Shadows Die Way More Than Twice
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an original single-player FromSoftware title that carries some defining core mechanics from its predecessors and innovates in some critical areas making it a 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 the game 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 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 differentiate it from any of its predecessors: a grappling hook that lets us reach far, up high places in much more vertical areas; 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 a very steep learning curve in which you start as a walking starfish and slowly make your way to become the greatest Shinobi of all Japan by overcoming the difficulties of having to focus on multiple combat mechanics such as slash, evade, run, jump, and block while fighting multiple increasingly difficult foes.
Set in the early days Japan, the game has a very unique, beautiful structural foundation that works perfectly to create an immersive world that despite its focus being on the 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.
The areas are simply beautiful, and despite not being the most visually stunning game, Sekiro’s graphics are beautiful for how they are designed.
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 game, 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 in the game was also very impressive. 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 is much weaker compared to the English one, at least in my opinion.
The game also doesn’t have a straight, linear story, nor paths for you to follow, 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 and decisions you make on your playthrough.
At some point in the game I even almost got overwhelmed by the amount of different paths and options I was presented, but to know that eventually they would either converge into a previous area or simply result in a dead-end with just a single important quest item made approaching huge areas much more digestible.
When you think of difficulty in a Fromsoft game, what elements usually come to your 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 will crush you in seconds if you’re not careful. Her speed is lighting fast, her move-set is unpredictable at first, and when you finally defeat her only to discover you were fighting an illusion all along — a truly soul-crushing moment that serves to give us a perspective of difficulty in this game. Lady Butterfly sure is a tough enemy early on in the game, 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. Not only because of their difficult as per se, but also because of how combat is designed in Sekiro. You see, in Sekiro normal enemies are very 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 genuine pieces of solid rock that slaps you in the face each time you try to hit them. When fighting these more advanced enemies you have to take either one of the two approaches: die until you develop Jedi reflexes and learn to avoid all of 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 later one for “An honorable objective justify the means. Even if it includes cheesing the hell out of enemies”.
There are also mini-bosses in the game. Tougher enemies that usually come with more than one health bar that despite being titled ‘mini-boss’ they are still almost as hard if not harder than some of the major enemies. While they can still be easily cheesed, they still offer a solid 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 more in-depth introduction to posture and how it works.
The game also seems to enjoy a lot reusing enemies, 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 without deviating from your righteous path or whatever.
Character Progression and Skill System
In Sekiro, the more you progress through the game the more you learn new mechanics, get to understand enemy attacks, how to avoid them, and how to properly traverse through the areas. Each time you defeat an enemy, be it a mini-boss or a major boss, you always get stronger in some way, either by getting good at the game or by unlocking new abilities and items that allow your character to get stronger, which gives the game a powerful sense of progression.
The way the skill system 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 a single skill tree 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, increasing the healing and 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. All that plus upgrades to the prosthetic tool we got from our Buddha carving friend gives the player a lot of flexibility on what they can do, but it can also overwhelm players knowing that later on in the game you have so many unlocked abilities it can even get quite difficult to keep track 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 another really hard Fromsoft game, but after playing through it I discovered there’s way more to it. In essence the game is superb, it plays nicely, it feels nice, and even the extremely difficult combat 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 game, and in the end a great game can turn out to be frustrating to the people 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 that was”. An excellent game, 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 indeed this game is, and one that I know will astound many people willing to take in the challenge and overcome the difficulties.