After a buttload of fantastic games, we now come to the last game to complete the first quarter of 2019, aka the best early months for gaming year of all time with the Tenchu spiritual successor, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. And my God, what an absolutely perfect game to have the honor of completing such a magnificent first quarter!
From Software has left the Dark Souls universe, and they now have returned to their past: with Tenchu. Or at least it was supposed to be a Tenchu game but it's now a spiritual successor instead. Which is why the plot of this game is completely new & it's its own thing. Basically, it takes place in 16th century Japan, where war is everywhere and there exists a disease that can turn people undead, and also completely batshit insane. No popular names like in Sengoku Basara/ Samurai Warriors/ Nioh though, the characters here are all fictional. You play as Sekiro, the One Armed Wolf. He's the adopted son of this big old guy named the Owl, whose real name is Usuyu Ukonzaemon as you find later in the game. His task is simple: protect his young lord named Kuro. Unfortunately it won't be that easy since he's also called the Divine Heir, and his blood is so sacred that it can grant people immortality. As you can tell, he's pretty much a living target by everyone around him, including this one lord named Genichiro Ashina. You fight him in the intro of the game, and regardless if you beat him on your first try or not, you'll still get your ass kicked + get your arm cut off. But thankfully you ended up getting a prosthetic arm that can do a lot of crazy awesome stuff, given to you by a sculptor who lost an arm as well. And so, your adventure to rescue your lord begins. And what a freaking adventure it is!
Straight up, the story of this game is not cryptic like previous Dark Souls games, It's actually pretty straightforward and easy to follow with your goals laid out already. There are the usual sidequests for side characters you can do which expands on the backstory of this game, and you can get extra lore info from item descriptions though. Not only that, but your main character actually speak in dialogues, and who better to voice him than Giorno Giovana + Walter Velvet/ Lord El-Melloi II from the Fate Series?........... Actually that's a pretty unexpected casting choice, but still, he makes Sekiro sound like a total badass with his deep voice. I also notice how much better this game's approach to story is compared to Nioh. Even though this game's story takes place in one big open world where you walk to different places, the plot is still flowing naturally & it gives each of the nps their time to develop & give you motivation to help them & learn more about them. Compare this to Nioh which has the plot going all over the place, putting famous historical figures left and right, and pretty much giving zero fucks about giving them proper time to develop as characters aside from 1 or 2 people. It really shows how much care FromSoftware has in making characters memorable.
As expected, since you're playing as Sekiro, you can't customize him like previous Souls games. No leveling up strength, health, faith and those sorts of things in this game. Instead you level up your skill tree, and you get more skill trees as you progress through the game. I highly recommend leveling up the shinobi skill tree & quickly get the skill Breath of Life: Light, because this skill lets you heal yourself everytime you do a stealth kill/ finishing blow, which is SO SO SO useful in this game. Oh yeah, also get the "Mikiri counter" as soon as you can because this thing will save your life in combat.
Enemies will sometimes do red moves, and there's 3 kinds: a leg sweep, a grab or a thrust like the one in the video. When you see them going for a thrust, just sprint & you'll automatically do that cool mikiri counter & end their life in an instant, unless it's against enemies with high guard meter in which case you deplete a lot of their bar. For a leg sweep, just jump, and for a grab, either jump or dodge far away from them.
You can also get "combat arts", which are special moves that you can do by pressing the attack & block button together.
My favorite are the Ashina Cross and Praying Strikes - Exorcism. Ashina Cross since, well, it's the famous Iaijutsu technique of the samurais which always look badass, and Praying Strikes because it's really fast & if can break enemy guards really easily.
