Bound by honor to his kidnapped master, take to the shadows and fight against the feudal warlord standing in your way of revenge.
From Software is a Japanese game developer known and loved for the Dark Souls series. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a spiritual successor to the Souls games, bringing the familiar game mechanics, difficulty, and brutal, unforgiving enemies into a more traditionally Japanese setting. I’ve played and beaten every Souls game, and I’ve missed playing games that make me question my life choices. Sekiro kicked my ass mercilessly, and it filled me with satisfaction when I finally beat its ass in return. It was the same prideful, sadistic feeling you only find in From Software titles.
The game is set in feudal Japan. The protagonist is Sekiro/Okami (Wolf), a ninja and assassin in service to Kuro, the Divine Heir and only surviving descendant of an ancient clan. Genichiro, warlord and clan leader, is after the key to immortality Kuro possesses for the salvation of his clan.
This is the driving narrative of Sekiro. Okami duels Genichiro in the game’s opening. Okami loses both the fight and his left arm. While this seems dismal, you are saved by a mysterious elder, who fits you with a handy prosthetic, a unique tool that helps differentiate Sekiro from Dark Souls and give it its own identity.
You’ll upgrade the Shinobi Prosthetic throughout the game, making it more versatile and powerful. Possible tools include a grappling hook, shinobi firecrakers, and even fire blasts. Your chosen tools will affect playstyle and strategies used against opponents.
Dark Souls was very horizontal in its layout, keeping the player with both feet on the ground most of the time with verticality interspersed on occasion. It was easy to forget the series even had a jump button. Sekiro is much more mobile in comparison.
Fitting for a ninja, the landscape is part of your strategy. Mobility is rewarded. Run across rooftops, swim through rivers and lakes, and skulk through tall grass. Given you’ll often be outnumbered, use the landscape to take out enemies one by one. Most enemies can be killed via stealth attacks, so whittle the enemy’s ranks down as much as you can before openly attacking whoever remains. Okami has little protection, so dodge and block deftly. A few strong hits can take you out. You’re a ninja, not a tank, so fight accordingly.
Sekiro also introduces a posture system, another mechanic similar to Dark Souls‘ poise system. Okami and enemies both have posture meters. Certain actions lower posture, which can lead to the depleted person being staggered, leaving them open to a death blow. Parrying is a main source of posture depleting. If Okami perfectly parries an enemy’s attack, the enemy loses posture. If the parry is mistimed, however, Okami loses posture; successfully attacking enemies gains posture. The posture mechanic is also important when dealing with bosses. Watch out when they get low on health as their posture fills up much more rapidly.
Bonfires have been replaced with a resurrection system. Upon death, you’re given the option to resurrect. If you opt to come back this way, you have a meter that lets you resurrect again if you fill it. If you die before that meter is filled (or you choose to not resurrect), you’re taken to your last checkpoint. The fitfully lit bonfires are now idols that you pray at. The resurrection system doesn’t make Sekiro an easier experience than Dark Souls; Miyazaki made sure of it. While it is more lax in some areas, it’s less forgiving in other areas.
You don’t have a plethora of armor and weapons to choose from, relying on core combat skills more than you did in Lothric and Drangleic. Leveling up is also different. You do get some stat upgrades, but experience gets new moves rather than stat boosts. This is one of the bigger changes from the Dark Souls formula, but it’s a welcome one.
It still takes effort, practice, and a few wallops to overcome many of the game’s challenges. Your equipment load isn’t a factor anymore. Instead, you rely much more heavily on learning and reading enemy moves and taking advantage of weaknesses. In some ways you work harder for your victories than in Dark Souls. But that adrenaline rush of satisfaction is just as rewarding when you finally watch the enemy hit the ground.
Overall, you’ll find a very familiar experience in a new setting. Everything From Software learned in Dark Souls is brought to Sekiro in a refined layout that adds its own flavor to the formula. While brutally punishing, the game is also fair and rewards effort. I missed the series after Dark Souls 3, but Sekiro is the first thing to fill that void and will be the last until From Software gives us another masterpiece.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a fitting successor for the Dark Souls mantle. It requires more effort and dedication than other games, but it rewards the courageous. No other game has successfully captured the reward that Dark Souls offered for those brave enough to take up the challenge – that is, until Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Given that both of these games come from From Software, that should really be no surprise. Sekiro is one hell of a brutal journey, but it’s worth it in the end. You’ll never feel as invincible as you do after a brutal victory that leaves you breathless and wiping sweaty palms.