Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review

 

Dying Way More Than Twice .

Read Time 8 minutes
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Sword fight in the game Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
 . . . May you (double) embrace what it truly means to be alive . . . 
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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 obvious 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 land 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 the events of a fateful night in which 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 briefly regaining our forces thanks to our Buddha-carving friend, and an old "Shinobi Prosthetic", replacement to our now severed left arm, we are then sent on the path to again rescue the young lord; but this time without letting a single thing stand in our way, not even death itself.
 

 

The Long Walk To Perfection: A Lesson Of Patience .
 

Cover image of the game Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice with logo
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Developer: FromSoftware

Publisher: Activision

Release Date: March 22, 2019

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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 attached to our prosthetic arm, allows us to reach far, up high places in areas that play a lot more vertically than before; a more fast-paced sword-clashing oriented combat where you can’t just roll your problems away, having instead to focus a lot more on timing and precision; a unique death system with a single-time resurrection mechanic that allows you to die more than once in one go; 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.
 

Outside of that, most noticeably the game also comes with 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, simply by overcoming the difficulties of having to focus on multiple combat mechanics all while fighting numerous increasingly difficult foes.
 

Set in the early days Japan, the game has a truly charming, 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.
 

An old japanese temple inside a thick bamboo forest

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 comes with an intriguing narrative where characters actually move their mouths when talking. Truly game-changing if you ask me.
 

Jokes aside, it’s the first time I’ve been so engaged with the story of a FromSoftware title despite watching many videos regarding the Souls lore on YouTube. The game’s story-telling is so clear and your objectives are so straightforward you really don’t need to refer to other people who dug out every item description available in the game to tell you what the heck is going on around the characters at any given point.
 

With no specific predefined path for you to follow in order to advance, plotline progression feels far from linear, and in fact, the story of Sekiro actually comes with multiple different endings, each depending on some major actions or decisions you make during the playthrough.
 

Main character from the game Sekiro jumping over flaming buildings

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, distant from the ones I'd already spend hours exploring. And that's exactly how it is, the game really throws a huge amount of options at your face right from the get-go, 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 waiting for the player, made the act of approaching those notoriously larger areas much more digestible on the long-run.
 

 

A Tale Of Beasts In Human Skin: The Real Nightmare .
 

When you think of difficulty in a Fromsoft game, what elements usually come to mind? Maybe a difficult to traverse area? An annoying enemy? Or perhaps even a monster, of nightmarish traits, an almost impossible to beat boss? Well, 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 enough. 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 a single purpose: give us perspective of difficulty in this game. Lady Butterfly sure is a tough enemy, especially if you decide to take her early on, but a few bosses later we discover we were only getting started with the suffering. Oh, little did we know that bright was the day when our biggest problem was to kill a single archer to get to the actual boss fight.
 

Beautiful flower field bathed by the moonlight in an incredible night landscape with some characters from the game Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

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.

To put it simply, 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 often 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 their attacks, or die until you learn the cheesiest strategy that will finally allow you to beat these greater foes.
 

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 them can sometimes be 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 grab, thrust, and sweep attacks, at the same time it gives a clearer introduction to a mechanic unique to Sekiro called posture and how it works.
 

 

Character Progression: Getting Good Now Takes More .
 

In Sekiro, the more you progress through the story the more you learn new techniques, 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 straight-up 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, regarding skills, the way they work in Sekiro is very simple: each time you defeat an enemy you gain experience points, that once you get enough to level up, you can then 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 via talking and progressing through a few specific NPCs questlines, and/or finding it in secret hidden places across the world. These skills come in various formats, with some of them working passively, often increasing the healing effect of items or adding other various 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.
 

Sword fight in the game Sekiro

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 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 slightly overwhelming to more casual players knowing that in later stages you have so many unlocked abilities it can get quite difficult to keep track of everything and know how to make the best use of each technique in certain situations.


And not only that, but knowing that many of those upgrades have a limited, as well as highly specific breaches in which they can be used to their max potential, makes one wonder whether or not it is a good idea to stick and perhaps specialize in a smaller set of skills for the remainder of the game.
 

 

Final Thoughts: Double The Pain, Twice As Satisfying .
 

Sekiro was a surprisingly nice experience I started without any expectations. The only 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 what just a hard game is able to tell. 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.

Easily one of the most flawed mindsets veteran Souls players can get into
Sekiro is expect it to be just like said games, and it turns outeven 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. 
 

As for myself, 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 wasn't expecting a lot from this Fromsoft title, and I couldn’t be happier with such a pleasant surprise. An all-around outstanding experience and one I know will definitely astound many of those willing to take in the challenge and overcome the difficulties present in this almost–a–masterpiece of a game.
 

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​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.

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Easily cheesable bosses that make fighting through the game not always a question of skill.

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​The difficulty may be a little too much to some people, beginners and seasoned players alike.

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Visible line separating normal enemies from bosses, with a huge gap in terms of difficulty between the two.

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So many abilities unlocked at later game stages that it may get hard to keep track of everything.

Cover image of the game Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

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

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