For the longest time, I have avoided FromSoftware games. The idea of playing a Dark Souls game was intimidating, and I convinced myself I wouldn’t enjoy the experience. I did eventually give Bloodborne a try, but couldn’t get past the first few hours. Ever since then, I’ve completely ignored the “Souls-like” genre. However, a small nagging voice would always call out at the back of my mind. I knew I had to beat one of these games eventually.
The reveal trailer for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice had me hooked. The first thing that stood out to me was the setting. I’m a huge fan of the Sengoku period (warring states era of Japan) as a historical backdrop. From what little the trailer revealed, I could see Shinobi, Samurai and a variety of mythical creatures, like ogres. I was in love with the aesthetics and tone of the game. FromSoftware was also taking a departure from their usual formula by focusing more on the single-player story. Including a proper protagonist with their own voice.
With that little background out of the way, let’s discuss the game in more detail. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a FromSoftware game at heart, there’s no doubt about that. It can feel more forgiving than Dark Souls, but it still retains the high level of difficulty this genre is known for. In that regard, there’s cause for concern or worry.
Sekiro is such a satisfying game to play. It captures a very important element that more games should try to incorporate. That is, FromSoftware makes the player feel as if they are growing and improving alongside the main character, Wolf. Every time Wolf overcomes a powerful foe, I also feel like I’ve gotten better at the game. New skills and upgrades feel like rewards for being persistent, rather than meaningless handouts that have no substance.
Part of this has to do with the punishing, but fair, nature of Sekiro. Every time you die, you lose a lot of money and skill points. So, when you finally do save up enough currency to purchase something, it feels like a huge deal. If you require constant gratification and feedback, then you may have to rethink your approach. Sekiro encourages the player to be patient and earn every advantage.
The combat of Sekiro revolves around the concept of Posture. This measures, essentially, the balance and stability of your enemy. If you are able to break your foes Posture, it will open them up to attack. However, Wolf is also susceptible to the same conditions. If you try to block everything, your Posture will eventually break. That’s why you must learn to deflect.
Deflecting allows you to block attacks without breaking your Posture. You have to perfectly time a button press to deflect attacks. Be careful though, some powerful enemies do piercing damage that can break through your deflections. You take reduced damage, but it does build up if you’re not aware of the health bar. In those cases, you may opt for a side-step to outright dodge attacks. Side-stepping leaves you vulnerable to attack (no invincibility frames as far as I know) so you have to get the timing right.
Sekiro doesn’t have the RPG aspects of previous FromSoftware games. You don’t have stats anymore. Instead, your character gets stronger through the use of skill trees as well as Shinobi Prosthetics. There’s a lot of customisation options — way more than I could feasibly explain in a single article. Throughout your journey, you will collect Shinobi Esoteric Text, which is essentially the wikiHow of the Sengoku era. Each text is its own skill tree of active and passive techniques for Wolf to learn. That’s right, every text has its own skill tree.
On top of that, you have the Shinobi Prosthetics. Wolf can modify his prosthetic arm to contain various types of equipment, ranging from a shuriken gun to a shield. The shuriken tool comes with a barrel that gives you access to another skill tree. Any concerns I had about Sekiro lacking in customisation options was erased after a few hours of gameplay. While you may not have “builds” like in Dark Souls (pure mage, tank, etc.), there’s enough variety to ensure everyone has a unique experience.
There is still so much more to talk about with Sekiro. I haven’t even mentioned the grappling hook which adds verticality to the levels. It’s also a useful tool against some opponents, but I won’t spoil how it’s used. The environments are gorgeous as well, and there are so many veering pathways to explore. Then you have the awesome music which kicks into overdrive during boss fights. The scale of this game is truly impressive and something worth immense praise.
If you’re feeling intimidated by this game, that’s totally fine. I was extremely nervous when booting it up for the first time. I never expected to make it as far as I have. However, there are few games in existence that are so rewarding without giving any tangible rewards. This game isn’t about getting overpowered gear or maxing out stats. The satisfaction comes from being able to do complete something you previously thought was impossible.