Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – Review

Or: How I Learned To Stop Breaking Controllers and Admit Defeat

Can you accurately review a game without finishing it? Can you claim a game is one of your favourite games if after 20hrs you never plan on playing it again due to the anger and frustration it causes?

Well, I plan on doing both, as it is exactly how I feel about From Software’s latest addition to their Soulsborne genre, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. In the 10 years since Demon Souls released, the genre has evolved and become more finely tuned than ever, while arguably becoming harder and more intense. Sekiro holds the core values that made the Souls games so fantastic and guides them in a different direction, creating something new, fresh and quite frankly phenomenal. It’s the first to properly implement stealth and strangely the first to fully incorporate jumping into its mechanics (which I’ll go into more a bit later on).

The plot of the game is a reasonably simple revenge tale, following the main protagonist wolf as he works his way through a reimagined 16th century Japan. There is a fair chunk of side and back story to flesh things out but I feel the story is there to simply hold the true shining glories of the game, which are the world itself and the combat. As with the other Souls games, there are mechanics in place in which dying isn’t the end of the road. These mechanics blend in with the theme and make it work in the context of the story. Basically, when you die you get a chance at coming back to life with half of your health.thats great right? I mean it’s an extra life in which you can hence another go, what could be bad about that? Well if you die you redrawn at the last shrine you used, lose half your money and half of your non-banked experience.  You’ve got to think, most of the time you would have died to something strong. That string thing will still be near you when you resurrect. I found more often then not I’d die again. I’d make a good stab at it but would ultimately fall.

The question of is this better then the mechanic of the old games of when you respawn you have a chance if getting it all back or losing it all? The answer is it works here. It’s very frustrating when you die again but also incredibly rewarding when you rise up and take revenge on the thing that killed you. Losing half your money feels a little unfair but considering in the old Souls games your currency and experience were the same it makes sense.

The combat is absolutely amazing with a very quick and pretty steep learning curve. In the early areas you can, for the most part, make the odd mistake but still win a fight. Later on and especially with the bosses, a single mistimed button press could be you dead in a single hit. It’s this brutal need for perfect timing which gives the game a lot of its difficulty. To master it you need to learn fast. The more you die, the more you learn attack patterns and how to avoid or when to counter. It’s much like the other Souls games in the ‘make one mistake and you can die’ but makes it harder with quicker attacks and a blocking bar which when you’ve blocked too much can lead to a one hit kill from the enemy.

Although I feel combat is harder than the other games, Sekiro is easily the most accessible (well on par with Bloodborne). You don’t have a stamina bar which means you don’t have to worry about monitoring it, you also have a lot more traversal techniques allowing for quick escapes of a far more vertical nature. The verticality plays a large part in the other main mechanic, stealth. Stealth is important in this game if you want to make it through the game (I imagine there are people who’ve completed it by going all out aggression but they are the brave few). It helps with picking off lone enemies before they can alert others while also helping to clear areas near bosses. It’s also useful in the fact you can eavesdrop on conversations to get hints on how to defeat a certain enemy or what may be lying ahead. I didn’t pay too much attention to one conversation and skipped through the dialogue. This backfired when I entered a valley and died from something I would’ve known about. It works nicely and feels a bit like a more simplified Tenchu game (an old PlayStation favourite in which you play a ninja and have to assassinate people using stealth and cunning).

As I’ve hinted at before, the game is pretty unforgiving and will teach you a strong lesson if you mess up. For me, that is part of the charm. Rarely will you die from the game being unfair (although it can often feel that way), its usually because you messed up. I can’t remember how many times I died to the first big boss, a general on horseback. He wasn’t even that hard but I kept going for that one extra hit and would die. It felt unfair, I got angry, I broke a controller. But I learnt it was me, not the game. It’s a game that is not suited to anyone who’s impatient or expecting a quick hack and slash game. It perfectly blends that line between love and hate. I went from hating the game to feeling elated when I finally succeeded. It’s one of the few games that makes you feel you’ve achieved something after some of the smallest fights. It’s the moments where you just scrape a win and are almost dead where you feel you’ve succeeded, but know that the next time you might not be so lucky. Without the difficulty level, the game wouldn’t be the same. Part of its charm is the fact it takes no prisoners. If it were to be a mere hack and slash game, it would be pretty but wouldn’t stand out. But for what it is, it’s perfection.

The graphics are stunning and make a nice change from the dark grimy castles and dank streets of the Souls games. The setting is amazing and the developers have gone to town creating a believable yet fantastical world to tell the story in. The areas in the game are big and have multiple routes through them which helps if you get stuck. If you find yourself hitting a wall there’s usually somewhere else you can go and something else to do.

For me though when all is said and done I won’t ever play it again, I’ll never finish it and will probably sell my copy. I invested 20+hrs into it and both loved and loathed it. No other game had me so angry while enticing me back to keep trying again. In my time gaming, only 2 games have made me break a controller in anger. This was one of them. I personally find it too hard but can see how fantastic it is. When you do well it’s a feeling very few games give you. But I found the more frustrated I got the more I died. Do I regret putting 20+hrs into it? No. I genuinely found the game as an experience fascinating.

Even though I have no intention of playing it again I still think it’s up there for game of the year and it really is a phenomenal experience for those who can fully gel with it. For me I just had to accept defeat.