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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review

Edited by: Tiffany Lillie

Players Die Many Times

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, developed by FromSoftware and published by Bandai Namco, is a stealth-action game wherein you fill the shoes of the titular Sekiro, the "one-armed wolf". You will guide this ninja from Hell to Heaven as you slice, dice, and stab enemies from the shadows. True to the title, you will die — probably repeatedly — but resurrection is possible, either by returning to an idol of Buddha or through the power of the Dragon Lineage in the field.

A Departure

To say Sekiro is “Souls-like with stealth” would be incorrect. While the aforementioned resurrection mechanic may sound derivative of the Dark Souls series, there are only a handful of mechanics that made the jump. Periodic checkpoints, a refilling healing item, and lore through item descriptions might be familiar, but the story is much more transparent, and there are other changes. Treating the gameplay like a Souls game will lead to your death more often than not. Rather than emphasizing dodging and punishing your opponent for overextending, Sekiro focuses more on the clash of blades between you and your opponent. Parrying is more forgiving and therefore more vital.

Rather than stamina management, you will now have to focus on your posture meter. Posture starts at zero and increases as you block enemy attacks and take damage. Likewise, your opponents have posture meters as well that decrease if you successfully parry their attacks. When you successfully fill their posture meter (referred to as "breaking their posture"), they will become vulnerable to an instant-kill attack called a Deathblow. You can also use Deathblows on enemies that are unaware of your presence, emphasizing a stealthy approach to most encounters.

Sneaking All the Way

Sekiro's inclusion of stealth mechanics provides a new tactical layer to the game. With the right approach, most encounters can be made trivial with the proper application of stealth. You can sneak up on most bosses and minibosses to get in an early Deathblow. Considering most of these enemies require two Deathblows to kill, this halves their health. Stealth also renders many encounters skippable. While this is frequently not recommended, as enemies provide experience and money to upgrade your character, it makes the run back to rechallenge a boss much faster. Minibosses, in turn, drop Prayer Beads. Obtain four Prayer Beads, and you can upgrade your maximum health and posture. True bosses drop Memory Fragments, which can be used to increase your attack power.

Sekiro's world is also somewhat open-ended. While a majority of the paths are relatively linear, there are many nooks and crannies to explore with the new jumping and grappling mechanics. These make overland traversal a joy to perform as you sling your way up the sides of buildings and jump over enemies to run past them faster. The amount of freedom of movement you have complements the strategic way of approaching any engagement. On top of this, at any given point, two or three routes will be open to you. Between optional bosses and these multiple routes, you will scarcely ever lack for an objective. If you run into a wall on one particular boss, you can always go down a different route that might be easier to collect upgrade materials and challenge the harder boss with a stronger character.

The Right Tool for the Job

While your primary tool for killing is the katana, you will also find a variety of ninja tools throughout your journey. These range from the standard shuriken, to flamethrowers, to ancient feathers that allow you to teleport through enemy attacks. Each of these tools requires spirit emblems to use. These can be purchased for money at Buddha idols or randomly dropped from enemies. Each tool also has strengths and weaknesses against certain enemy types. Usually, eavesdropping on enemies from stealth will reveal these weaknesses, but other times you'll either have to guess or experiment to see what works best.

While having the right tools is a boon unto itself, they are nothing without the right skills. As you kill enemies in Sekiro, you gain experience. Gain enough, and you get a skill point. Gain enough skill points, and you can purchase a skill from a variety of different trees to help you better kill your opponents. These can range from sword techniques to passive buffs. Mostly, they amount to ways to better counter your opponents. Some make you harder to detect in stealth; others give you follow-up attacks for your ninja tools. Bosses also give skills sometimes, either as an increase to your healing items or an increase to the experience you gain from bosses, depending on how easy or hard of a time you had on them.

Beyond Death

Sekiro’s titular mechanic, dying twice, is the last tool in your arsenal for staying in the field. When you die, you can choose to either die for real or resurrect. You only have a set amount of resurrection charges (typically one or two), and if you have multiple, you have to kill a handful of enemies before you can resurrect again. When you resurrect, you come back up with half your total health. You can wait a little while before choosing to resurrect to try and reset your stealth against smaller enemies, but bosses will remain attentive and regain posture.

True death inflicts a variety of penalties. Firstly, you lose half of your accumulated experience and money. You retain any money banked in inventory items and any experience transferred into skill points, but half of the rest is forfeit. It's not dropped for recovery later; it's just gone. The exception to this the Unseen Aid mechanic, which mitigates this loss entirely for one death. You won't ever know if you have Unseen Aid until you die, and it only has a baseline thirty percent chance of activating on any one death — unless, of course, you die too much. Occasionally, the strain of reviving will inflict a disease called Dragonrot on the NPCs you find. This will reduce your chance of triggering Unseen Aid. While you can eventually heal Dragonrot, there seems to be a limited number of items that can do this.

Ancient Tales

While the NPCs bear the brunt of the storytelling, Sekiro himself has a few things to say about the goings-on in the world — a benefit of having a static main character that is barely more than a stand-in for the player. Sekiro is a ninja assigned to the Ashina clan in Sengoku-era Japan. Kuro, Sekiro's charge, is the heir to the Ashina household and heir of the Dragon Blood. Essentially, this means he can bestow effective immortality to anyone he chooses. Sekiro is one such person. Naturally, in a land torn by war in a family dealing with a military uprising, this power is much sought after. Everyone wants a piece of Kuro's legacy, and Sekiro must protect his charge at all costs. (For those of you that read that and immediately feared a perpetual-escort quest, fear not. Most of the game is spent trying to rescue Kuro from the ramifications of his lineage and not ensuring that he takes as few swords to the face as possible.)

While item descriptions still contain lore, most of the story is up front. Sekiro has a handful of cutscenes to progress the plot and are much more straightforward than FromSoftware's previous offerings. You interact with the characters relevant to the story, kill some of them, befriend others, and respond to events as they happen. It's a much more present-focused story.


The Verdict: Excellent

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is just an all-around great game. Combat is tense and exciting, providing many ways to engage and pick your battles. While it does iterate on the Souls games before it, Sekiro forges its own path and is all the better for it. Adapt and master its mechanics, and you will find yourself with a rewarding, engaging experience.

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John Gerritzen
Written by
Thursday, 11 April 2019 05:43
Published in Action



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John Gerritzen is a programmer by education, author by hobby, and game critic by occupation. While he usually favors RPGs, he will play anything that engages him narratively or mechanically. When he's not playing games for fun or profit, he's usually reading or watching anime.

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