Released on: March 22nd 2019
Available Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
Price: $79.99 CDN ($59.99 US)
I had never given games like Dark Souls or Bloodborne too much attention. While I enjoyed both Bloodborne and Dark Souls, I never felt fully engrossed. The clunky combat and the crushing difficulty keeping me well at bay. So when Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was initially announced, I ignored it. Another game like Dark Souls or Bloodborne didn’t really appeal to me. Despite this, I decided to give it a chance soon after its release. So what did I think?
The story, while simple, is engaging. The player takes on the role of a ninja ambushed by a samurai warlord after saving his young master. The warlord cuts off the ninja’s arm and retakes the master prisoner. The player then gets a prosthetic arm and they set out on their quest to save their master once again. Sekiro presents the player with choices that will affect which of the different endings the player will experience. This makes multiple playthroughs of Sekiro that much more enticing.
The graphics in Sekiro are phenomenal. I love the Japanese aesthetic and Sekiro provides plenty of it with its Edo period-inspired buildings, autumn-like forests and a flooded castle surrounded by cherry blossom trees. This makes it more enjoyable to backtrack to these areas for more experience, more items, and missed characters.
The level design in Sekiro, for the most part, is brilliant. Since the player is a ninja, they are required to study their surroundings for the optimal approach to eliminate their opposition. Do they jump from rooftop to rooftop to strike from above or sneak around the area to completely bypass the guards? The area might even have a few secrets that reward exploration, like a merchant willing to sell the player important items or even information.
The gameplay of Sekiro is fast-paced, exciting and satisfying. Sekiro places a lot of emphasis on sneaking (appropriate since you are a ninja) and parrying. The player and the enemies have a health meter and a Poise meter. With the Poise meter comes the importance in knowing when to attack, block or parry. Getting parried or blocking too many attacks will break the person’s Poise. When this happens, the player is vulnerable to attack and the enemy is susceptible to an instant deathblow. Sekiro also gives the player access to ninja tools such as a grappling hook to quickly get on rooftops and high places, shurikens, firecrackers and more.
Sekiro is a challenging game that demands patience, perception and persistence. The title “Shadows Die Twice” refers to the fact that if the player loses all their health, they can come back to life on the spot. This ability is limited, as the player cannot use it again until they use a deathblow on an enemy and only if they have sufficient charge to their Dragon Meter as well. While this is extremely helpful, it is far from a guaranteed win as death is an inevitable part of the learning process of Sekiro. Even though the game is challenging, overcoming the seemingly insurmountable roadblocks presented in Sekiro is one of the most gratifying things I have ever experienced from a video game.
The one major drawback I have with Sekiro is the aforementioned high level of difficulty. It presents a high barrier of entry that is not known to be kind to new, inattentive or defeatist players. Sekiro also requires the player to master the parrying mechanic and thinking under pressure if they wish to beat it. While some see it as a challenge, it is understandable that others might see Sekiro as too crushing to be enjoyable.
Important locations can easily be missed by those without a keen eye. In my initial playthrough, for example, I missed a merchant that unlocks a helpful item simply because I passed by the area thinking it wasn’t important, making future enemy encounters that much more arduous.
Even though Sekiro is a punishing game, it is the only game I remember giving a standing ovation. Excellent level design, incredibly gratifying gameplay, gorgeous graphics, and multiple endings, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a must-play for those up to the challenge.