Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice review

…Only twice? 

My friend, you know that new game everyone has been talking about – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice?

“Ah, yes, Sekiro: Shadows Die Thrice. The newly released, highly anticipated action game from FromSoftware on PC, Xbox One and PS4. How have you found it?”

Well, I have some thoughts on its similarity to Dark Sou-

“No – do not say that name! We must judge this game on its own merits. Now, tell me of this Sekiro: Shadows Die Ten Times.” 

Shinobi Shadows and Sengoku Samurai Silently Skulk, Sneak and Slice

Sekiro: Shadows Die Fifty Times follows the shinobi Sekiro (“One-Armed Wolf”) as he takes on samurai, monks and otherworldly entities in aid of his young Lord.

This is a big world, with secrets players will be uncovering for years to come. You’ll be fighting your way through a Game of Thrones-size cast of bosses and their minions, interspersed with heavy use of stealth and using your handy-dandy grappling hook to gracefully traverse pagoda rooftops.

This is a FromSoftware game, so it follows that you’ll be spending most of your time with big ol’ scary bosses. And mini-bosses, who can be just as scary as ‘real’ bosses.

I was even killed by a giant chicken in this game although, in my defence, that chicken was sneakier than a chicken has any right to be.

Try the grey stuff, it’s delicious

Sekiro: Shadows Die One Hundred Times’ arena is Japan’s Sengoku period, a time of vicious civil war in the 15th-17th century. While you won’t find any historical figures or events in game, it does draw heavily on the era’s bloody disputes between shinobi and samurai.

Hidetaka Miyazaki has been quoted as picking the Sengoku period because it’s “dirtier”. However, Sekiro: Shadows Die One Thousand Times is at its best when you are given a relief from the shadows. Moonlight playing on bamboo, wind fluttering through temples, blood splattering across white snow. The graphics aren’t exactly ground-breaking for 2019, and therefore benefit from an emphasis on colour and design.

The score is also worth mentioning. With its combination of flutes and strings and drums, it does a fair job of transporting you to Sengoku era Japan, easily moving between moments of calm and conflict.

They’re big, they’re bad and they’re in your way

Let’s be real though. The heart of this game is combat. Visceral, sweaty-palm, aggressive combat.

Sekiro: Shadows Die A Million Times really, really rewards aggressive and calculated play. The combat system is based around relentlessly deflecting an enemies’ attacks, breaking down ‘posture’ until you get an opening, and playing the odd game of paper scissors rock when an enemy has the nerve to go for a grab or a sweep.

A hard ask, when most other games demand that you dodge first, ask questions later.

While Sekiro: Shadows Die A Billion Times is sometimes labelled an RPG, Sekiro: Shadows Die A Trillion Times is more truly an action game, where the real wall is your skill level. While you can grind minions to gather skill points, add mechanics to your prosthetic arm and stock up on items, the only reliable way to increase your stats is to defeat the bosses themselves.

Enjoy feeling like a ninja badass taking out minions while you can, because that bad ass is about to be handed to you.

Shadows may die many times, but they get used to it

FromSoftware games aren’t famed for the most easily understood plotlines. Sekiro: Shadows Won’t Stop Dying Please Send Help, however, has a coherent and focused plot told via cut scenes and dialogue.

Most notably, is the masterful intertwining of death as both a plot mechanic and a game mechanic. So, you’ll die a lot. No big deal, right?

I won’t detail the specific effects of death, because plot spoilers, but this game punishes you for dying. There’s no “Oh, game over, huh? Better luck next time, kid. Take this buff – you got this!”

No. Sekiro: Won’t Someone PLEASE Think of the Shadows likes to kick you while you’re down. I’m not afraid to admit it, but when I realised that there were effects caused by my repeated deaths in the game, I was terrified. Not only consequences for my character, but heaven-forbid, to NPCs!

It might be hard for you to hear now, but trust me – you’ll get used to it. What’s more, like any semi-permadeath game, it teaches you to treat enemies with respect. To know when to stay and fight, or when to grapplehook-the-heck-outta-there.

You’re also offered an olive branch in the form of a “press [X] to continue” resurrection mechanic. Again, anything further is a spoiler.  It just works. And it works well.

My one irritation? When you rest or resurrect, all the minion-level enemies come back to life. That got old real quick.

No one saves us but ourselves

Buddhism, a heavily used in-game theme, emphasizes death and rebirth in a continuous cycle. The purpose of life is to reach the end of this cycle – to reach nirvana.

In many ways, this game is like that. You’ll die, and you’ll die, and by golly, you’ll enjoy yourself along the way. You’ll also learn something each time, and get that much closer to the end.

Through the trials necessitated by this game, I discovered myself to be easily flustered, yet focused; impatient, yet persistent. I rediscovered my younger self, who would play the same level for hours on end, days on end, until she beat it.

I would often put down the controller in a huff and walk away. The next day, the game would come back unbidden to my mind – what if I tried a different attack/deflect mix? Practiced just a bit more?

Admittedly, I have less time to hit my head against a wall now with a full-time job – but the fact that I was willing to do so for this game, I think, says something.

90%
A high-difficulty shinobi masterpiece that demands respect.
  • Overall

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1 Comment

  1. Vivienne Lee says

    Love the evolving name for this game!

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