Review: Sekiro Shadows Die Twice
What seems harmless at first only hurts you in the end. This is a philosophy I had to adopt with both hands in the beginning of Sekiro Shadows Die Twice. An adventure that begins with frustration from misunderstanding grows into an unforgettable experience that ends in hard-earned satisfaction.
Sekiro is set at the end of a fictional Sengoku era in Japan. (1467 – 1600) The story begins with Warlord Isshin Ashina who launched a successful coup to reclaim the land of Ashina. In the aftermath of the war, find a Shinobi named Owl, a child alone on a burning battlefield. Owl decides to take the orphan and gives him the name Wolf.
Twenty years pass and Wolf, now an accomplished Shinobi. Is tasked by Owl to protect his new master Kuro at all costs. Owl speaks out, saying that the foster father's orders will always be above those of his new master. The Shinobi live by the 'Iron Code' disobedience will be met with death.
Wolf's new master Kuro is also called the Divine Heir, because he has the blood of an ancient dragon in him. The blood has the power to immortalize people and will be the central plot element of the story.
The long years have taken a toll on Isshin Ashina. With the fall of his country virtually assured, his grandson Genichiro desperately searches for a solution. He decides to kidnap the Divine Heir Kuro and Wolf tries to free him.
The first confrontation with Genichiro is unsuccessful, causing Wolf to lose his arm and become unconscious. Wolf is then found and rescued by The Sculptor, who equips Wolf with a prosthetic arm equipped with a bunch of Ninja Tools. Because of this, Wolf earns the nickname Sekiro 'The one-armed wolf'. With a new arsenal of weapons in his pocket, Wolf once again puts everything on the line to bring Kuro back.
Mobility as a weapon
From the moment you are in possession of the prosthetic arm, the world of Sekiro opens completely. The arm has a grappling hook so you can swing anywhere.
This added mobility is not only useful for exploring the world, but is also the perfect addition to your Shinobi arsenal. Thanks to the grappling hook, altitude is never a problem. There is always a solution for every situation and as you can expect from a Shinobi, killing enemies in the most efficient way possible is central.
Battles in Sekiro are different from a From Software game. The traditional stamina bar is gone this time and you only own one weapon throughout the game. At first this sounds like a hindrance, but nothing could be further from the truth. Over time, your prowess with the weapon increases to such an extent that you could not wish for a better partner.
The most important change is reflected in the new posture system. Posture is how 'firm' a character stands in a fight. If your posture breaks, your defense breaks and your opponent gets the chance to deliver a fatal blow. This concept is the common thread in every fight. Your posture is therefore just as important as your health points. In boss fights you are even obliged to hand out one or more fatal blows to defeat the boss.
This all sounds very simple on paper, but the posture system is so deep that it is the cause of a lot of unnecessary frustration if you do not master the system properly. So how exactly does the system work? Each attack deals both health and posture damage and you have three different ways to deal with each attack: block, deflect or dodge. Blocking reduces health damage but increases posture damage. Deflecting is the perfect timing of a block when an attack hits you, taking no health damage and dealing posture damage to your opponent. Dodging is completely avoiding the attack so that you can do both health and posture damage. Nice to know is the more health your enemy has,the faster he recovers from posture damage.
To get aggressive
The rules of the posture system ultimately lead to a very aggressive play style that manifests itself in a high risk-high reward philosophy. Your prosthetic arm contributes to this by offering a solution for every distance or situation. Use your shuriken for enemies at a distance or in the air, are they weak to fire, set them on fire. Do they have a shield? crush them with your axe. It is the flexibility that the arm offers in combination with the fast gameplay that ensures that your reflexes are tested at all times. A mistake can mean death and fortunately that is not so bad. Wolf possesses the gift of resurrection. If you have enough resurrection power (which you get from enemies or checkpoints), after a fall you can rise again within a certain amount of time.In normal circumstances, this gives you the element of surprise, as enemies run away after they think they've killed you. If this happens in the middle of a boss fight it is only a second chance and does not give any strategic advantage. In my view, this is a missed opportunity to really do justice to the system.
During the fast fights you notice that if your reflexes are not fast enough, you quickly become a victim of frustration and discomfort. Sometimes the camera doesn't cooperate very well, so you sometimes lose sight of enemies. All in all, the combat in Sekiro is intense, difficult but above all just fun and the sense of accomplishment you get after defeating a difficult enemy is beyond words.
Wolf doesn't have any ninja tools for his prosthetic arm to begin with and very few skills. Ninja tools can be found or bought in different parts of the world. These can be configured and upgraded by The Sculptor in the hub area. The upgrades can provide effects such as fire, poison or more damage.
Skills can be divided into three different categories. Shinobi, Prosthetic and Ashina (sword). Shinobi studies stealth techniques, Prosthetic arms and ninja tools, and Ashina sword techniques. These skills can be bought with skill points in a checkpoint. Skill points are gained by earning enough experience points by defeating enemies. There are two other secret categories that you can unlock at the end of the game. But I won't cover it here for spoiler reasons.
Sekiro is a game that demands everything from you. It's kind of a love/hate relationship that you just can't get enough of. The beginning is a huge learning moment that often makes you inclined to stop. Those who persevere will be richly rewarded with the enormous amount of content that this fantastic world has to offer. Unfortunately, we have to be realistic, the reaction time that Sekiro travels for some battles may mean that the game is not accessible to everyone, especially older players who will suffer from this.
With a lot of practice and patience most obstacles can certainly be overcome, but it is and remains to play with a handicap and not everyone will have the time for this.
Once you've completed the game you will notice that there are different endings available for the story, which greatly increases the replay value.
All in all, Sekiro provides an unforgettable adventure that you can't get enough of.
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