Tyler Eddins | Contributing Writer
The developers of “Dark Souls” and “Bloodborne” FromSoftware continues their trend of creating beautiful, bloody and disgustingly difficult games with “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice”. The war-torn era of Sengoku period Japan is the grim background for the delightfully brutal action-adventure game.
“Sekiro” takes a different route from “Dark Souls” be eliminating multiple RPG elements. The biggest being creating your own character. You instead play as the titular shinobi Sekiro, who is in charge of protecting his young lord, a descendant of an ancient bloodline thought to be the key of some forgotten power.
After an intense, yet futile fight with an enemy warrior, Sekiro loses not only his lord but also one of his arms. He wakes up in a shrine, saved by a sculptor who pulled Sekiro’s lifeless body from where his foe had left him. At this point the sculptor has nursed Sekiro back to health, given him the Shinobi Prosthetic Arm and information about where his master has been taken.
Your mission is now clear; find and save your young lord by any means necessary.
Your new arm has a grappling hook-like mechanism and can be equipped with other attachments by bringing Prosthetic Tools back to the sculptor. The grappling hook feature helps to obtain access to various parts of the world map and give you the ability to take breaks from difficult fights by quickly moving out of range.
Along with the grappling feature, “Sekiro’s” fighting and movement mechanics are smoother than FromSoftware’s previous titles. With the “Dark Souls” series, these mechanics felt laborious and almost clunky, like you’re moving underwater. In contrast, “Sekiro” feels like you’re running on water with your dodge and dash actions being swift and able to get you safely away from most attacks.
The key to “Sekiro’s” fighting system is to fill your opponent’s posture meter to send them off balance and leave them open to a brutal deathblow animation that will immediately kill most enemies. You can also just attack until their health bar empties and they simply fall to the ground dead. However, that’s nowhere near as satisfying.
A deathblow can be achieved by attacking your foe, blocking and parrying their attacks. You can also get deathblows without combat by sneaking up behind them. You’ll know you’re ready for the gruesome animation when a bright red circle appears on their torso.
However, not all enemies will fall to one measly deathblow. Some opponents will have multiple red circles above their health bar to indicate how many it will take to defeat them. Do not let this discourage you though. If you are able to creep up behind and perform a deathblow on them before you initiate combat, then your opponent will lose a large amount of health and the fight will become much easier.
If you try to just dive in and blast your way through a horde of enemies then you’re going to have a rough time. Using patience and stealth to plan your attacks is necessary to get through the game with some sort of sanity and minimal deaths.
Before your battle with the warrior in the beginning of the game, your young lord indirectly bestows upon you an ability that allows you to revive yourself and get right back in the fight.
However, if you use this ability too often then a mysterious disease called Dragon Rot will start to infect multiple NPCs in the world. This makes certain merchants unavailable along with some other negative side effects.
If you die again shortly after using revive, or just choose not to use it at all, then you will respawn at the last Sculptor’s Idol you visited.These idols are similar to “Dark Souls” bonfires. Here you can rest, unlock abilities, fast travel to other idols and perform many other functions.
Enemies in “Sekiro” can be insanely difficult with some being able to kill you with one attack. The parrying action can be hard to master, and some attacks can’t be parried at all. This requires you to memorize the wind ups of various attacks to know when to parry, jump or dash out of the way. Pair this with your often easy to break posture, and even players who’ve mastered some of FromSoftware’s other titles will be severely challenged.
Combat isn’t the only unforgiving part of “Sekiro”. When you die you lose half your gold and a chunk of the experience you’ve gained. Experience that is needed to add new moves and abilities to "Sekiro".
The only way this doesn’t happen is through Unseen Aid which is the god’s looking down on you and essentially granting you a free pass. In the beginning Unseen Aid has a 30 percent chance of occurring. Though the percentage of obtaining Unseen Aid falls drastically lowers the more Dragon Rot spreads.
With a beautiful cinematic story and familiar yet also different fighting mechanisms, “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” feels like a strong stand-alone title rather than the “Dark Souls” or “Bloodborne” reskin that many fans were afraid of it being. You will die and you will most
definitely rage quit. However, you will have some of the most fun you’ve had with a video game in a long time.
With fresh ideas and hours upon hours of gruesome battles and story, $60 is a fair price point for this early "Game of the Year" contender.