, such as Gourd Seeds that increase the number of times you can heal, or Prayer Beads that—after collecting four—permanently increase your vitality and posture meters.
Sekiro brings the ninja fantasy to life
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice cleverly evolves the Souls formula in a compelling and refreshing direction. Feudal Japan is an era ripe with opportunity and FromSoftware made the most of it with beautiful vistas, elaborate castles, and mesmerizing enemies—both era-appropriate and mythical creatures. Sekiro is slightly easier than your typical Soulsbourne game, but the challenge is still very stiff and requires careful precision timing. Plus, there’s a secret method to increase the difficulty if you’re a glutton for punishment. While the name FromSoftware comes with a lot of expectations, Sekiro stands on its own as one of the developer’s best efforts yet.
Sekiro – Pros:
- Cruel but fair difficulty
- Gorgeous Sengoku Japan scenery
- Incredible boss designs that leave a lasting impression
- High mobility with lots of verticality
- Fast, fluid, precision combat
- Satisfying ninja stealth mechanics
- A vast open world with no padding
Sekiro – Cons:
- Lock-on is sometimes finicky
- Repeat enemies
- Greater map variety would be nice
- Gameplay: 9.5/10
- Graphics: 9.5/10
- Sound: 9/10
- Replayability: 9/10
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