The music industry is known as the “Disruptive Second Album Syndrome,” in which artists have difficulty meeting the expectations they have set their own debut. The new FromSoftware title, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, had to deal with something like that, as it was one of the most iconic and beloved series in the history of gaming. So great was the influence of Soulsborne games, which created a completely new genre, composed entirely of their imitators, remarkable and not. In the analogy of the second album, Sekiro is not only a remarkable sound worthy of the past, but in our personal opinion, it is an album that deserves a Grammy Award.
In a truly smart move, FromSoftware throws away the dust that has begun to gather over the Souls games formula and gives us something new, full of personality. Bad Lies, even though I liked Dark Souls 3, none of its elements could surprise veteran players, and even the masterpiece Bloodborne had at its core a sense of intimate intimacy. Sekiro overtakes this problem by refreshing – almost – every practical element that made legacy the previous
The big differences are already visible from the first minutes of work. The enigmatic, minimalist narrative and the familiar character creator now belong to the past. The player takes on the role of “One-armed Wolf,” a shinobi sworn to serve the young descendant of an ancient dynasty. Caught and left behind after the kidnapping of his young master, our protagonist will go through countless obstacles to fulfill his duty and liberate him. With a multitude of cutscenes and a lot of exposition embedded in gameplay, FromSoftware’s approach to narration is drastically different this time, giving us a rich, complicated story that’s definitely worthwhile to experience.
Nevertheless, for those who enjoy narrative through the various elements of the environment, it is present here through the eavesdrop mechanic. By approaching specific enemies or environmental points you will be given the appropriate prompt and you will have the opportunity to hear some conversations. These on other occasions give us a taste of Sekiro’s rich lore, others tell us about upcoming boss fights and any enemy flaws, and they can also give you an idea of where there might be a hidden loot.
After his amputation, our protagonist wakes up now with a mechanical hand, donated by the mysterious sculptor who saved his life. “Shinobi protehetic”, as the creator calls it, offers a host of new possibilities to its owner through the various tools that can be added to it. From grappling hooks to axes and shuriken, these tools offer new possibilities, both in terms of movement within the world of Sekiro, and in the field of battle.
The combat system is radically renewed and is one of the points in which Sekiro shows its uniqueness. If you thought the battle at Bloodborne was fast, then here you will not really know where it came from. Governing power is a system called posture and functions as follows. Attacks on enemies, as well as properly synchronized reprisals of their own attacks, reduce their posture, leaving them open to deathblows. On the other hand, hostile attacks and failed reprisals exhaust your own posture, leaving you totally vulnerable. Although a deathblow will be enough for the majority of opponents you meet, bosses require more than one, and it is significantly more difficult to exhaust their posture.
But there is a way to increase your chances of winning using the new stealth system. If you approach any enemy without realizing you, you will be able to run a deathblow without fighting and exhausting the posture. Useful to dilute crowds that would otherwise scatter you and even more useful for bosses where you can reduce the required deathblows by one, making the upcoming battle with him the shortest.
But if this is not enough, the resurrection system is also at your disposal. At your own death, you will have the opportunity to resurrect using a resurrection charge, continuing from where you fell, while you can “recharge” this skill if you rest in a sculptor’s idol, which is Sekiro’s version of bonfires. As you progress, you will have the chance to get more resurrection charges, but at least for the first few hours of the game you will have to get along with the one you get automatically and the others you win by killing enemies.
If you run out of resurrection charges, your death will return to the last sculptor’s idol you’ve lost, losing some of your currency, and half the experience you’ve gained to the next skill point. Crucially, however, you will not lose the skill points you have already completed, even if they have not been used, making loss far less frightening than in Soulsborne games. On the other hand, these losses are definitive, which may make recurring deaths a much more expensive case than we have been used to.
But there is a way, in rare cases, to rise to the last sculptor’s idol you have used, not having lost absolutely nothing. Unseen Aid, as it is called, has a certain chance of happening, which at the beginning of Sekiro is at 30%. However, your actions in the world of Sekiro can either reduce or increase this chance. For example, the more you use the resurrection mechanic, the more a disease known as Dragonrot, it spreads to the world. Although our protagonist seems to be immune, this does not apply to friendly NPCs and for anyone affected you will receive an object called Rot Essence. The more Rot Essence you have, the less likely you are to get Unseen Aid. But do not be scared. Some dialogues seem to indicate that there is treatment for Dragonrot, possibly later giving the player the chance to choose whether to save the patients or not.
We previously mentioned the existence of skill points, the existence of which comes to compensate for the lack of different character builds, which featured Souls games. Our character here does not offer the same opportunity for customization, having a certain past, appearance and fighting style. Nevertheless, the five different skill trees, each of which unlocks when you discover the corresponding esoteric text, offer a small degree of freedom by adding new combat moves and passive skills.
We have given the world of Sekiro the last of us, because here is our only complaint with the title. Though gorgeous, it does not have this Lordran’s magic of the first Dark Souls, where each area was linked to all the rest via crosses, hidden paths and shortcuts opened by the player as he explored, giving the feeling of a huge open world. In this light, Sekiro looks more like Dark Souls 3, consisting of isolated large-sized areas that offer quite a variety of their own but are not necessarily linked to each other. The transition between them is done with fast travel to sculptor’s idols, while the Dilapidated Temple acts as a central hub where you can chat with various NPCs and enjoy a moment of rest.
Nevertheless, the map of Sekiro manages to stand out, mainly because its areas are fairly plausible. This on the one hand means that you may spend a little more time than you would like on boring mountain paths instead of the crystal caves of the past. On the other hand, this emphasis on realism gives FromSoftware the permission to use elements we had never seen before, especially with regard to the color palette. Instead of the fifty different shades of gray and brown that we are accustomed to, Sekiro is full of orange leaves, pink sunrises and red costumes. It’s a small touch, but it makes the end result very different and with a word, beautiful. The fact that designing levels is as always flawless, certainly does not hurt.
This beauty of Sekiro extends into every sector. From character models, animations, lighting, to particle effects, such as the snow that is shaken by a tree branch when you climb it, while -in the FromSoftware tradition-even the most foully designed enemies have a wild beauty that will make you wonder about their story. At the same level, the acoustic sector, where voice acting achieves something rare, is just as good in both Japanese and English versions, with a plethora of interpretations by genuinely talented actors in both the big and the small roles. As for the soundtrack, veteran composer Yuka Kitamura, who had taken over the music of Dark Souls 2.3 and Bloodborne, once again gives us an excellent result that blends perfectly with the Japanese atmosphere of 1500. Finally, and the sound effects are extremely sophisticated, especially in the field of combat, while there is no more satisfying sound than the sound that accompanies a successful parry.
The technical sector has always been a black side of From Software, whose titles often had several problems during their release. Sekiro
The review was based on the digital version of the PC game, which was provided to us by IGE S.A.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice can share the same “parents” with Dark Souls and Bloodborne, but manages to be something completely unique. The narrative acts as something more than a vague transfer to the state of the world, telling a deeply human tale of dedication and expectation, with characters inspiring sympathy and compassion. The renewed combat system, the fast and flexible movement, and the world’s most realistic world, make it a much more accessible title for new players, without even reducing the adrenaline and the enthusiasm that permeates every moment of engagement with him. Of course, Sekiro is not perfect, but all of his problems seem to be really insignificant when you fight with a samurai with a backdrop of sunrise under the atmospheric sounds of music.