Shadows die twice? More like Stephen Farrelly
dies a lot
. I mean, like, heaps. And of course, that’s the nature of these so-called Soulsborne
games, that I prefer to call Souls-like, because the blueprint isn’t always the same, despite the familiar foundation which essentially has the game ‘reset’ upon each proactive save, and features an excessive reliance on frame-data knowledge where combat is concerned. And the case here with Sekiro
is that that is all true, however, this is Souls-like because there’s enough different here to the Souls games and Bloodborne
, that Sekiro does stand on its own two shinobi-sandled feet.
"I don't know whether it's Stockholm Syndrome or simply reverence for a dev team that rarely puts a foot wrong..."
-- Joab Gilroy
Where my Soulsborne
expert buddies and longtime AusGamers
contributors, Adam “Griz” Mathew
and Joab “Joaby” Gilroy
, both have different spins on the game, and genre larger, for mine my takeaway here is From Software’s
world-building. Griz’s take is that “From Software [has] slickly executed a spin-off quick-dodge in order to destroy (and ultimately delight) its dedicated Dark Souls
fanbase”, while Joab sits in the “love to hate it” camp, despite pushing through and challenging his very soul
, revealing “I don't know whether it's Stockholm Syndrome
or simply reverence for a dev team that rarely puts a foot wrong, but other's praise for Sekiro feels off to me so far. There are too many issues for me to say I love it”.
So on “world-building”: the only other genre I love more than the Western
is pretty much anything featuring ninja or samurai (preferably both). Whether it’s non-fiction historical content, or Takashi Miike
insanity, and everything in between, the reverence I have for samurai culture and history is large
, to say the least. So where Sekiro sings most to me is in its unique spin on samurai and shinobi culture mixed with monsters and the supernatural. The story here, and its delivery which is in subtitled Japanese
, is really quite powerful. The game’s characters and dialogue simply sing. It’s almost poetic and I find myself pushing through the anxiety-inducing combat to reach the next piece of dialogue or story beat. It’s honestly that good.
Why exactly it’s so good is in its pacing and in the casual normalcy
of its fantastical side. Everything here feels like it belongs, whether it’s a man who can’t die, a sculptor who can make artificial limbs but sickens every time you die, or even giant snakes -- Sekiro’s world feels
complete and normal. It’s pretty in parts, too. Not quite as visually spectacular as a number of other games in the 4K HDR era, and I have suffered a few camera jumps here and there playing on Xbox One X
, but on my Samsung 65” QLED Q9F
it is still very, very pleasing to the eye, especially where art-direction and design is concerned. Animations, to be expected, are spot-on. Enemy design and variety is also a standout, while day and night missions give you a different visual experience alongside weather, so you know, visually spectacular ways of dying
“Take the shinobi axe from the temple, and split their skulls with it…
” is a line from the game’s epic NPC dialogue. And it’s in writing like this that I’ve pushed on, despite the game’s contentious nature where slaying me for spamming, or laziness is concerned.
"He’s addressed to us as an anomaly -- someone who maybe shouldn’t be here, or maybe even be...
Much has been said of the decision to forego a character creation system in place of a standalone story-specific protagonist we only know as Lone Wolf
, but it works here. You can still upskill him, and there’s a certain attachment to his plight. The story loosely
places him in the world, but his memory and place within it aren’t entirely known, so mystery permeates his, and therefore your
, cause. Moreover, in a more Souls-like spin, he’s addressed to us as an anomaly -- someone who maybe shouldn’t be here, or maybe even be
, but all of that adds to the poetic nature of the game I mentioned earlier.
Obviously the crux of these games is the challenge and combat, and it doesn’t fail to deliver on those fronts. Your wall of anger won’t be so easily scaled either, because Sekiro almost never
tells you what to do. Level (or world) design is brilliant in that you have a seemingly linear path ahead of you, but careful scanning of each ‘section’ usually reveals a way to bypass that and skip ahead, however, doing so also means you might be about to face an enemy you’re not ready for. Each enemy drops Sen (money), and also gives you XP towards skill points. But even getting to that part of the game, which isn’t available out of the gate, is an effort. Still, there’s a wonderful loop tied to all of this where you can manage world resets versus trying to stay alive for as long as you can for larger gain. Risk-reward is huge
in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
The reason for the suffix in Sekiro’s title is another differential and draws back to my comment earlier about the mysterious nature of Lone Wolf, in that you have the option to Resurrect after a death on a world playthrough. You can also gain items that allow you to prolong this, but largely the game gives you a chance to try again without the heavy weight of a reset on your shoulders, but it’s almost a carrot on a string system, and feels somewhat trollish, if I’m being honest. Because you, in principle, get just one more chance before a true Death.
"You’ll fight the camera as much as you’ll fight the enemy, and if you get mobbed early on, even by just two or three extra baddies, you’re probably fucked..."
Combat initially is actually quite fast and aggressive. You’ll fight the camera as much as you’ll fight the enemy, and if you get mobbed early on, even by just two or three extra baddies, you’re probably fucked. They fein attacks and draw out animation sequences to lull you into your riposte, in order to waste it. You and everyone you encounter has a ‘posture’ bar, and your goal is to wear this down to be able to freely break their blocks, but it’s not even remotely as simple as it sounds. Attack sequences, enemy-to-enemy, are enormously diverse, and most areas or zones have a dark horse baddie to throw your rhythm out. The first time I encountered the locked up ogre without the ability to douse him in oil and shoot fire at him, I had flashbacks of the blind Garrador
from Resident Evil 4
, which is almost PTSD-inducing.
Actually, it straight-up is.
There’s a cadence to how you choose to move through the world, how you choose to progress your character and how you choose to engage. Stealth is big here, but the game-world design is such that it’s not always your only option, or may even be your downfall should the game decide to spot and mob/aggro you. Managing multiple enemies in Sekiro is almost a fruitless task. You’re kind of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Such is the twisted design mind of Hidetaka Miyazaki
Still, with the grappling hook, its myriad upgrades and a faster approach to player-movement and combat, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a glorious departure to the laborious nature of the Souls games and Bloodborne. This doesn’t mean it’s not as demanding or brutal, but the speedier nature of things at least gives you a false sense of progressive proprietary. As false as it actually is.
If, like me, you’ve always just shied from games that punish for the sake of punishing, but thoroughly enjoy a story with mystery, excellent dialogue and unique fantastical components, Sekiro will punish, but it will also deliver in damascus folds. Folds upon folds. Prepare to die though, and much more than twice.