Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – But I Die A Whole Lot More

Why am I so deeply enamored with a game that causes me such frustration?!

FromSoftware released the newest addition to their punishing catalog of difficult games 3 weeks ago, and I’ve been struggling through ever since. This isn’t necessarily a review as much as it is my thoughts, the thoughts of an eager gamer pushing onward to complete Sekiro. I have found myself shouting at the TV with the few spare hours I have after work, much to the chagrin of my partner who has an enthusiastic hate for every time I play a Dark Souls-esque game. It would make any sane person wonder why I am putting myself through such a grueling experience and quite simply it is because Sekiro is providing me some of the best gaming I’ve had in my entire life. For all my swearing I am loving this game more than I have the Dark Souls series or Bloodborne. It’s refreshing to have a game that provides such a sense of accomplishment and relief, even if both are short-lived as the next seemingly impossible foe is always just around the corner.

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Bosses
The crux of Sekiro is its many boss fights. Each boss is difficult in it’s own way and it’s rare that any two bosses can be combated in the same way. From a giant gorilla to a small girl to a “long arm centipede giraffe”, the variety of opponents on offer is wild. As you can imagine, you have to implore different tactics when fighting a gorilla compared to fighting a small girl. One fight sees me attempting to parry every single move the enemy throws at me in the hopes of raising their posture enough that I can deal a death blow, whereas another fight has me attempting to dodge every single move waiting for the rare opportunity to get in a quick attack or two. And this is where the game always catches you out. Patience has always been key in FromSoftware titles, if you rush then there’s a tendency to get caught out. Usually after dying a handful of times, I feel like I’ve learned the boss’ attack patterns; that I know when to dodge, when to parry and when to attack. Now I’m ready. I’ll be patient. I’ll wait for my opening. What actually happens is I get caught get caught up in the moment, think I have a chance to land an attack and a few moments later I’m scurrying to heal or already dead. And that’s entirely on me. The boss didn’t do anything unexpected, the game didn’t throw me a curve-ball or glitch, I was just stupid impatient. And that knowledge keeps bringing me back to try again and again, because I know the boss stood in front of me is beatable but it is my own recklessness that is getting me killed. But then it finally happens… you land that final execution blow on the enemy, their body disappears, you earn your in-game reward and feel the euphoria of getting past another challenge. Hands up in the air in celebration, my partner gives me a condescending glance, but I don’t care!

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The world
The biggest change to this game compared to previous FromSoftware titles is the addition of the prosthetic arm that comes equipped with a grappling hook. This literally adds another dimension to the game, as you can now explore rooftops and zip around the environment in speedy fashion. The world itself is vast and varied, with different areas providing different atmospheres, including deep caverns with sparse light and creepy enemies to forests full of trees you can grapple to snowy terrain. The story has enough depth to make me care about the characters involved and the journey my character is going on. The layout of the world also puts a heavy emphasis on stealth. As a shinobi, one of your tactics is naturally to kill an enemy before they are even aware of your presence. This leads you to roaming an area before you leap into battle, because it can be notoriously difficult to take on multiple enemies at once, no matter how much stronger than them you may be. Instead I will always find myself using my grappling hook to sneak behind an unsuspecting victim before cutting them wide open. One skill even allows you to expel extra blood from an enemy, so much so that it is like a mist and you can escape unseen. Even the most basic of enemies can prove fatal when you cheekily attempt to attack instead of block.

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The gameplay
This game implores you to try a variety of tactics. The previously mentioned prosthetic arm provides you with a variety of tools; shuriken that can be tossed at enemies; firecrackers that can be thrown at the floor to momentarily stun; a spear that can be used to tear the armor off of an opponent. Being so invested in this game I have found myself on the subreddit often, and it’s exciting to see how everybody has a different tactic for dealing with certain obstacles. There isn’t just one way to defeat a boss but it’s down to you to figure out how you can win, what works for somebody else might not work for you. At the heart of the gameplay is the combat system that involves posture. Everybody, including your own character, has a posture gauge that goes up when you take damage and when you block or deflect an attack. When an enemy’s posture gauge is full, you get the chance to execute them. When your own posture gauge is full, you are temporarily wide open to attack. The less health you or your opponent have, the slower the posture regenerates. This raises a question with every single enemy you come across, do you dwindle down their health so their posture will be easier to fill, or is it too difficult to get their health down and so you just try to fill their posture gauge? Timing is everything. Knowing when to dodge instead of block, or attack instead of waiting to deflect. This is a game that puts everything on the player’s shoulders.

I think I still have a journey ahead of me before I reach the end of Sekiro, but I feel comfortable in saying this is one of the best games I have ever played. It’s fresh, it’s unique, it’s fulfilling. It’s rare that a game can grip me as this one has given the real-life challenges we all face, but Sekiro has me playing whenever I have the opportunity. It provides a sense of accomplishment like few games have ever offered. And who doesn’t want to feel proud and accomplished?

– @CiaranRH / @WebbedMedia

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