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Review | Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

"Sekiro dies twi...two thousand times. Who doesn’t like what From Software offers? A lot of people probably. Is it worth the pain and time? It’s worth it, like it would be worth to have a revive button in life. Or save button."

by Foggy, 05-04-2019,

More or less with calmed nerves we welcome new From Software game. Up until now they tested our competence and skill with Dark Souls serial, Demon Souls and Bloodborne games – that is, for this kind of genre. By that I mean games that will kill you and make your attempt to beat them much harder than any other. Most gamers find that repulsing and just don’t like all the jumping around learning how to approach the game. That is totally fine. Dark Souls 3 was the last previous game that we’ve had fun with and personally I remember it as a very good game. What now? Do we expect something similar? I did. Did we get it? Yes, and one big fat no. But no worries, From Software is back big time. I hope you will enjoy this review even though game killed me dozens of times. Hopefully when our judgment day comes we can simply revive with revive button. If Sekiro can, we should to right?

On a white glade, a demon and me.

3 years has passed from Dark Souls 3, Hidetaka Miyazaki as head of From Software is present here as well. Everything that this man does turns to gold. This time publisher is Activision which turned out to be very good move as whole Hidetaka’s franchise somehow didn’t hit western market in the beginning. There was a dose of skepticism, but final product is well written and packed with guide for easy death every 2 minutes. And we simply love it. Of course, with pinch of Japanese culture, cold weapons, shinobis and supernatural skills. Tenchu which is hard as hell – more or less short explanation of this game.

Japanese culture, samurais, beautiful flowers, gloomy atmosphere and cold steel. And lots and lots of blood.

From Software was never a breath-taking story writer. It was hard to connect some of their games and most of gaming experience was based on gameplay and RPG elements making the story a secondary thing. It was still a decent experience when you get to dig in that lore deeper to find its meaning. Sekiro fixed those things a bit. Even though it’s still not the best thing ever, this time makes at least makes more sense. Probably cause we now have main protagonist and no more character customization.

Main event is Ashina after bloody battle lead by Isshin Ashina. In this story you will find yourself as an orphan raised by shinobi Owl who will call you Wolf. 20 Years later, Isshina is sick and enemies are pressing from all sides. Game will introduce Gehichiro – grandson of Isshin, he captures Divine Heir Kuro to use his Divine Heritage to create an immortal army. Wolf is protector of Kuro, his personal bodyguard. In battle against Kuro Wolf loses his arm. Luckily, Kuro gave Divine Heritage to Wolf and you will find yourself in temple new Sculptor – former shinobi. For the first time you gain prosthetic arm which is not an ordinary one. Also, he will call you Sekiro – the one-armed wolf. 

Divine Heritage is also a curse. Everyone wants it. In short, whole game is against you. Everything that moves is trying to kill you. Throughout the story you will have few opportunities to affect the ending and choose path you think suits you the best. Different ending was a thing in former From Software games as well.

Pray, it may help. You will need it.

Fun fact is that Sekiro is a game on its own. What that means it quite different than any of their games. They introduced jump, double wall jumps and grappling hook to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. Jump was always in their games, just not in this form. It was always a bit stiff so to say, while here it’s just perfect. The whole Sekiro world, discovering and stealth got a whole new dimension because of it – you can jump to your freedom and you can dodge otherwise fatal enemy attacks. I always thought Nioh was Dark Souls on steroids and Sekiro seems like it took the best from the 2 worlds and blend it toghether. Game is so fluent, natural and fast, it’s just unbelievable how different it is from Dark Souls or Bloodborne and yet so familiar. Exploration is now trickier since your hook can reach hard to see ledges so keep your eye on all surroundings all the time.

You finally learned how to play From Software games? That means one big fat nothing here.

I’ve spent countless hours in Dark Souls and Bloodborne. I honestly thought I was good and that I can continue like that here. Boy was I wrong. I was like 50 times wrong when I reached first mini-boss in the game.  He schooled me like they do with math and multiplying for the first time, deducted me more than multiplied me. Let me try to elaborate and put some excuses why that is.

The game starts more or less – In a hole. It’s funny really, if the game just left you to die in there I wouldn’t mind, it represents that journey will be a big cemetery with your name on all tombs. Anyway, you need to jump your way out, use double jump (which is just love!) and of course you don’t have any weapon on you. Stealth your way out through the grass shaped by the wind as the moon illuminates the samurai demons walking along the slopes without worry in mind. What you learned first? Stealth! Don’t fear that the game is just that. It’s not, but most it certainly helps. If you feel brave you can always kick bare handed and die, which is really the same as if you are naked in prison and your soup just fell. Game also offers some arcade elements which were not here before – grabbing the ledges and traveling your way around mountain paths while jumping and grabbing upper areas. Finally, you will reach Kuro and he will grant you your sword, the holy grail of the game. Ready to take the game on? I thought I was.