And if you're wondering "how am I going to increase my health & damage", the answer is simple: beat bosses & get prayer beads from them + from scavenging environments. There are 2 types of bosses in this game: mini bosses & main bosses. Mini bosses will drop prayer beads & if you collect 4 of these things, you can increase your health. Also of note, since most of these mini bosses have 2 full health bars, you can get the advantage early by sneaking up on them & do a stealth kill to deplete 1 health bar so you'll have a much easier time facing them. Main bosses lets you increase your attack power. All you need to do then is to go to shrines in the open world & increase your health + attack power from there. And yes, the shrines are like bonfires in the Souls games. It even has its own version of the Fire Keeper, though in this game she's just a normal woman named Emma and she's a doctor. Like the Fire Keeper, she can increase the usage of your estus fla, ahem I mean Healing Gourd
All you have to do is collect "Gourd Seeds" by scavenging them in the open world. Business as usual!
Death in this game is, well, a regular occurrence. But the difference from previous Souls games is that you can resurrect yourself & instantly continue your fight because Sekiro is linked with his master which grant him immortality, which if you die over and over again and has to go back from the previous checkpoint, makes the whole immortality thing questionable. I mean, if you're immortal, aren't you supposed to have infinite lives and not worry about dying in the middle of a battle?? ?_?
Be careful with this though. If you die again after being resurrected, or if you're unlucky and die by falling off to a bottomless pit/ high places, you will go back to your previous shrine & lose half your XP + Money. You don't get the chance to get them back like previous Souls games. Sometimes you won't lose them because of this "unseen aid" percentage. If you die & get sent back to the shrine too many times, then you will receive an item called Rot Essence. And you don't want these items with you because these will make NPCs sick & you can't do their sidequest unless they're healed.
Luckily you can get rid of them by using "dragon tears" in shrines, and you can get these dragon tears by buying them through vendors or talking to Emma after the Rot Essence first show up.
The entire game takes place in one big open world with a lot of paths that leads to different locations with RADICALLY different sceneries. There's a castle, then an icy valley filled with people with giant guns, a giant temple filled with crazy monks, cave filled with undead, and even a valley full of killer monkeys. You read that right, KILLER MONKEYS. And I haven't even mentioned the other places which I can't spoil. Basically, you're traveling around the main villain's castle to get to your lord, and you start out in an abandoned temple, like the Firelink Shrine from Dark Souls. Funnily enough, once you progress through the game, you find out that the castle is RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR TEMPLE and you can just go to it through a secret wall, but you can't access it this whole time because it's locked. If that thing isn't locked, you can pretty much cut 10 hours of your journey, but it's so much fun to go through the normal route that you rather do it normally anyway.
If you've played Tenchu, then this game's movement mechanic will feel right at home. Since you're a ninja, you can now jump all over the place & use your grappling hook to go to great heights, and of course no ninja game is complete without the stealth + stealth kills! You can hide in bushes to avoid being seen & go behind or right above enemies to land a stealth kill, which is so damn satisfying each time you do it. It's a shame that you can only do stealth kills from above, from peeking while hiding behind a wall, while hiding from a ledge, or from behind enemies. I miss the old Tenchu games where you can pretty much stealth kill from every side as long as you're not seen.
But meh, that's still plenty of ways to kill stealthily so I'm still happy. Better yet, as you progress through the game, you'll gain 3 ninjutsu skills: a red mist ability that stuns enemies after you do a stealth kill, a sword extend ability to increase your attack range, or a possession skill that turns enemies into your personal minion.
Yes, you can even possess mini bosses after you deal with them, and it is beautiful. A shame that you can only see the beauty of your miniboss minion wrecking people up for a short while before they die.
You also have your prosthetic arm to use in combat, and this thing lets you do many cool stuff. At first you only get a shuriken, but later on as you collect materials, your arm can change into a spear, an axe, an umbrella shield, fireworks which works great against animal + animal bosses, a whistle that makes animals go crazy, and even a flame thrower. You can pretty much use these tools anyway you like & experiment on them to see which one suits your playstyle best. Using these things requires "Spirit emblem" and you're limited to 15 at the start, but you can buy skills and increase this number.
