Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Opinion-Piece Review
The way of the shinobi is not for the faint of heart, nor the zealous soul who thinks glory is theirs to claim. Your mind is not your own. Your body is not your own. Your life is not your own. You live to serve your master, even if it means that you die, and if you fail to do so in death, then perhaps even a second time.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the latest hardcore action-adventure game developed by FromSoftware, creators of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, which has seen much criticism and praise over the past while. The game has been released for Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on 22 March 2019. Yes, this “review” is late by some standards, which is why I have titled this an Opinion-Piece review, especially since we did not get a copy of the game through our distributors, but we felt that we should have a go as well and give our honest and objective opinion in response to the hate that the game has received by some.
A Ryu Tragedy
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice takes place in a fantasy rendition of the Sengoku period of Japan, and follows a shinobi – or “ninja” – known as Wolf as he sets out to take revenge on a samurai named Genichiro who kidnapped his young lord by attacking them as they attempted to escape from the estate under siege. Having lost his left arm in his encounter with Genichiro, Wolf wakes up in a temple where he meets the Sculptor, a former and aged shinobi named Sekijo who carves Buddha statues. Sekijo had replaced his missing left arm with a Shinobi Prosthetic, an advanced tool which Wolf is able to use to equip a multitude of shinobi tools and weapons, like a shuriken launcher, an axe, a flamethrower, and more! Wolf is also able to use it as a grappling tool, which will allow you to traverse rooftops, sometimes in quick succession to climb a height without touching the floor, and get those sneak attack deathblows from above, or even find hidden areas on the map. Wolf discovers that he is able to survive mortal wounds as a result of receiving the dragon’s blood from Kuro three years prior. He proceeds to assault the Ashina Castle to confront and defeat Genichiro and rescue Kuro from the ill intentions of the samurai clan.
As mentioned before, Sekiro has gotten some criticism regarding its difficulty, and as someone who hasn’t played many hardcore action-adventure games, like Dark Souls, I can understand where they are coming from on one hand, but on the other I still think that the criticism is unwarranted, despite my own frustration while playing. The mechanics are said to be quite different to previous FromSoftware games, and from the sounds of things, had I started with Dark Souls before this, I might have had a better grasp of the foundational tactics to the combat that Sekiro offers. Where the game’s mechanics splits from its predecessors is that there is a bigger focus on one-on-one combat, and instead of hacking at your opponents’ HP bar, there is more emphasis on whittling down their posture bars by parrying, dodging, and countering to create an opening and get in your deathblows. This kind of gameplay not only forces you to use your reaction time to its fullest, for “last-second” blocks, but also trains it. And who was it that said that video games rot your brains again?
School of Hard-knocks
I say this, but I will readily admit that I have also had exceptional difficulty with this fighting style, especially against the numerous bosses that you find. Then again, so have other players who love the game, and that is what separates the different kinds of players. These hardcore action games are inevitable in its difficulty, with countless amounts of retries for a single boss, or sometimes even the standard grunts, but this is, again, where the one-on-one fighting comes to play. Should you pull the attention of more than one, you will become mince-meat, because that is not how true combat is approached. As an example, when I encountered Juzou the Drunkard in my playthrough, I was overwhelmed by the thoughts of how I would be able to handle him and his lackeys, which numbered around 8, all at once, and the answer was: you don’t. You need to progressively kill them all before you take on Juzou by doing what a shinobi does – sneak and assassinate. You need to find that balance of combat, strategy, and stealth.
There is heavy emphasis on stealth in this game and if you don’t take full advantage of this mechanic, you are going to have a bad time. You will have even more of a bad time if you fail the boss fight and need to redo all the steps from the beginning, but this is where you also learn to take your time and pay attention to how the boss moves and what their weaknesses might be. You will likely also be able to find out about a boss’s weakness by eavesdropping on previous mob’s conversations, also only possible by sticking to the shadows and remaining undetected. I would not encourage avoiding fights, however, because you will need to get the practice in for combat. You might argue that you are able to get the practice in with an NPC named Hanbei the Undying, but true practice comes in the heat of the moment against other foes where the risk of death is more prominent than in a training duel with an NPC that can take a beating with no consequences. Also, let us not forget that you need to gain XP from enemies as well as coins to buy items.
The Shinobi Way
Items will include boosts to attack power, defense, and monetary gain, as well as coin pouches that will hold a specific number of coins to prevent you from losing them upon death, health pills that will restore HP over time, and more, which is too numerous to mention here. When you rest at shrines, it will restore your health and certain items, but also restore the enemies that have been eliminated before, with exception to the area bosses. You can also use the shrines to unlock abilities for Wolf, gaining new techniques to use in combat and enhancements. A particular favourite (that I would recommend you built up to early on) is an enhancement that restores a small portion of health for every deathblow that you deal. There are many things that Sekiro doesn’t teach you, that you end up learning through trial and error, or by chance, which adds to the experience of the game. I have struggled and been tempted to throw my controller out of the window from the build-up of frustration, but that isn’t the game’s fault; It all boils down to skill that needs to be trained and refined over time.
Games are an escape from the real life struggles, but it also encourages a person to tackle challenges they would not normally be able to tackle out in the real world. This game definitely caters more to a different type of player, but it is not impossible to get a hang of. Like I mentioned before, I was overwhelmed with the Juzou-scenario, but I have conquered it and been able to move past that point, as well as many other area bosses that I never thought I was going to be able to eliminate. Yes, the Dragonrot sickness is a nuisance, but is eventually curable, and the only way to initially do that is to get enough stacks of Dragonrot and then find the NPCs who have been afflicted to create the cure. You can then manufacture the cure as many times as you like after this discovery, so there is no need to feel guilty – like I did – after you have been given your first stack, and I admire this risky mechanic, despite the effect it had on me the first time. There are many more moments like this; the game plays with your emotions in a unique way. But perseverence is key – like how ninjas would do it!
Catch my past stream videos of my experience with Sekiro below:
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a well-crafted hardcore action adventure game that tests the boundaries of one’s frustrations, and is not a game that can be approached light-heartedly. Despite my own frustrations and difficult experiences, I can not fault the game, because there is nothing wrong in the mechanics or the controls, but the issue lies with our own level of skill. This game forces you to expand beyond your current reaction time limitations, patience levels, and attention to detail. There is a very clear way to defeat the enemies and challenges set before you, but it is up to you to become skilled enough to meet the requirements. If the goals and requirements were unclear, then it would be a fault with the developers, and subsequently, the game – which is not the case. There are many items and strategies that can be used to progress, which is why I will say the following – and I will quote what Hussain from GameSpot said about the game – that it is more “suited to people who have a specific kind of temperament”, and maybe it is the developers fault for not forewarning players enough about this, although at the same time, players should not have expected something all that much different from the same developers of Dark Souls. It is not my kind of genre, although if I had to dedicate some time to it like Dark Souls fans have done in the past, I can see myself being able to finish it. Would I recommend it? Yes, without a doubt, but only to a specific kind of player. Feel like trying it? Go for it; but you have now been warned!