Developer: From Software
Platform Played: PS4 Pro
Completion: Story Completed
Hours Played: ~33
Review Read: ~15mins
Never would I believe that there will come a day when we can say Activision as a studio and publisher has succeeded in not screwing up a game for their developers. From Software’s Sekiro is both a familiar take and a breath of fresh air for the Souls-Bourne franchise.
I picked up Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as an experienced Dark Souls and Bloodbourne player. I loved the Bloodbourne IP and how both Dark Souls and the former pushes you as a player to keep trying till you beat all odds presented against you. When I bought Sekiro, I was mentally prepared to face more dire situations, more scares, and was also ready to be covered in sweat over the sheer anxiety in the game’s different difficult situations.
But Sekiro was a totally different beast for those familiar with the Souls-Bourne franchise. It’s in many ways challenging and at the same time forgiving. Hidetaka Miyazaki was right to say that he wanted this new IP to be set apart to what many of us are familiar with – he was right to say that Sekiro would feel very much a step away from the original Souls-Bourne formula.
Unlike the two iconic IP’s, there are very few (actually, zero) situations where the game would pull a ‘scare you from behind so you learn’ lesson. Instead, the game has a certain demand that you play on their terms; to familiarise yourself with the mechanics and challenges you to master those controls to overcome your adversities. You play on their turf, you play by their rules.
One of the most prominent features of Sekiro is the jump button (where previous franchises will not allow you to jump – the button used for jumping is one used for dashing or rolling). The new jump feature allows for more verticality in combat; it also encourages people to use a new stealth mechanic through that verticality to leverage their situations. There are more mini-bosses in Sekiro than main bosses, and these mini-bosses can be dealt heavy blows to their health if you use stealth to your advantage.
Another mechanic is deflecting and counters. The more you play, the more the game demands you know when to guard or dodge at specific frames of how your enemy strikes. Guarding too early will cause you to plain guard against their attacks and build up this bar called posture. Build up too much posture and your enemies will be able to punish you with A LOT of damage (Which is why you will still die many times.). Adversely, if you time those guards correctly, it will deflect the strikes of your enemies, in turn building up their posture metre; and when you deal enough of posture damage, you will be able to kill them by dealing a deathblow.
To throw in a little bit more colour into the mix, your enemies will also try to attack you using unblockable moves; mainly thrusts, sweeps, and grapples. Early into the game, you would be able to upgrade your character to do a counter move called the “Mikiri Counter.”. This move is essential to counter your enemies’ thrusts. You could also deflect or step away from their thrusts, but it won’t deal as much posture damage to your enemies as much as a Mikiri Counter. The same rules apply: Step towards an enemy for a Mikiri Counter too late or too early, and their thrusts will damage you heavily.
When an enemy sweeps, you will be unable to block his attack. The only two ways you can counter him is to move away and hope to not be caught in the fray, or detect that an enemy is about to do a sweep and jump above him and step on him to deal posture damage. Grapples are never blockable or counterable; you will have to move away from an opponent’s grapple and punish him after he’s done with the animation.
On top of that, you will be using different prosthetics (because in the story, you lose an arm during a battle and is given a prosthetic as a substitute.). These prosthetics are tools that you can use against overwhelming odds. For example, one of the most recent mini-boss is this giant ogre that you will have to fight through to progress through the game. You will learn through eavesdropping that this ogre is afraid of fire, bringing your character through this mini-quest to find means and ways to leverage on that information by finding prosthetics that causes this ogre to cower in fear of open flames (Like the firecracker prosthetic or the flame vent prosthetic.), and then damaging him heavily.
The game forces you to juggle these mechanics and learn to recognise when the opportunity to punish your opponents arises. It encourages you to be like a Shinobi – a ninja, that uses all sorts of tactics and tools to overcome your adversities. There is little character development like adding stats points unlike the previous games, however, you will still be presented deep upgrade trees for your Shinobi character to improve himself.
The story for Sekiro is more flashed out compared to previous games. Previous games rely heavily on exposition through text in the items you find throughout the game and through educated deductions in the environment. Sekiro is different in that there is more dialogue than normal, allowing you to understand the story at face value. This creative direction is probably because From Software wanted the game to be more accessible to other players who would prefer the story to be in the front and centre of the narrative while keeping a certain challenge for Souls-Bourne lovers.
Sekiro was an encouraging journey throughout – As a Souls-Bourne player, I had to unlearn different habits and learn new ones in order to be successful in playing the game. Every boss is satisfying once you’ve killed them not because of the progress you’ve made thus far, but because you overcame your own bad habits and understood from your own hand how to deal with these odds. Once you are familiar with enemy attack patterns, it feels like your hands would move these controls on your own; fast attacks from enemies would seem like slo-mo matrix moments to you because you’ve seen them do the same things over and over again as you die over and over again. Like the previous franchises, the game brings a grand scale to the monsters and various enemies you would fight along with their beautiful sceneries. Sekiro is a game worth playing when you have the mindset that it’s not about accessibility but about education; not about relaxation, but about standing at a top of a metaphorical mountain and shouting about how you can do anything in the face of danger.
For more From Software game reviews, keep it coming in Playbomb Reviews.