The combat in this game is, simply put, fucking brilliant. It's pretty much what you get if Bloodborne is even more fast paced & you don't have to worry about stamina but instead worry about your guard meter. Instead of gun riposte to break an enemy's guard, you pretty much have to break an enemy's guard until they get opened & go in for the finishing blow. Everyone in this game has their "guard meter/posture", and all you have to do is to deplete that gauge either by attacking the crap out of them with normal attacks + combat arts, or blocking at the exact moment of their attack. If you simply hold down the block button, you'll just block & risk your guard meter getting depleted, so it's not really recommended unless you're facing enemies with really fast attacks. Once you break down their guard meter, you can pretty much instant kill most enemies in brutal and awesome fashion.
Speaking of enemies, HOLY CRAP, FromSoft goes all the way out for this one. Not in terms of creativity since it's not a western fantasy setting like the Souls games, so you won't see stuff as messed up as the Gaping Dragon or that gross tree.... thing with ballsacks in Dark Souls 3. Well, there is one enemy that is messed up called Headless, and it's a headless big guy whose ultimate move is............ to shove his hand to your ass, take the poop inside your ass and shove it in his own ass. Like, WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT???
Funny enough, you can use this song in the background when fighting him. It fits so perfectly.
Anyway, you fight what you expect from a Japanese setting: lots of samurais, ninjas, and occasionally mythical creatures which are still freaking badass & cool designwise. But what makes these enemies great is how they fight you, because they have so many movesets that fighting every enemy in this game is like fighting a Soul Calibur fighter with the difficulty set to Hard: challenging all the way & freaking awesome every single time. Oh yeah, remember how in the demos for this game you have to fight a boss named the Corrupted Monk?
As it turns out, she's one of the endgame bosses..... NO WONDER SHE'S SO FREAKING HARD! When I played against her at PAX last year, she pretty much destroyed many people. I beat her, but only after 8 deaths & a lot of controllers passed. Now that I fought her in this game properly with my health almost maxed out & attack power cranked up to almost max, she's a lot easier to beat. Cheeky FromSoftware, putting the endgame boss to the demo so people will think she's an early boss.
I am not joking when I say that the collection of bosses here are the best boss collection compared to previous Souls + Bloodborne games. They're that damn good. So damn good in fact that I actually am happy if I fight them all over again, which I will definitely do in New Game +.
Oh yeah, as expected from a From Software game, this game also have multiple endings. 4 of them in fact, although 3 of them are variations of the same ending which changes depending on which item you use at the end. As expected, the final bosses are indeed epic & will test your skills. Surprisingly, the bad ending has you fight the Fire Keeper ahem I mean Emma the Doctor, and she can kick your ass. That's a first from FromSoftware. Wonder how the Fire Keepers from the previous games will be like if they're actual bosses you have to fight? I purposefully beat the game with the normal straightforward ending because I want to play it again & get the best ending later.
As for negatives I find about this game, well, aside from the fact that it's a FromSoftware game & the early parts of the game is freaking hard because you need to figure out how to play properly so you can proceed onwards to the next parts, nothing really. It's what you expect from this game dev, and once you master it, you pretty much will love this game a lot and play it all over again once you're done, which is why these games by them are so damn good: they're challenging, but will leave you satisfied after you overcome these challenges.
You know what, actually there is one tiny thing: why is it that you have to get rewards from fallen enemies by holding down the use button/ E? Why can't you just get them in an instant? I got used to it & now I get rewards like candy, but still, quite an odd choice for a game mechanic. Then again, you pretty much have to manually get items from dead bodies all the time in Souls games so....... Ok now it makes sense.
And that is why my rating for this game is "so awesome you will play it again and again to get those sweet multiple endings". With a badass seal of approval
This and DMC 5 is currently tied as my GOTY. Holy freaking shiet, what a great 3 months this has been. Now I'm definitely going to play this game all over again to fight all the bosses again & get those other endings. Wonder if there will be DLCs that adds even more bosses? Only time will tell & I'm looking forward to it. In the meantime, gonna change the music of this game to those old Tenchu soundtrack because muah, they're PERFECT!