FromSoftware is one of the most treasured developer’s of our time. A brainchild of Hidetaka Miyazaki, the studio is known for it’s mechanically driven, atmosphere heavy, challenge-laden masterpieces. Their games always stand out from the tried and true formulas and aren’t afraid to evoke a sense of discovery, tutelage, and punishment. As a reviewer, I consider Bloodborne to be their magnum opus, and Demon’s Soul to be an essential play for any enthusiast of our medium. And so we find ourselves here, in 2019, with an all new I.P. Today it is my pleasure to review- Sekiro: Shadow’s Die Twice- the most frenetic, and action packed FromSoftware game yet.
Sekiro takes place in the 16th Century Sengoku period in Japan. During this period, the Warlord Isshin Ashina, stages a bloody coup and seizes control of the lands of Ashina. After twenty years of rule, the now elderly Isshin falls ill. Genichiro, the grandson to Isshin, captures the Divine Heir Kuro, so he can use his ‘Dragon Heritage’ to raise an immortal army to defend the clan. You play the part of Seju, an orphan brought up by a Shinobi known as Owl. Seju tries to save Kuro, but is defeated by Genichiro losing an arm in the process. The game follow Seju’s journey as he confronts Genichiro again.
FromSoftware isn’t shy when it comes to their unapologetic gameplay design. Sekiro carries the Dark Souls DNA when it comes to difficulty. Player’s will start off with virtually nothing – but as the game progresses a handy Kitana and Prosthetic Arm will liven the battlefield. The crux of the gameplay is here- where both weapons are used to maneuver, fight, and dodge. For example, the grappling hook on your prosthetic arm blazes across the map seamlessly evoking a sense of being an actual Ninja. As a fan of the Tenchu franchise, the inspiration became evident. In terms of fighting mechanics, Sekiro delivers in spades. Strikes are performed with the Kitana and are further extended to actions of parrying, dodging, and blocking. The most important caveat to note is timing is EVERYTHING. It can make or break a session.
Contrary to the Soulsbourne pedigree, Sekiro doesn’t have a traditional leveling system. Gone are farming blood echoes and souls to increase stats. In this game, skill points are earned to enhance abilities. This helps drive the point home that it will take sheer skill to win. Players can use skill points to unlock new techniques at the Buddha statue. This is the very same statue that’s used to fast travel.
Just like the classic Tenchu series, players can get stealthy which adds variety to the overall experience. The one I appreciate in Sekiro is the ability to pause the game if you have something important to do. Previous Soulsborne games never allowed this feature so it’s definitely refreshing to see this. Unlike the Soulsborne games, Sekiro is less punishing when it comes to dying. Players will lose in-game currency and a small chunk of their skill points. Not a deal breaker- but it will discourage haphazard play.
Let me get this out of the way. Sekiro is artistically a marvel. Feudal Japan meets high fantasy looks horrific, beautiful, and dreary. The visual design extends to enemy animation where victory depends on visual cues on when to parry, attack, or dodge. Each new area is laden with spectacular pageantry from monolithic buildings, dense foliage, and fire effects galore. The world features diverse locations with each area looking completely different to one another. The game runs at a stunning 1800p on the Xbox One X and a checkerboard 1800p on the PS4 Pro. However, the story doesn’t end there. With a game like this, the frame rate is king, and the PS4 Pro comes out on top. So ultimately, for both console owners, you need to choose between higher framerate or better visual fidelity. To be frank, both versions look fantastic.
And than, lastly, there’s that famous FromSoftware soundtrack. Subdued, oriental, and mystical in tone- the soundtrack knows when to bombast and when to temper you. The audio design especially is of importance so you can be aware of any surprise attacks or opportunities to parry.
Overall, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a pleasure. It is the shot in the arm the Soulsborne genre needed to remain fresh. The ante was upped, the challenge was modified, and the world has never been more lively. In terms of early 2019- this is an early Game of the Year Contender. Highly recommended.
A review code was provided by Activision UK
Developer: FromSoftWare / Publisher: Activision
Release date: 22/03/2019
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4 and PC
Version Reviewed: Xbox One X
“Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an unrelenting crescendo of brutality, beauty, and mechanical tactility”