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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - Review

I bought Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice when it was released about 2 months ago, but this review is coming out now because I finally beat it! Only about 20% of players unlocked the trophy for the standard ending, and I doubt even with review copies many outlets had enough time or patience to beat this game. But that’s never stopped them before. Sekiro is the first Souls type game that I beat. So if you’re like me, or haven’t played a game developed by From Software, this is definitely one I encourage everyone to start with.

For me what got me so hyped about this game was the fact that Sekrio was a spiritual successor to the Tenchu series I grew up playing on the PS1. And in that respect, Sekiro does not disappoint. You play as a shinobi, named the Wolf, whose duty is to protect his young lord. I wanted to try a new format for this review, so I’ll be breaking down the game into the good, and the bad and the ugly.

The good:

The core of the game, which is the combat, is definitely the best aspect. The posture mechanic, which affects both you and all your opponents, build if you block or take damage. If you break an enemies posture, they become vulnerable to a Deathblow attack, indicated by a temporary red dot, that will automatically reduce the enemies remaining life bar to zero. On the other hand, if an enemy breaks your posture, your guard/block is broken and you are open to enemies attacks for 1-2 seconds. While posture can be recovered by avoiding attacks and also more quickly if you are guarding, learning how to deflect enemy attacks at the last second is key to survival, as deflecting causes more posture damage on your enemy, while also not taking posture damage yourself, and gives you an opportunity to land a counter attack on the enemy.

This wouldn’t be a ninja game without stealth, and that aspect of the game is also spot on. You can sneak behind enemies for an instant death blow, take down enemies from above, and even gain the upper hand on some mini-bosses by performing an initial Deathblow on them too. The resurrection ability can be used to reset enemies awareness by waiting for them to turn their back on you to perform a deathblow. Taking down an enemy in stealth is crucial early on as focusing on more than one enemy early on can be hard, but as you progress, or become more skilled, taking down basic enemies becomes a breeze after learning their attack pattern, or increasing your attack, vitality, and posture.

The environments are what I think sets Sekiro above the other Souls game in my opinion. While I loved the gothic/mid-evil inspired environments of the other Souls games, it was hard for me to play because I could never play during the day because the glare on the TV would always make everything hard to see and appear monochrome. Sekiro has a variety of different and colorful environments, ranging from snowy mountainsides, feudal Japanese castles, and bright lake-front picturesque temples. While there is not a day/night cycle like in open world games, as you progress through the story the lighting and environments change, resulting in re-treading of old areas feel completely new.

I like the way the game deals with player death. I'm not a fan of the system where you have to do a corpse run to get back your experience, items or currency. In this game, you don't have to worry about getting back to where you died and could take a different path whenever you choose. There is a significant downside to dying as you will lose 50% of your experience and gold. However, since you do have the resurrection power, and the “Unseen Aid” ability that has a chance, up to 30%, to skip over these negative results. While experience gained from kills can be used to gain new skills, and coin used to buy items, it never feels like a necessity as your skill in combat with the basic techniques is what gets you through the game’s bosses.

Multiple ending are always a great addition to any game, and Sekiro has a great New Game Plus feature that ups the challenge on subsequent playthroughs. The game has multiple endings with an obvious choice in the story that would lead to a “good” vs “bad” ending. But after completing the game and searching up more possibilities, there are very specific steps you need to complete to get two more additional better endings. There were items I ended the first playthrough I didn’t use, which I learned all have a purpose to get to these better endings. I was surprised how long this game was just on my first playthrough, adding up to over 70 hours. Of course, that can vary largely depending on how challenging you find the game.

The Bad:

While the map feels open, and fast travel is easily accessible at any save shrine, there isn’t a traditional map you might expect from other adventure games. There were a few times when I knew where I needed to go but forgot where it was. While definitely not a bad design choice, it does give you a reason to revisit many of the previous areas. And often while re-visiting these areas you may discover new areas you missed the first time.

As you defeat enemies and bosses you obtain items to use to upgrade your prosthetic arm and also learn skills that require Spirit Emblems to use. The game does have that feeling of Mega Man or Metroid games, where you can take different paths to unlock new weapons that can make specific encounters easier to deal with. However, outside of specific situations, I didn’t utilize many Combat Arts, prosthetic tools, or Spirit Emblem spenders, as the startup animation took way to long and left my character open to attack. In most cases I felt my trusty katana was quicker and more consistent. I often found myself unequipping combat arts so that I wouldn’t accidentally use it during important battles, as holding block (L1) and tapping attack (R1) would activate it, usually resulting in a long animation that you will most likely be hit out of.

The story is unique and definitely follow the same feel as previous From Software games. While this feels more cinematic, with a good amount of cut-scenes, many secondary aspects about the world and its characters are all revealed through dialogue which is mostly optional. I love this approach, since those that put more time into the game can get more out of the interesting backstory and characters. This game doesn’t hold your hand and make everything obvious. It encourages exploration, trial and error, and respects the player's intelligence. The dialogue and Japanese voice acting are top notch, but the mostly static character models can make dialogue feel as if it drones on at times and you can easily miss the important references and fragments of story each character is revealing.

While this game feels faster paced compared to other Souls games, remembering when to parry, dodge, jump, and Mikiri parry (using the circle button instead of L1), requires lightning-fast reflexes. Unfortunately, many battles can turn into marathons of patience where you dash in after an enemy attack, hit the enemy once (maybe twice if you're lucky) and dashing away to avoid the next attack. In this aspect, it is probably easier than previous Souls games where you aren’t as mobile.

The Ugly:

The Souls game is known for being brutally hard, and this game lives up to that reputation. This is without a doubt the hardest game I beat, even harder than the new God of War I got the platinum trophy on the hardest difficulty. Every time I encountered a new boss or mini-boss I thought that the battle was impossible, but after dying over and over I would get a little further over time. But because the game has so many optional bosses you could always explore new areas and return when you got a new skill, tool, or better stats. There’s no better feeling than finally taking down a boss you thought was insurmountable. There are bosses that cannot be avoided and sometimes I would be stuck on a boss for days. The final boss had me stuck for more than a week. The biggest problem with this game, In my opinion, is definitely the load times after dying. Hopefully, this won't be an issue with next-gen consoles like PS5, but for a game like this that expects you to die, over and over, the up to a minute load times feels like a long time. It can become more frustrating when you’re stuck on a boss that kills you in 30 seconds, and have to wait twice as long to try again. I love hard platformers, like Guacamelee 2, that have you back into the action almost instantly, knowing that you will be dying a lot.

Another aspect of the game that can be frustrating is the camera and combat in tight spaces. You can use the lock-on camera to keep the enemies in front of you, but it does force you to be aware of your surrounding especially in indoor fights. My favorite battles were against enemies in wide areas where I could run, and circle my opponent without fear of trapping myself into a corner.

Another thing I found really frustrating, which baffles me, is how touching up on the directional pad results in dashing forward. When standing still using the up pad allows you use the item equipped, so in a tough battle when I'm dodging or running back from an attack, and try to use an item, I end up dying because I accidentally run forward instead if using that recovery item I had intended.

Overall, while there were times that I felt like breaking my controller out of frustration, I really enjoyed this game and would recommend it to anyone who likes a challenge. With that, I would give the game a score of an A, and a contender for Game of the Year 2019.

I hope you all enjoyed this review. I know there was a big gap since my last post, but I hope to play more games and make more content in the next couple of months. Leave some feedback in the comments below, and see you all again soon.

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