If you've ever played a Dark Souls game—for which Sekiro developer FromSoftware is also responsible—you probably know the struggle of dying a million and one times until you've finally conquered a tiny segment of the game.
Whether you're a video game masochist, or you just love the challenge of "getting good," you're going to absolutely love Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Sekiro is a demanding, austere game that requires absolute perfection: impeccable timing, precision, and, well, not dying in the first few minutes of being unleashed upon a level. It may sound like a nightmare, but it's actually a dream come true – at least, for gamers looking for a hardcore adventure.
The game takes place in a bleak version of 16th-century Sengoku-era Japan. An orphan shinobi, Wolf, is adopted by a wandering warrior named Owl. Wolf becomes a full-fledged shinobi over the years. He loses his left arm in battle, and earns the "Shinobi Prosthetic"—a powerful artificial arm that can be fitted with various forms of gadgets and high-tech weapons (for the era). An intriguing tale of loyalty and clan wars unfolds, riddled with monster fights and enigmatic characters. If you're a fan of Japanese culture or samurai movies, you'll find plenty to enjoy here.
The plot is simple enough to understand, so the fighting is what will get you. Sekiro's combat mechanics, while mostly Souls-like in execution, are likely different from anything you've played before. Most hinge around expert-level swordplay, with you learning to deflect and parry attacks, using timing as much of an offensive assault against enemies as a defensive one.
The game's Posture system can help you land "deathblows," which are usually fatal to enemies and can clear out mobs of average baddies much quicker than trying to while away at them in a real fight. Higher level enemies will obviously require multiple deathblows, so you can't simply re-use the same old strategies again and again.
Fighting the various bosses and minibosses in Sekiro is where you'll get the most satisfaction because when your technique comes together, you feel like the most powerful swordsman who ever lived. Though it can take hours to get down the patterns you need to learn, there's nothing like the elation that rises up as a result. From there, as you unlock new attacks and begin to understand the rest of the game's fundamentals, you start realizing you've been growing this entire time, and that makes all the times you've fallen worth it.
There's an epiphany that shines like a beacon of hope in your mind once you've conquered some of the game's most trying moments—like the demonic Lady Butterfly or the raucous Juzou the Drunkard— that you're better than you were before. That is the beauty of a FromSoftware game. That is the beauty of Sekiro. You evolve.
Many modern games have a problem with holding your hand, giving you markers and waypoints, and otherwise making a big show of where to go, how to get there, and what to do once you're there. Sekiro is a harsh return to a classic time where all that mattered was your skill, and whether or not you could handle yourself once you were turned loose into the game's world.
It may not be the best fit for every player, but if you're seeking a maddeningly difficult game that's just taunting you to beat it, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will be your next great gaming love. Just don't come to us with all your inevitable broken controllers.