REVIEW: ‘Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’ is the Most Difficult Game of 2019 (PS4)

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Blood, war, the screams of death howling in the night, and the ground boils with the blood of the fallen. When darkness befalls a peaceful land, one man must retrieve his master and uphold his ideals. From From Software, the legendary makers of the Dark Souls trilogy comes Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a game that shifts from a dark fantasy of fire and brimstone to an elegant scape of mountains and trees. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is absolutely one of the most unforgiving games I have ever played, but for those brave enough to enter it, it is an engaging action-adventure experience that will sink its talons into you.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice takes place in 16th century Japan, a time of war and bloodshed that dominates the land. From the ashes of the battlefield, we see a young boy, having lost his friends and master. He is picked up and sworn in to become a warrior with a new clan, and over the years, trains to become a shinobi. Known as Wolf, he sent on a rescue mission to retrieve his captured master, only to be ambushed and lose his arm in the process. Reawakened, he is given a prosthetic arm that is capable of storing a solid amount of tools and secondary weapons. Now, you set out on a journey to retrieve your master from the clutches of great evil.

To put it simply, this game is hard. Perhaps, it is even the hardest game I have played this console generation. I am not saying that because this is my first go-around at a soulsborne game, but instead as someone that has played many games and have strong, yet woeful memories of playing certain ones on the hardest difficulty setting. That being said, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a whole new beast compared to proud mode in Kingdom Hearts, Veteran mode in Call of Duty, or the hardest setting in God of War. This game will give you tutorials, but after that, it doesn’t hold your hand.

This game originally began as a successor to the Tenchu games, a stealth-action franchise that gave From Software their start. Naturally, as the game grew, they decided to turn it into something all its own. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an action-adventure game with plenty of combat mechanics for the players to utilize, but it will demand the highest amount of patience and discipline from the player. As a shinobi, you will have the ability to wield their katana, shuriken, and other weapons.

Players also have the ability to acquire new weapons and tools for their arm, which becomes a swiss-army knife of sorts, able to dispense explosives, wield an ax, and even grapple onto distant targets among other things. That being said, you will have to rely on their holy katana and use that to engage in the game’s various enemies.

Like in other From Software games, even the simplest enemies are dangerous. Regular soldiers and generals will always gang up on you and exploit every weakness you have. Their attacks are incredibly unpredictable and often unexpected. They will play dirty and without mercy, especially the more supernatural enemies. In one instance, I faced an ogre, and while the game gives you the hint that it is weak to fire, I was unable to acquire fire because I didn’t have enough money or tools. I had to face the ogre by myself with my katana and the ogre proceeded to pummel me and even throw me off a cliff without any control, leading to many cheap deaths.

Deathblows are one of the mechanics unique to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. These can be made when a player has deflected attacks or made a stealth approach. This shows the Tenchu inspiration, but also becomes one of the most important aspects to Sekiro’s combat. If you are good, you can dispatch an entire contingent of enemies based on stealth alone. When combat happens, that’s when the player will always feel outnumbered and at a disadvantage, making stealth a must. When used, it becomes both satisfying and rewarding.

That being said, you can’t use stealth one hundred percent of the time and combat is inevitable in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. You will have to rely on timed evading and parrying, along with aggressive engagement with the enemy. This is where you will feel rewarded, but also, punished. Facing an experienced soldier or general, and besting them, is always satisfying, but facing the more supernatural enemies is an uphill battle. Using parrying and blocking wears the enemy down, and inevitably exposes a weak point.

This is where the you can use a deathblow. However, keep in mind some enemies will grab, or are so large, they cannot be parried, making those foes a striking challenge. Additionally, these are “mini-boss” types of enemies, so you can imagine how it is to face a larger boss enemy. The first mini-boss took me several hours to get through, but when the target was slain, it was satisfying. Though the satisfaction was short-lived, because I knew that I had a massive uphill battle in front of me. Items, upgrades, and ninja-arts are available for upgrades to aid you in your progression through the game.

Death is a mammoth punishment, and unlike Dark Souls or Dead Cells, there is no way to recover what is lost. Once a player dies, they take a hit in their experience points and gold. This can make repeat deaths and the already present challenge of the game, absolutely hostile to players. This is further compounded by the fact that the more you die, the more Dragon Rot, a deadly illness, festers on an important NPC. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is unmistakably a game that will beat you down and force you to learn. It will break you to build you back up.

I found myself working for well over 6 hours trying to get to clear the game’s first boss. Some could argue and say that all I should be doing is looking up a video guide as to how to defeat these bosses, and in their defense, they would be right. I grew up in a time where I had to spend $15 on a strategy guide to find everything and learn the bosses I would be facing. This was doubly-so as the earliest games I recall playing, games without checkpoints or save files, were dastardly hard. At the same time, it can be seen as a detachment for players who simply want to have fun in a thrilling but challenging game, and those who want to work hard in their games for accomplishment and bragging rights.

There is no dismissing that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a passionate game, made with refinements, skills, and challenge. In a way, the challenge actually serves the story narrative of redemption and honor. Visually, and performance-wise, the game is stunning. However, as mentioned for quite some time, the game is meant for a very specific audience, which has brought up discussions about accessibility in gaming. As video games are art, artistic displays are subjective and do not need to tailor themselves to anyone and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has a difficulty that clearly isn’t tailored for everyone, but does challenge those looking for one.

But it’s important to note that at the same time, video games have always had multiple difficulty settings, and even challenge players to try their luck on a harder mode upon completing an easier mode. Games like that opened their doors to wider audiences of players but gave an option for those wishing to be truly challenged. It is a wide-open topic that has encouraged a discussion, and I hope that the discussion leads to a healthy conversation in the years to come for video games, specifically on how they balance challenge and accessibility, a conversation that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has been at the center of and many accessibility advocates have covered.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the hardest game this year, and among one of the most challenging games ever put on a system. But for those that embrace the discipline needed to conquer the games numerous challenges, it is rewarding and thrilling to survive deadly encounters at the skin of your teeth. It’s gameplay and focus on stealth distinguish itself from other action experiences, and the satisfaction of finishing some of the hardest bosses in gaming today is immeasurable. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an immersive action experience, for those who pick it up.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is available on PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL; DR

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the hardest game this year, and among one of the most challenging games ever put on a system. But for those that embrace the discipline needed to conquer the games numerous challenges, it is rewarding and thrilling to survive deadly encounters at the skin of your teeth. It’s gameplay and focus on stealth distinguish itself from other action experiences, and the satisfaction of finishing some of the hardest bosses in gaming today is immeasurable. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an immersive action experience, for those who pick it up.