The best would be just to jump of and get rid of torment.

Remember what game tells you. Most important thing is said in the beginning. That is the defense button and all you can do/must do with it. The whole game philosophy is based on parry technique. That is number one rule to survive. When you see a sword, hammer or anything going towards your face, raise your sword up in that certain moment to deflect. It’s the single most valuable key to win battles. Some enemies take more times to parry to break their guard, some less. On the other hand, basic defense just keeps you opened for break which can be lethal when happens if the enemy wants to surprise you with critical attack. When you do break and counter their guard, you can kill them instantly. Some enemies have 2 or more health bars which means you need to repeat the process.  Every finisher move is a short stabbing animation of your sword inside parts of enemy; throat, spine, lungs, you name it. Satisfactory in every point of view. Do not forget about rivers of blood when you do so. There you go, Sekiro is pure satisfaction to play.

Imagine Sekiro like attending additional year in elementary school which is obligatory for further schooling.

Battle approach is one thing that will surprise many especially if you are like me and you spent your time holding shield in the air. That works, to a certain extent. Stamina is not here, but stagger bar is. Like mentioned, guarding block the damage most of the time, but it also builds your stagger bar and when it reaches maximum, you are dead meat. Just do that to your enemy and you are good to go. Like that is so simple, eh?

Some attacks are not deflectable. When you see red Japanese sign above enemy head, either prepare for perfect counter or dodge. The thing is that you need to know what type of attack it is. It can be sweep which you counter by jumping on enemy head. If it’s a pierce you need to dodge with pushing forward so you counter it. Lastly if it’s something else, like a grab, that cannot be countered so you need to dodge/run away from it. Sounds simple enough right? The thing is that all of this happens in matter of seconds, so you really need to study and fight long enough to know what type of attack will happen to react appropriately. Almost every enemy, mini-boss and bosses have different animations when they attack which makes the game very hard to predict and very unique and fun at the same time.

So many times I pierces poor demons. I almost feel sorry for them. Not.

The best thing is that you will feel like a shinobi itself. Parrying is the best thing ever; when weapons clash and you hear the sound of your skill, counter with fast attacks and in the end picking the fruit of your labor. Battles are unbelievable. It feels so good. The only downside is that its hard to get to that point, but don’t quit, practice and results will show once you master the game mechanics. The feel is superb. Also remember – you are not a coward if you run or stealth kill.

Is there any easy mode, pretty please?

Nope. Multiplayer mode neither. Dark Souls and Bloodborne had it in a way to invite people in certain areas and before bosses to gain extra help. In here you are on your own. I heard people doing a remote share play giving other people to beat some bosses for them – well that is a first hehe. Some of the hate towards game came because of this. Its understandable, but not so important I would say. Maybe they plan to add some pvp mode or something in the future, who knows. 

Not everything is a bummer. Remember your prosthetic hand? Collect more attachments and you can equip different variations on your hand. Every one of them is upgradeable which will offer extent of attacks and elemental attacks. If you have issues against enemies with shield, pierce through with your axe prosthetic arm. It certainly helps to break the guard, but in your run in between healing you can only use until you spend all spirit emblems. Always be clever about what you can use and when you will maybe need it.

You will learn to appreciate every help you can get, like this one.

I would like to mention one big thing in Sekiro. The game has the less RPG elements than titles before. We collected weapons, shields, armors and such. We developed our characters to be mages, thief’s and whatnot.  Every level and soul were carefully calculated to take most out of it. Unfortunately, there is no such thing here. No new weapons and armor sets. Levels are here though, but for another purpose.

Hmmm, which skill I need not to get killed 300 times against next opponent…

Each kill grants you enemy souls. Get killed and you lose half of it. If your unseen aid is high, there is a chance to keep what you have, but more you get killed lower the chances. You cannot pick up your souls where you died. Death means losing part of your effort. Death is much more. When you die there is chance you will be rewarded with Rot Essence. That will lower your unseen aid and some of NPC’s will be sick which will block their quest line progress. There is a way to cure this so be sure to do that every now and then.

Let’s elaborate main new thing in the game and explain why shadows die twice. For the first time in saga there is revive button. Imagine you are killing some boss, he poisoned you, nearly killed you and one more hit – he is dead. Of course, he kills you first. Now you can revive and continue. It’s not full heal, but only half. That is new. Only issue is that is also considered a death. While it will not take your souls and money, it can still count for rot essence and what has been explained. You will most certainly know all about it during the game

Anything better than cold steel? Maybe ever more cold steel.

