Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review
Dying Way More Than Twice
Read Time 8 minutes
“ An incredible yet extremely challenging game that may be a little too much for some people ”
*This is an old review; much of what you will read here no longer fully represents my view, skills, and knowledge.*
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an original single-player FromSoftware title that carries some defining core characteristics from its predecessors while innovating in other areas making it feel like an entirely unique piece. Despite the similarities between Sekiro and other FromSoftware titles such as Bloodborne and Dark Souls, Sekiro is much more dynamic and mechanically engaging than any previous game from the developer, so if you play through it expecting a "Souls" styled pacing you’ll get surprised for you’ll not only encounter a much more complex game, but also one with a steeper learning curve that rewards skilled players with third-eye reflexes more than ever before.
The game takes place in the late 1500s, in the fictional country of Ashina, Sengoku era, Japan, a nation consumed by war and never-ending conflicts in which we are told about the "Wolf", a disgraced, torn apart warrior, saved from death by a twisted, mysterious Buddha-carving figure after he failed a mission to rescue the person he was bound to protect: a young lord, descendant of an ancient bloodline known as Kuro, the Divine Heir. After regaining our forces we are then sent on the path to again rescue the young lord, and secure his precious power by bringing him to safety; this time without letting a single thing stand in our way, not even death itself.
As stated before, Sekiro, despite having some similarities to other FromSoftware titles, is a very unique game with lots of new unique complex mechanics that help differentiate it from any of its predecessors. A few of these include things like a grappling hook that allows us to reach far, up high places in areas that play a lot more vertically compared for example to a game like Dark Souls, where areas feel completely flat if not for a few stairs, ladders and elevators placed around the world; a more fast-paced sword-clashing oriented combat where you can’t just roll your problems away, and instead you have to be much more focused on timing and precision; new different and interesting ways of progression; water bodies that aren’t full of sinkholes; and finally obnoxiously harder bosses and enemies in general are some of the most remarkable Sekiro features.
The game also has an incredibly steep learning curve in which you start as a walking starfish and slowly make your way to become the greatest Shinobi of all Japan (at least in theory) by overcoming the difficulties of having to focus on multiple combat mechanics such as slash, evade, run, jump, and block all while fighting multiple increasingly difficult foes.
Set in the early days Japan, the game has a truly unique, beautiful structural foundation that works perfectly to create an immersive world that despite its focus being on players slashing their way through areas at 200mph and dying twice as fast, sometimes you just have to stop and appreciate some fine details here and there. Something you'll certainly do at some point, for the more you die, I believe the best option is to just take a deep breath, gaze at the beautiful grossly-incandescent body up in the sky that is the sun and try again until you finally succeed. The results of truly attentive devs, caring for the souls of its players, even if ever so slightly.
Areas in the game are simply beautiful, and despite not being the newest king of visuals, Sekiro definitely shines the most for its wonderful, incredibly well-structured world.
The game also has an intriguing narrative where the characters actually move their mouths when talking. A truly game-changing feature.
Jokes aside, it’s the first time I’ve been so engaged with the story of a FromSoftware title; that despite watching many videos on the Dark Souls lore on YouTube. The game’s story-telling is so clear and your objectives are so straightforward you don’t need to refer to other people who dug out every item description to tell you what the heck is going on.
The voice acting was another thing I was greatly impressed with. I played with the original Japanese voice, and I loved hearing the characters speak, their tone, and their overall acting. The only thing I missed tho was the iconic ROBERRRRTT, which in the Japanese audio was much weaker compared to the English one, at least in my opinion.
The game also doesn’t have a straight, linear story, nor one specific predefined path for you to follow in order to progress, and in fact, it actually has four different endings, two of which are good, with a single bad one, and a "true" ending, with each depending on some major actions or decisions you make during your playthrough.
The world of Sekiro has a lot of verticality and depth to it, and thanks to the introduction of a new grappling-hook mechanic, players can now reach distant places in an instant.
At some point, I almost even came as close as to getting overwhelmed by the crazy amount of content there is to see, as new places to explore kept showing up from following an alternate path that would often lead to a completely different location, far from the ones I'd already spend hours exploring. The game really has a huge amount of options despite not being an open-world, but to know that eventually every single location would either converge into a previous area, or simply result in a dead-end with just a single important quest item at the end made approaching huge areas much more digestible.
When you think of difficulty in a Fromsoft game, what elements usually come to mind ? A difficult to traverse area ? An annoying enemy ? An almost impossible to beat boss with a few names coming to mind, including Fume Knight, Slave Knight Gael, or Manus, Father of The Abyss ? In Sekiro I call it Lady Butterfly, an old sweet-looking lady that can and will crush you in seconds if you’re not careful. Her speed is lightning fast, her move-set is initially unpredictable, and when you finally defeat her for the first time only to discover you were fighting an illusion all along — a classic soul-crushing moment that serves to give us a perspective of difficulty in this game. Lady Butterfly sure is a tough enemy early on, but a few bosses later we discover we were only getting started with the suffering. Oh, bright was the day when our biggest problem was to kill a single archer to get to the actual boss fight.
