Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Genre: Action-Adventure

Original Release: March 22, 2019

Developer: FromSoftware

Publisher: Activision

Platform(s): Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC (Steam)

Played on: Playstation 4

Little does this strange creature know that a Wolf lies in wait for it just around the corner.

Sekiro is very much a FromSoftware game. What do I mean by that? It’s difficult, but rewarding. The music you’ll hear, while limited mostly to boss fights or certain locations, really sets the tone. And the locales are beautiful and littered with small clues to tell a little bit of the backstory of the game.

Sekiro departs from more recent FromSoftware games (SoulsBorne), but also borrows some mechanics from them in order to create an experience all its own. But to properly explain myself, I feel like I should provide some context for what you’re seeing in these screenshots as a sort of primer.

I can understand if you’re confused by what you’re looking at here. I was at first. Bear with me and hopefully it’ll make sense.

1: Enemy health bar. This will only show up for bosses and minibosses (the latter will typically be found scattered throughout the game and are typically generals and the like). The red dots indicate the number of deathblows required to kill them. Draining the health bar will allow a deathblow to be performed.

2: Enemy posture bar. Just like the health bar, this is typically above the enemy’s head aside from bosses and minibosses. Unlike health, it will recover over time, but the speed at which it recovers is dictated by health and whether the enemy is guarding or attacking. Filling it will briefly stagger the enemy, enabling a deathblow.

3: The Wolf’s health bar. It starts incredibly small, but as the game progresses, you can collect prayer beads. Every four will allow you to make a prayer necklace that will increase your health, up to a maximum of ten. Status effect icons will appear below the bar, and your resurrection charges are found above the bar. Once you resurrect, you will not be able to do so again unless you acquire more resurrective power by performing deathblows.

4: The Wolf’s posture bar. It works exactly like the enemy’s posture bar, however Wolf is not vulnerable to deathblows. Instead, he’s left open until he can recover. An easy way to do that is to dodge away.

5: The Wolf’s arsenal. You have five item slots to fill with consumables (in this case, a healing gourd) three slots for prosthetic tools (an axe), a counter for the spirit emblems used for techniques, certain items, and the prosthetic tools, along with a display for whichever ninjutsu you have selected. I don’t recall what the sword icon above that indicates. Probably that you have your sword drawn?

6) A deflected attack. Sekiro’s combat revolves around attacking and deflecting incoming attacks. Your timing will dictate the amount of posture damage received on deflecting an attack. A perfect deflection will result in a shower of sparks in every direction as shown here.

My experience with FromSoftware titles is admittedly limited. I’ve played each of the SoulsBorne titles and I have a copy of King’s Field 2 and Chromehounds (later posts, I promise), but beyond that I don’t know very much regarding any development quirks or hallmarks of their style.

Anyway, Sekiro strikes a nice balance between the slow and methodical combat of Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls (watch the enemy, evade or block attacks, and punish accordingly) and Bloodborne (overwhelm with speed and violence) by eliminating the stamina bar previously used for sprinting, casting spells (in Dark Souls 1 & 2 anyway), and swinging your weapon and instead replacing it with the posture bar. Wolf is able to sprint indefinitely and swing his katana without having to worry about stopping for a period of time to recover any stamina. Rather, Wolf simply needs to be able to guard against attacks to deflect them, or evade them to punish them by jumping onto the enemy’s head and kicking them in the face in response to a sweep or stepping on their weapon in response to a thrust by dodging into a thrust (this is unlocked through a technique called a Mikiri Counter), inflicting massive posture damage in the process. While streaming the game, my viewers would respond to such moments with a “yeehaw” and I’ve started doing it since.

There’s one more way to avoid damage, but it’s incredibly situational: if Wolf is in the air, he can catch lightning thrown in his direction by certain enemies and redirect it back at them, shocking enemies within range. However, this can also backfire if you don’t attack before touching the ground, in which case Wolf will be stunned and take considerable damage.

This is one of the most anime things about this game and I love it for that reason.

And that’s more or less the combat. Wolf has a fair variety of tools to use with his prosthetic arm including, but not limited to, an axe, a flamethrower, and firecrackers. And the only limit to how you use them is the number of spirit emblems you have on hand. Some tools will be more effective than others in certain situations, but everyone’s going to have their own preferences. I personally really liked using the firecrackers and axe.

So what do I like about Sekiro that I’m willing to gush and at least try to clarify everything you’re seeing on screen? If I had to pick just one thing, I’d say it’s probably because the game is incredibly polished. Tight controls, excellent music, and not a whole lot of glitches as far as I’m aware (I could be wrong though.) In fact, the only one I found was one that left me stuck on a ledge in a lake while swimming around and then let me walk around on the bottom of said lake after I managed to get loose. Was it practical? Not in the slightest. But it was awesome!

In the end, Sekiro is difficult, but I found that difficulty to be incredibly appealing. A lot of bigger titles that have come out tend to be almost hand-holding when it comes to challenge. Sekiro is more like a mother bird in that regard. Where whatever AAA games you can think of would maybe give you a slap on the wrist, Sekiro essentially shoves you out of the nest and tells you to fly. You’re not going to succeed right away (in most cases anyway), but there’s a part of you that will want to keep trying until you do get the hang of it. I first felt that in Dark Souls, and it’s been a consistent element of the FromSoftware games I’ve played in the past four years or so. And if I were one to do top 10 lists, I would probably make Sekiro a contender for my favorite game of the year.

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