Game developer, FromSoftware paved the way in the OG form of blood rage induced, and death-reliant titles. Each have impressively lead the wave of the popular subgenre. While, Dark Souls has remained the best, and truthfully the one that I always thought would hold its title, the latest masterwork that is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is easily the new king.
In Sekiro, you take on the very capable Shinobi abilities of Wolf during the end of Japan’s Sengoku era. Wolf, who is sworn to protect the Devine Heir Kuro, is defeated in combat by the greedy and arrogant Genichiro. The loss of battle and Devine Heir Kuro is only made worse by the loss of the Shinobi’s arm during the climax of the katana battle.
Wolf awakens from his death fitted with a prosthetic arm given to him by the Sculptor. The Sculptor himself was a former Shinobi that now spends his days whittling effigies of Budda.
From here, the undying Wolf heads out to save the Devine Heir Kuro as well as defeat Genichiro and anyone else who stands in his way.
The team at FromSoftware lead by Director, Hidetaka Miyazaki is at the absolute top of their game here. The Japanese folklore is immersive in the games playtime, full of a world that bridges the historical with the fictional.
Sekiro’s combat is built around timely blocking, deflecting and striking all while trying to break down an enemy’s posture and balance. This is done by finding key moments to strike or outright deflecting in coming attacks. Special martial arts abilities you learn by way of skill tree along the way, assist in further breaking down an enemy’s posture by using well-timed tactics to counter their special moves.
The Shinobi prosthetic arm is a constantly evolving tool in Sekiro. Along the way, you find several tools to fit your arm with that allow different attack methods. These include using special attacks by way of fire, shuriken and a spring loaded spear among others. Each offers invaluable alternative moves to help make possible short work of otherwise difficult bad guys. Using your prosthetic arm to grapple is a nice little addition to the game that feels fantastic during each and every use.
Sekiro isn’t as concerned with the more in-depth approach to RPG elements that Dark Souls featured. Here things are kept a little lighter with the ability to upgrade your prosthetic arm as well as attack style skill trees. In addition, finding “battle memories” increases attack prowess and finding prayer beads increases health. The aforementioned deeper Souls RPG qualities are selectively stripped away, leaving a leaner more polished approach.
Bosses are the bread, butter and pain in Sekiro. Obviously the most challenging part of any FromSoftware game has always been its troublesome bosses and here that is no different. Well, almost. The game challenges you but doesn’t put you in over your head. The path to beating the enemy really lies in varying approaches to combat. By keeping enemies forever evolving, you are constantly learning and getting better with or without upgrading skill trees. Finding that one vital big move a boss does that is capable of knocking down all of your health in a single swipe is sometimes the move that if defected or countered is detrimental to your foe. All that being said, this game is fucking hard and frustrating. But, never impossible and always rewarding.
There are multiple paths to choose from and I really enjoy that some of the paths are outright secrets, that some players might not discover on their first play through. It’s outright rewarding to find secret paths that lead to imperative items, and on the other hand it’s a reward all its own to forego certain hidden paths and those concealed trinkets to beat certain enemies without the added bonus of said items.
As your travel through Ashina and its outskirts, your home base and checkpoints are made available by locating Sculptor statues. These crucial save points also assist in fast travel, leveling up your abilities, health and attack power and have the ability to cure any Dragonrot that have been accrued through your many death and resurrections.
That’s right you guys. Nothing is ever that easy, especially in the land of FromSoftware. Each time you die a side effect is that people you have spoken to, and who weren’t trying to kill you, become ill with Dragonrot. If you do not offer Dragon Blood Droplets to the Sculptor statues, the folks you spoke to will first become ill and will eventually outright die. In addition, Dragonrot curses you and lowers your chance of receiving unseen aid after death. All in all, it isn’t good and gives you one more thing to worry about in the already unforgiving world. Dragon Blood Droplets are rare but can be found out in the wild and by way of certain shop owners. Dragonrot curse is a good thing to be wary of as it sometimes will kill off an NPC that would have eventually been valuable in your quest.
Combat is insanely good in Sekiro. Side stepping, deflecting and attacking are on point and absolutely crunch in their responsiveness. Which is vital in a game with ever changing dangers and foes. Finding that special way to defeat a boss or mini boss is in your very capable hands from the get-go, and something the game keeps in play from beginning to end. Unfortunately, for you and I, our rage quits and cries of “It’s not fucking fair” are simply superfluous and not at all true. Sekiro is great at making your reflex and gameplay the tiger style to the baddies crane style. In the immortal words of someone wittier than myself it plainly begs you to “git gud.”
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the first perfect game of 2019. It’s crushing difficulty paired with immensely satisfying rewards are everything I love about gaming. From beginning to end I got lost in Ashina and was one with the Wolf. It’s wall-to-wall dive into Japanese folklore and its Kurosawa aesthetics are beyond brilliant. Each battle in Skeiro is a learning experience and a newly found object of skill which is already impressive. Throw in the fact that it also manages to be a sweeping epic in the style of Lone Wolf and Cub and you have a game that breaks several molds with well-timed and deadly Mikiri counters.