Bosses in general in this game are memorable enemies that in my opinion are much harder than in any other Souls game, and that is not only because of their difficulty per se but also because of how combat is designed in Sekiro. You see, in Sekiro normal enemies are simple, predictable foes that die very easily, and difficulty is laughable when it comes to fighting them. Now when talking about bosses, they are usually in short words multi-phased pieces of solid rock that slap you in the face each time you try to hit them. When fighting these more advanced enemies you have to take one of the two approaches: die until you develop Jedi reflexes and learn to avoid all the enemy attacks, or die until you learn the cheesiest strategy that will finally allow you to beat these greater foes. I also heard that there’s nothing wrong with the latter for “An honorable objective justify the means. Even if it includes cheesing the hell out of enemies”.
Boss arenas are often very spacious — join that to the fact you don't use stamina to sprint, sometimes it is a good idea to just stick to the good old 'hit and run' strategy.
There are also mini-bosses in the game — tougher enemies that usually come with more than one health bar that despite their title they are still almost as hard if not harder than some of the major enemies. While a few of these enemies can be sometimes easily cheesed depending on the situation, they still offer a substantial combat experience and help new players understand more of the game’s core mechanics such as how to avoid slash, thrust, and sweep attacks, as well as giving a clearer introduction to posture and how it works.
The game also seems to enjoy a lot reusing enemies, especially mini-bosses, so even if you’re the type of honorable Shinobi and all that crazy stuff, you can kill the first version of the enemies and once you meet the same enemy with a different name, you are allowed to cheese the hell out of them guilty free.
Character Progression And Skill System
In Sekiro, the more you progress through the story the more you learn new mechanics, get to understand enemy attacks, how to avoid them, and how to properly traverse through areas. Each time you defeat an enemy, be it a mini-boss or a major enemy, you always get stronger in some way, either by getting better at the game or by unlocking new abilities or items that allow your character to get stronger, which gives the game a powerful sense of progression.
Now, about skills, the way they work in Sekiro is very simple: each time you kill an enemy you gain experience, that once you get enough to level up you can spend it in a skill tree — or should I say skill trees, for there are more than just one of them in the game right away as soon as you unlock it, and you can unlock some more talking and progressing through a few specific NPCs questlines, and/or finding it in secret hidden places in the world. The skills offer various, different mechanics, with some of them working passively, often increasing the healing effect of a few items or adding other various status bonuses to our character while others are active skills called "combat arts" that the player must press a combination of buttons in order for them to work.
Because of a great variety of techniques you can use when fighting enemies, combat feels extremely involving, but that doesn't come without its trade-offs...
All that plus upgrades to the only now mentioned prosthetic arm we get from our Buddha carving friend, gives the player a lot of flexibility on what they can do, but it can also get quite overwhelming to more casual players knowing that in later stages you have so many unlocked abilities it can get slightly difficult to keep track of everything and know how you can make the best use of each technique in certain situations.
Sekiro was a surprisingly nice experience I started without any expectations. The background I had for the game was that it was supposed to be another really hard Fromsoft title, but after playing through it myself I discovered there’s way more to the story than just a hard game. In essence the game is superb, it plays nicely, it feels nice, and even the extreme difficulty can be rewarding once you understand more of the game mechanics and how to interact with them. One of the most flawed mindsets veteran Dark Souls players can get into Sekiro is to expect it to be just like said game, and it turns out Sekiro even if it does have some similarities, it is a completely different thing, and in the end a great experience can turn out to be frustrating for those who don’t try to approach it in a different way than what they are used to.
After I finished Sekiro all I could think was “damn, what a great game” — an excellent game indeed, and one I sure have nothing but praises to give. I seriously didn’t expect that much from this Fromsoft title, and I couldn’t be happier with such a pleasant surprise. An outstanding experience, and one I know will definitely astound many people willing to take in the challenge and overcome the difficulties present in this almost-a-masterpiece game.
Incredible visuals that look awesome mostly for how they are designed, fitting perfectly with the overall feel of the game.
Awesome narrative despite Fromsoft games being known for their puzzling, sometimes impossible to understand story.
More mechanically engaging than any of its predecessors, with lots of verticality and depth to the world and experience.
Difficulty level that can be quite frustrating at first but mastering it can be an extremely rewarding feeling.
Easily cheesable bosses that make fighting through the game not always a question of skill.
The difficulty may be a little too much to some people, beginners and seasoned players alike.
Visible line separating normal enemies from bosses, with a huge gap in terms of difficulty between the two.
So many abilities unlocked at the later game stages that it may get hard to keep track of everything.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
An amazing game that carry some defining core characteristics from its predecessors yet is unique in its own way. A game that can turn out fantastic if you're willing to put in the time and effort to play through the extreme, increasingly difficult challenge.
08/17/2020 - Caius, The Walking Starfish