Unless you are a God, you are definitely not going to die only twice in Sekiro-that is a certainty. In fact you will be dying a lot and spending more time fighting the numerous bosses again and again until you beat them. Sekiro is one dark and almost hopeless tale of a falling dynasty and a Shinobi out to protect his ward and establish a place for himself. This man is the Wolf (or Sekiro as he is later named) and as the game progresses he will eventually make his own choices. A few hints-this means he will probably kill everyone who he has ever been loyal to or about 95% of the people he meets-if he doesn’t die dozens of times at their hands before that.
Story and background? Well Ashina lands are in the midst of a ravaging fire of terrible destruction in the wake of a devastating war for the clan and the country. Based in the Sengoku period of Japan in the 16th century the game does not stick to reality and you face some fantastical enemies too, including a raging bull with flaming horns, a massive slithering serpent, a guardian ape, other than human enemies including the Ashina ruler and Genichiro.
This game has won multiple awards and so I decided to try it despite my reservations for games exceedingly difficult like this one. And by far this is the most difficult ones I have tried and I could not complete it. So, for casual gamers this is a no-no right there. But this game is so much fun I recommend it anyway, perhaps as an experiment of what some of the toughest games look like. And this certainly isn’t a disadvantage for competitive players who want a challenge, as well as bragging-rights over the fact that they were such remarkable and dedicated gamers that they finished this torturous game.
In Sekiro a boss fight is right around the corner and these bosses are so tough as nails, I eventually began dreading fighting them. I also found that I was, at times being unfair to myself by getting a little irate about my inability to beat the bosses or the game. At least I did not break my PS4 or engage in self-destructive gaming rage but I was on the verge and I had to stop for sanity’s sake. This is the complaint of the average casual gamer, but hardcore gamers have enjoyed it so much that Sekiro has developed a cult audience and following around it.
The setting is amazing and the allusion to, and fictionalization of medieval Japan, is pretty interesting. I enjoyed the game more with Japanese language with English subtitles because it felt very different for once. I mean how many English language games do you remember playing, compared to games in any other language? And for gaming to be accessible to wider populations there have to be games made in local languages. Till now I have never seen any highly successful game from any vastly thriving developer that has Arabic or Urdu language functionality and it seems to be a shame sometimes, even though most games have functionality for other top languages in the world including Russian, French and Spanish.
I would have liked to see some civilians present too in these trying times though, other than the ones in your temple (that offer certain upgrades), which is kind of like a rest-house and nerve center for your upgrades. A seemingly crippled monk with a well-designed personality here fits Sekiro with an arm prosthetic and carves statues for a pass time. You can come to him to upgrade your arm and abilities here.
The combat is marvelously done and there are different tactics to use for different boss battles. And boy are there many bosses. There is that raging and terrifying bull (which conveniently gets released from its chains as you approach it) I mentioned, that charges at you madly with its flaming horns causing some brutal damage. And he is hard to get behind and even get a single hit with your sword at one time. There’s a general on horseback with his vicious charge and a much slower boss with a long spear too who is hard to strike because of the greater reach of his weapon. It is extremely gratifying when you take down one of these bosses and I have never felt such a feeling of accomplishment in any single game.
Each one of these bosses require some change in how you approach them individually and you need to learn their specific behaviors and die several times before you can learn their attack patterns and parry their attacks. In fact the same is true for the various other enemies that you encounter.
Fighting is usually concentrated around blocking attacks from your foes rather than avoiding them. You have to parry perfectly and sometimes the fights take an hour, mostly because it is so hard to find an opening against your enemies. This does not include grinding to eliminate all tough-to-beat bosses, which could easily bring each boss fight to taking at least three hours each. Sekiro is going to take a long time to accomplish and if you lack time this game is not for you.
Luckily you can catch some of the bosses and regular enemies unaware by stealthily crouching behind them and taking them out, killing regular enemies and taking out one of the life orbs those over-powered bosses have (Most bosses have two orbs consisting of their health bar, meaning you have to kill them twice).
