Review : Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

There has never been a game that fills me with such uncontrollable rage as FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Never has a game made me utter such profanities, cry in pure frustration and yet still come back for more. There’s this undeniable magnetic pull that sees me returning time and time again to this punishing hellscape, determined to beat the boss that has wiped the floor with me more times than I care to mention – and it’s hard to put our finger on it.Your death won’t come easily. Enter the world of late 1500s Sengoku Japan; a brutal, bloody period of constant life-and-death conflict. As tensions rise, a compelling new story unfolds amongst the chaos. Introducing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a dark and twisted new gameplay experienceYour death won’t come easily. Enter the world of late 1500s Sengoku Japan; a brutal, bloody period of constant life-and-death conflict. As tensions rise, a compelling new story unfolds amongst the chaos. Introducing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a dark and twisted new gameplay experience developed by the renowned team at FromSoftware and published by Activision. Directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a third-person, action-adventure game with RPG elements.

 

In Sekiro, you play as a shinobi called Wolf. As his job title suggests, he uses sneaky ninja skills to avoid or minimize encountering enemies head on. But this is still a From game, and that means that combat is still central to its mechanics.Sekiro is the new game from Dark Souls studio From Software and its renowned director Hidetaka Miyazaki. Comparing games to Dark Souls is a well-trodden cliche at this point, and while there’s more reason to do so with Sekiro than most, it’s the differences that make it interesting.Set in Sengoku period Japan, a realm of blood and fire where no field is without its crop of dropped swords, Shadows Die Twice admits no such disunity of theme. It embraces the fact that you are a malevolent presence, if not beyond redemption, and, like its spiritual forebears, Dark Souls and Bloodborne, plays this out at every level of what is probably the year’s finest game.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a game about the drama of confrontation. Much of its runtime is spent in a series of unforgiving and tightly designed boss fights, forcing you into face-off after face-off against a small army of champions, monsters, and tragic heroes who want you dead. Beating them requires tenacity and a willingness to be direct. Fights in Sekiro, the big, hard fights, aren’t won by hiding, or dodging, or trickery. They’re won through relentless, decisive action. In Sekiro’s feudal Japan, you fight because fighting is the only—the only—way forward.Look at that lump of frozen granite he calls a head, that shrapnel-burst of witchy white hair from sideburn to top-knot. Look at his threadbare coat tails, that dead cat of a scarf – more Fagin than Hattori Hanzo. Look, above all, at the prosthetic arm he acquires after failing to save his young employer Kuro from a rival lord – a blood-caked tangle of iron and wood you’ll endow with a variety of fold-out killing instruments, switching between them with a flick of the wrist.As well as a mostly traditional health bar called “vitality,” both you and your enemies have a secondary meter called “posture” that depletes upon blocking an attack or having your own deflected.

 

I think this makes the game more accessible, but From is still going to From. Attacks still have animation priority. If you started a sword attack, you’re going to have to go through most of it before you can cancel out of it to dodge. But even when you commit to a swing, it closes the input window for only a brief moment.Wolf has stealth abilities that enable him to stay hidden in grass and even in plain sight with certain powerups.Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice isn’t fun, it’s a challenge. It’s eating 100 hot wings covered in ghost pepper sauce to prove you like spice, running a 10K in a panda suit because “who needs to train for a marathon anyway”, or running your friend off the road in go-karting to win a plastic first-place cup.Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the latest from Dark Souls developers From Software. It’s set in a fantasy vision of Sengoku Japan, in the middle of a conflict between the Ashina and Hirata clans. You play a rogue shinobi called Sekiro—the one-armed wolf—charged with protecting a young lord who has the coveted power to defy death. It’s more of an action game than an RPG.

Each area is a puzzle: figure out where to hide, and when to escape to the rooftops, and you can stealthily slice through five or six unfortunate soldiers before anyone realises you’re there. Being outnumbered swiftly leads to your demise, so thinning out the ranks with stealth strikes and plunging blows from tree branches is vital.Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, developer FromSoftware’s new game. It’s a company known for making notoriously difficult games like the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne, and Sekiro shares that lineage. It’s full of masochistic challenges, but it’s also definitely not a Soulsborne game.Instead of chipping down health bars until the enemy keels over, you overwhelm their posture bar with strikes and perfect parries until an opening appears, and then finish with a deathblow.One fight in a tight space with a creature called Long-Arm Centipede Giraffe is basically a rhythm action sequence. You can’t avoid their blitz of attacks; you just have to deflect them all in a shower of sparks and shwing swhing shwing noises. Precise deflections deal posture damage back to the enemy, and some enemies are designed to be defeated using deflections alone.As you progress, you will find (or purchase) upgrades such as the Shuriken Wheel which, when brought to the hairy mentor, becomes a Spinning Shuriken add-on for your prosthetic.allowing you to practise blocking, attacks and other combat without any moral dilemma. He proves particularly helpful as the game’s difficulty ramps up, and you find yourself wanting to practise parrying or new moves/upgrades you have unlocked. You’re still progressing through an unfamiliar land with little guidance, suffering a heavy penalty when you die and resurrect at a checkpoint. But Sekiro’s full title refers to a twist on that mechanic that gives you a chance for instant revival after dying. If this sounds like a crutch, it isn’t.Sekiro begins with a simpler objective than the protagonist of Dark Souls – he’s out to rescue his abducted lord. But as in Dark Souls, his fundamental role is to cut the cords holding back this world’s apocalypse, purging the great beasts, spirits and warriors who keep it in shape. That Sekiro is a shinobi (and an orphan to boot) lends this premise an intriguing undertone of class commentary. Recruited from all levels of Japanese society, the shinobi are often presented in literature as the antidote to the rigid concentration of power and status represented by the samurai.

 

Verdict

I have no real insight to offer on the symbolism of wolves in Japanese culture and myth, but I think Sekiro may be a different beast. He’s more of a cockroach, getting in everywhere and all but impossible to expunge – the kind of wondrous, abhorrent creature that will be first to the top of the rubble pile as and when civilisation comes crashing down.Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is certainly not for everyone. For a certain type of player, it will undoubtedly feel like the most difficult game From Software has ever produced. But it’s also enthrallingly atmospheric, its combat and setting contributing to a palpable, engaging sense of mood.