'Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice" is feudal frustrating greatness
I’ve never been big on the so-called “Soulsborne” series of games. Not that I don’t see their value. From production value, to tight gameplay and atmosphere, they all seem to not only succeed, but excel in pushing the genre forward. The problem? Well… I’m not very good at those games.
But this isn’t a petition for FromSoftware to patch in a difficulty setting or anything like that (since that’s not really the point), but rather a chance for me to talk about why that difficulty is important, and how the studio’s latest release, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, may be the most enticing yet.
From the jump, Sekiro wants you to know it has a story to tell. The lore in this world is not told by items found around the environment or in subtle cues from NPCs. Sure, that stuff is all here, but a full acted, voiced and visualized narrative hooks you right in.
You play as Sekiro, a warrior left for dead who has been given a second chance in the form of a series of prosthetic enhancements courtesy of a sculptor who you soon learn is suffering from a terrible disease called Dragonrot.
Using these enhancements, your trusty sword and many, many healing items, your allegiance and trust will be tested as you work to save your master from a terrifying regime.
With the story enough to get you going, the gameplay and rhythm of Sekiro can take hold. And while this game certainly pulls from the same DNA as a Dark Souls or Bloodborne, there is a level of depth, verticality and motion that feels brand new.
In battle, you will find yourself guarding, dodging, jumping and rolling depending on the moves of your opponents. Most normal attacks can be dodged, parried and countered. But there are unblockable moves, notated by Japanese symbols glowing red, that will require you to either dodge, roll or jump based on telegraphed movements and cues from your opponent. A sweep? Better jump. A thrust? Best to jump back or roll.
It’s a hard rhythm to memorize, and will test your muscle memory, but when it works, it feels pretty darn good.
In addition to general combat, Sekiro can utlize his prosthetics to do everything from grapple and swing around treetops and roof ledges, to spark flames and throw shurikens. You’re gonna need these, certainly, because some enemy types will take increased damage, get thrown off balance or become enraged based on the enhancements you use.
And yes, you’re going to die. A lot.
But Sekiro is all about dying. It’s about dying and learning and adapting based on your prior movements. Checkpoints in Sekiro are much more charitable than in previous genre entries. You’ll find buddha statues peppered throughout the game’s landscape, and traveling between them is as easy as just navigating a menu. But death never really feels like defeat, just part of the game.
And while fans of this genre may have come to that conclusion sooner, it took an enriched, upfront story and a sweet samurai setting to convince me. But hey, I think that’s OK.
There is plenty to the world of Sekiro and it’s diverse cast of terrifying enemies. Giant ogres, samurai commanders and foot soldiers will ever-frustrate you, but all in your pursuit to feel powerful and see Sekiro’s journey through to its conclusion.
It’s a tight, weighted game that will certainly test your patience. But in every victory, you’ll forget why you were ever frustrated to begin with.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. A review copy was provided by the publisher.