Even the basic enemies are a problem. Among tips to deal with them are taking them down stealthily and silently as much as you can. You do not want to be facing five or six of these enemies at one time-let alone the bosses. You can also make use of your grappling hook if things get totally heated and perch yourself upon a rooftop to recuperate. Note there is no button-mashing to get out of these fights and the same trick usually does not work for each fight.
Shadows Die Twice is also pretty narrative driven compared to other games from From Software and the story stands out. But eventually you are going to get rid of almost everyone you meet.
The graphics are astounding too and a level of detail can be found in Sekiro. There are medieval edifices like castles, there are open fields and there are murky caverns. But when I remember Sekiro I remember fire (other than the boss fights). Now I might sound like a pyromaniac but there is something beautiful and peaceful about the fires even, though they set a melancholic mood. Burning torches, charred castles and the flaming prosthetic on Sekiro’s arm-one of the many upgrades Sekiro can apply to himself, really improve the game even though the skill tree isn’t far too advanced.
Sekiro also makes a subtle allusion to Buddhism with the implied role of fire throughout the game to not only set the mood, but give tribute to fire’s (sometimes ignored) role in Buddhism. If you analyze this abundance of fire, you will see this is based in Sengoku Japan’s Buddhist heritage (at the time). Fire mainly denotes the self in Buddhism. Buddha says that fire is not lasting and changeless as is the self. How this fits into Sekiro? Well a fire eventually dies after consuming the oxygen around it, so it isn’t usually lasting. It also changes in intensity, flames licking the air, rising and declining. If given enough time it changes, or rather stifles into nothing. I don’t know if this aspect was added by clever design or casual indifference but is an amazing concept to be pulled off in Sekiro that not only teaches us something about Buddhism but makes us think and analyze every aspect of psychological mystery the entire game presents.
Some of Sekiro’s themes also center around immortality and the suggestion of the fire being in-enduring (mortal, if such a term can be given to something not alive) takes an implicit but reverse swipe at the idea of immortality in the game, especially since there is a twist and a way to end immortals too in Sekiro. I don’t want to spoil the story but there are multiple references to immortality, which Japan, as well as the rest of the world, had been obsessed with at the time.
The physical size of Sekiro is small in comparison to his enemies. However this reinforces the games feel. The game gives you no illusion that you are facing incredible odds and these massive enemies fit the bill perfectly fine.
This is nowhere near an Open world but in Sekiro there are also several opportunities to explore and usually this exploration leads to the discovery and collection of various items including perishables and what not.
Wolf has a somber personality. I have never seen him smile, chuckle or express amusement in any form throughout the game at all-if anyone can actually smile anyway when the country is at war and death is a companion at every moment of this journey. Needless to say the personality of Sekiro and the setting really steals the show and its clear why this game has won four awards and been nominated for more.
S:SDT is one of the best games out there in 2019, particularly if you are looking for a massive challenge. It comes with the shiny sword-glint of making you feel high on your gaming competency. The boss fights are grueling, gritty and require you to learn their behavior and patterns just as the combat is seamless. The sights are amazing and the characters have a severe and grim personality which underpins the futility of this brutal war. If you concentrate you will even find this game tacitly philosophical and it’s Buddhist theme intriguing, with a setting that I don’t remember being present in a video game before.
Review Platform: PC
- Boss fights may be tough but defeating those bosses is rewarding.
- Heaven for the hardcore gamer.
- There are a lot of diversified enemies and bosses.
- Great setting and allusion to medieval Japan.
- Game is made to be played in Japanese language.
- Presents the Buddhist heritage of Japan.
- Lots of options to explore.
- Various upgrades to unlock.
- Characters have various personalities and the game goes to lengths to explain that these are trying times.
- Extremely difficult game.
- Time consuming. You have to often face the same boss for as long as four hours (because of the difficulty).