Developers FromSoftware are a sadistic bunch, aren’t they? They specialise in games that are not only difficult, but can be borderline torturous. But there are some people (myself included) that are always willing to go through the pain in order to seek the glory. That brings us to their latest game- Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Let me tell you, there is pain…lots and lots of pain.
You play as a Shinobi named Sekiro, or “Wolf”, who is on a quest to rescue his kidnapped lord and regain his honour. In the beginning of the game, you lose your arm, but are saved and given a prosthetic arm as a replacement. It’s no ordinary prosthetic though, as this one gives you abilities for use in combat!
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice actually contains more of a traditionally told story, unlike FromSoftware’s previous games. This was somewhat of a relief as now gamers will feel like they have something they can follow rather than trying to unravel a hidden story. It is still a simple story that most people won’t really care too much about, but its inclusion is still good to see.
A New Japanese Setting
FromSoftware’s previous game’s locations were usually along the lines of fantasy and gothic. In Sekiro, you’ll be whisked to feudal Japan in the time of Samurai and Shinobi. Like the previous games, you’ll notice that same grim tone all throughout.
I do think that the Dark Souls games had more variety in their locations, and Bloodbourne really nailed that atmosphere more than Sekiro did. It can still be nice to look at, but visually not quite as stunning as the other games.
Speaking of visuals, the characters all look very authentic to the era. Everything from the armour to the helmets are all very detailed. But it is a bit of a shame that many of the enemies and bosses all look very similar to each other.
If we’re going to compare to another game set in this era, Nioh, there were a great variety of enemies. It combined realism and fantasy, giving us some really unique enemies, whereas Sekiro’s enemies were just a little bland at times.
On the topic of locations, I’ll bring up something that the Soulsbourne games were well-known for: level design. With those games, you always had to make your way through maze-like areas with heaps to explore until you unlocked a shortcut with satisfying relief.
These games were such a joy to explore because you were almost always rewarded with items, but faced danger around every corner, and just feel like you’re navigating through a proper level.
Sekiro doesn’t quite hit that nail in this regard, as you’re able to use your prosthetic arm to hookshot your way around the area. This has its pros and cons. By being able to fling yourself onto rooftops, you’re able run from danger to regroup. It’s exhilarating to be a more agile character in these types of games for once. It’s not quite on the level of Marvel’s Spiderman, but it still feels great to pull off.
But on the flipside, by being able to make your way around in this manner, you can bypass a lot of the actual level. This takes away what the Soulsbourne games usually provided. Levels aren’t designed in the same way and you don’t get that same feeling of satisfaction because shortcuts don’t feel as necessary here.
Sekiro’s Brutal Combat
Alright, this is really the main topic of conversation for Sekiro. It’s the game’s biggest highlight, but to some, it can be what turns people away. The combat system is one of the most well thought-out and well crafted combat I can think of in gaming. It’s incredibly in-depth and requires 100% skill from gamers.
Long gone are the days of button-mashing, or even the dodge and attack strategy of the Soulsbourne games. Sekiro’s combat requires full concentration and understanding of its mechanics.
To start, every enemy has a HP meter, but more importantly a Posture meter. Whittling down an enemies HP won’t necessarily cut it anymore as you’ll be focusing on their Posture for many battles. Essentially as you strike an enemy, their posture will weaken, regardless of whether they block or not. Enemies know how to defend themselves here more than any other game.
Once you’ve weakened your opponent’s posture all the way, you’ll be able to carry out a deathblow and finish them off. Sounds simple, right? If only! Even just ordinary enemies will require focus from you, as they can still do big damage if you’re not careful.
You’ll really need to master the variety of abilities at your disposal if you want to succeed here. With most games, you’ll eventually start to feel comfortable with your weapon of choice, the abilities you’ve used, and just your strategy in general. But with Sekiro, you absolutely must use every tool at your disposal!
One of the main things you need to master is parrying, or deflecting attacks. Thankfully it’s some of the most satisfying parrying you’ll ever do in a game. You can also dodge, but it’s nowhere near as useful as in previous games. In fact, forget everything you learnt about anything from Soulsbourne. In Sekiro, you can still get attacked while dodging as there’s no brief moments of invincibility, meaning you can’t rely on dodging everywhere.
There’s no feeling comfortable and there’s no set routine to get used to. I’ve had to use every prosthetic tool I’ve found. I’ve had to use every form of counter there is throughout the many battles. This is one of the best parts about the game though!
This really comes into effect once you face the mini-bosses and main bosses. Expect to die many times, but don’t let that make you feel like you’re failing. Every attempt is a new learning opportunity. It’s such a great feeling when you’ve faced a boss so many times, and you know how to counter every move, then it just becomes matter of executing well for the entire battle.
Because each boss contains their own strategy to beat, I really appreciated the fact that the game still manages to give you hints about it beforehand. This is usually done by eavesdropping on enemies and listening to them spill the beans. Sometimes you’ll even find a new prosthetic tool that you need to use for fight nearby as well.
It can get a bit overwhelming at times though. With so many different counters and types of attacks to look out for, it can be tough to know how to approach combat. This isn’t a criticism of the game, but it really can test your patience and you’ll most likely want to rage quit a few times.
No Longer An RPG
I truly believe Sekiro is far more difficult than any of the games by FromSoftware. With their previous games, if you’re having trouble, you could grind for XP and raise your stats to give you a better chance. There’s no doing this in Sekiro, as the RPG elements have been severely stripped down. There’s no more stats like before, so you’ll have to solely rely on skill.
You can still upgrade your health/posture meter and attack. This isn’t done through conventional means though, as you can only upgrade them via items from defeating mini-bosses and main bosses. So obviously you can’t grind it, and to be honest, I never really noticed the upgrades anyway.
You do in a way still earn XP but it goes towards earning skill points which you spend in a skill tree. These can range from combat abilities, prosthetic arm improvements, and passive abilities.
But for me, the RPG elements from the Soulsbourne games were what made it addictive. I always love RPG elements in any game, and I think Sekiro would have benefited from it. But it’s clear that FromSoftware didn’t want to make that kind of game, so I can’t exactly criticising it for that.
Because of the lack of RPG elements though, your rewards don’t always feel satisfying. There’s not even any real gear to find as you’ll be stuck with the one weapon only. That’s the only real missed opportunity in Sekiro, as I never felt like I was truly rewarded after such tough battles. You still get items and maybe skill unlocks, but it still never felt like the reward matched the challenge.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review Summary
You can just tell that so much care, effort, and thought went into so many aspects of this game. Or least the areas it was meant to excel at. From the strategically placed items, to the subtle hints before boss fights, it makes it worthwhile to explore thoroughly.
Then there’s the in-depth combat, which will either be make or break for many gamers. It’s quite impressive to see FromSoftware work so hard to give us such a refined combat system. It’s certainly not for everyone, maybe not even all Dark Souls fans, but there is an audience for it, and they would surely relish the challenge.
The visuals and atmosphere might not standout as much as their previous games, but all the effort in Sekiro has been placed elsewhere. The RPG elements may be mostly taken out, but that isn’t the focus anymore.
Even though you’ll still see some major similarities between Sekiro and Dark Souls, you cannot treat them as the same game, or play them in the same way. It all comes down to your willingness to learn and your patience- because you’re going to need a lot of it!