(Fantastic art by mischievousart/Lore Cox)
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a 2019 ninja/Chanbara-styled action game by From Software and directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki. Much in the vein of their previous beautiful and maddeningly difficult Dark Souls and Bloodborne games, Sekiro is a case study in masterful worldbuilding, subtle storytelling and gorgeous art direction combined with incredibly difficult to master gameplay that’s so satisfying when you do.
While mechanically very similar to its predecessors, Sekiro shakes up the From Formula in several key ways: the Western RPG aesthetic has been replaced with one that’s thoroughly Japanese, taking place in feudal Japan and soaked deeply in the country’s mythology, folklore, and Buddhist traditions. Exploration is made faster and more fluid by allowing the player to jump logically (press a button) rather than stupidly (hold down the run button and press it again) and using Wolf’s prosthetic to grapple and fling yourself around. You also actually know what you’re doing; you play one specific character, Wolf the shinobi, on a quest to rescue your master, the young but precociously wise Lord Kuro.
The game also ups the ante on the difficulty by doing away with the online multiplayer aspects of the previous games (co-op, writing out warning messages for other players, invasions), instead focusing on a single player experience where the player must learn from every single one of their mistakes and fight every vessel-bursting boss all on their own. You also don’t have a bevy of weapon options anymore; you have one katana, and aside from a handful of side attachments for your prosthetic that are more for utility than damage, you must do everything with that one katana. Dodging is no longer reliable, and you must instead build up your parry/deflect instincts to survive, especially because reducing enemy posture is far more important than reducing their health.
It’s no surprise that the difficulty of the game was a major conversation when it came out, what with everyone trying to play it like Dark Souls or Bloodborne when it requires its own muscle memory. But like its predecessors, a headaching first run of the game will eventually give way to a fantastically rewarding experience, as everything From Software does great is on full display.
If you gave the game a shot and it completely turned you off, I don’t blame you, but maybe with this LP I can convince you to give it another chance. Let us begin.
In the mountains of Japan lies Ashina, a region on the brink of war mere decades after Lord Isshin Ashina reclaimed the land for his clan. There, a shinobi named Wolf is tasked with protecting Lord Kuro, a young boy gifted with the Dragon’s Heritage: the power of resurrection. But with Ashina endlessly caked with blood, Isshin’s grandson Genichiro captures Kuro to use his Dragon’s Heritage to end all war for his homeland. Wolf must brave the wartorn region to rescue his young master, and there will be more than a few seemingly impossible blockades in his way. Luckily, blessed with Kuro’s Dragon’s Heritage, this shadow can die twice.
Will it stay that simple, though? It never does.
This is essentially a 100% LP of the game: beating every boss and miniboss, showing how to reach every ending, finding every collectible, going a few rounds in New Game+, and showing off everything the game has to offer. I’m reasonably good at the game… now, but much of the LP was recorded with only my second run ever, so I will vary in skill until we pass the endings. It won’t be a constant death-fest at least.
Joining me on co-commentary are Mugiwara Yoshi and JigglyJacob, neither of whom have played with Sekiro but have different experiences with Dark Souls. We have a penchant for silliness, but I try to temper that as we go along; this is a dark, brutal game. I’m also playing with Japanese voice acting and English subtitles, so I’ve eschewed the usual Edited commentary/Uncut commentary format, and I have a tendency to explain what’s happening to emphasize important details to try to keep viewers abreast of what’s happening and what should be payed attention to. In short: if you find our constant talking annoying, I won’t blame you for that either.
Content Warnings: Lots of blood, violence and dismemberment; some strong horror themes including body horror and grotesque monsters; abuse and violence against children; and probably a lot more. It may not be Bloodborne, but there’s still a lot of dark, horror themes in there. Proceed with caution.