Apart from parry, game is based highly on skill system. What that means is that you exchange your levels for new skills – both support and attack skills. That is the other half of what Sekiro really is. Support skills are affective all the time helping you heal more or simply getting rare drops more often. Attack skills can be new skills that you can assign, one at the time. Those are really awesome, not only it’s a whole new special attack, but for example there is one that kicks from far away and jumps above enemy head. Most of them have more forms. All those forms mostly use spirit emblems and you can’t spam as much as you want. 

Now, they are also hand in hand with prosthetic arms. Combining both you earn new form of attacks. Maybe there is no magic in Sekiro, but attacking with flame arm, burning all around and finishing with flame sword swipe is certainly satisfying enough.

Some bosses also give attack skills which they use. Not only you will be happy when you beat one, but using what he was using to kick your ass is exactly what we want to do to someone else. It will take some time to level up enough to learn most of badass skills, but it’s well worth it. Also, you will gain some skills that you can activate when you back stealth enemies, don’t want to spoil which ones but they are very useful.

The game is also a farming simulator '19. The only problem is that fish will eat you.

Sekiro offers variety of items which will help you heal your health, cure poison, terror and other states, or simply raise resistance. Nothing that we didn’t already see. 

Throw some oil and burn your opponents. Every approach is worth trying out.

Gathering Prayer Beads and Gourd Seeds is next thing you can do. Beads raise vitality and seeds will increase number of times your flask can heal. Interesting fact is that nothing comes easy. To collect beads you need to beat mini-boss enemies which are all over the place and there are many. To be stronger you need to be good, which is a bit of a paradox. That is what I love about the game. Mini-bosses are easier than main ones, still, they will kill you many times. They come with 2 health bars and almost all of them can be stealth killed to deduct first one. Last one requires your skill. All of them are unique (few are copy paste but they still use different attacks) and it’s a sin not to find and beat them.

Ancient bearded dragons are not missing. But ones with swords are a first even for me.

Remember bonfires from Dark Souls? Here we have idols which does the same. When you explore new areas you can activate an idol and teleport to already activated ones. They can also heal you if you want, so select to rest and it will reset enemies around you as well. Good method for a little grind when you fill under-leveled. 

Locations here are one of the best that From Software designed. Most of them are simply breath taking, natural and in bloom. Don’t expect best graphics like in some big titles though. Exploring is very fun and rewarding, maybe another bad things is a bit recycling later on instead of offering more to see. Not really an issue, you will see where the game will take you later on and see what I’m talking about. Another issue is their frame pacing which is present in all games they developed. Sometimes when you rotate your camera it will glitch and you will notice that.  Maybe if they took Capcom’s new engine it would be flawless! 

It looks badass. It feels even better after defeating tough opponent.

I thing main obstacle for many players is level of toughness that game intrude. Mostly it’s the boss fights. They are deadly and if you chill for a second you are dead. It takes up to hours to beat some of them and that can be repulsive. Then again, all their games are like this so that is nothing new. Once you do actually beat a boss you will be happy and satisfied. It’s not a small task to do so. Controls are spot on, responsive and natural, best so far. Still, sometimes it feels like you did everything correct and you end up dead. Happens from time to time. Every boss is a unique and painful experience with dozen of attacks to learn to counter and to survive against. Tight spaces and camera will for sure make your life harder, they really need to think about that. Locking on enemies is good, enemies locking unto you is also good. Be careful with dodging too soon. 

There is just something in repeating fight for 2 hours. For some players…

The game is satisfying long, but if you compare with Dark Souls or Bloodborne it’s shorter. 40-60 hours will be enough to beat it while exploring and collecting everything. Depends a bit of your skills and what you want from game. Quests are not so much interesting, but getting all endings and side stuff is a must do experience. When you finally beat the game, you can try new game plus. I just don’t see so much replay ability here. It becomes different in a way that enemies break your guard easier and you will need to dodge more, but other than that not much to come back from. Sure, new skills are cool and new game plus give more experience, but that is it. No builds to try on and stuff like that. You can also try hard mode which will be prompted in the beginning – I don’t recommend that. It’s really hard core.

Sekiro is a step forward in every way. I’m a big Dark Souls fan and I prefer those games, but here the game is just different and they knew what they wanted to offer here. I really respect that. That is the proof that they can do wonders with every theme and approach. It’s so reassuring and I’m not worried about their next game. They know their stuff, I honestly have so much respect for them because of that. Look at this game as standalone game from From Software. Feel the samurai inside of you. Break some windows. Curse a lot. Most importantly – enjoy. Who knows, maybe next game is Dark Souls 4 or Bloodborne 2. One thing is certain – From Software know their stuff. 

"Prepare the curse jar, you will fill it in no time. But also prepare another one which will end up being full of all the wow’s and awe’s."
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