By Adlai Rosh
On Wednesday, November 28, I was invited to a PlayStation Thanksgiving Party at the BAD Late Night Breakfast Bar in The Fort. It was a little get-together organized by Sony Interactive Entertainment Singapore, with food, a fun team-based quiz, and demo stations with the PlayStation Classic, Kingdom Hearts 3, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. As a fan of FromSoftware’s titles, I was most excited about Sekiro – so much that by the time they said we could get our hands on the demo stations, I made an immediate beeline for it, heart beating in my throat. I had missed my chance at TGS, but I was not going to miss out on the opportunity now.
After a while of struggling with the controls, killing my way through foes, sneaking past a snake and dying (repeatedly) to a corrupted monk, I had managed to beat the demo and was promptly rewarded with a shiny “thank you for playing!” card. I approached Ian Purnomo, the representative of our generous Sony overlords, and cheerily told him that I had beaten it. He then shook my cold, clammy hand and congratulated me on being the first person in the Philippines to have finished it. Then he asked me if I could beat the office’s record – a clean 20 minutes.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an upcoming action game from Armored Core and Dark Souls developer FromSoftware set in a high fantasy, mythical Japan. You play as the titular Sekiro, a ninja with a prosthetic arm that acts as both a grappling hook and a secondary weapon. As a dramatic departure from the formula and gameplay that FromSoftware spent years cultivating, Sekiro has no stamina meter to limit your offensive capabilities. Combat is even more aggressive than the action-packed Bloodborne – instead, players and enemies have Posture, a bar that fills up by taking hits in combat and opens them up to highly damaging moves when filled, which is an instant kill for most foes except bosses.
If I had to compare how Sekiro’s gameplay felt, I’d say it was the very violent, angry child of Devil May Cry 3’s Royal Guard and classic Castlevania’s Subweapons – Sekiro has a subweapon system based on his prosthetic arm that operates on a resource that is picked up from the environment, with each subweapon costing a different amount to utilize. Not only that, but each prosthetic attack has a follow-up for even more damage, which opens up even more opportunities for slaughtering enemies. I fell in love with the heavy-hitting axe because it dealt massive Posture damage, making fights against bigger foes slightly more tolerable.
As someone who played through DMC3 with Royal Guard exclusively, I was familiar with the parrying system. By pressing the guard button at the right moment, Sekiro expertly Deflects enemy attacks and staggers weaker foes. Many of Sekiro’s larger foes, however, are not interrupted by Deflections – the Corrupted Monk boss I fought continued on with his combo strings, pressuring me to keep my perfect timing up or risk taking a chunk of damage. On the flipside, the long string of Posture-breaking Deflections meant that perfect defense was another stepping stone towards defeating your enemies.
In the event of your premature death, Sekiro can choose to rise from the spot he fell with half his maximum health or give in to death and respawn at the last checkpoint. You can, in fact, die twice in this game. I rarely used this ability except against the boss at the end of the demo, mostly because I forgot it existed and I wound up burning through all my healing items, which do NOT replenish if you revive in the middle of combat.
Games Done Quick
The most interesting feature of Sekiro is that, apparently, you don’t have to kill anything that isn’t a boss. Indeed, it was possible to ignore every enemy in the game and run straight for the boss of the demo. While in Dark Souls this would mean making a beeline from A to B, you can stealth your way through Sekiro like the ninja you were meant to be. On my second time around I managed to find a surprising side path that let me avoid a series of annoying encounters. The downside to this playstyle is that you wouldn’t be able to find consumable items that can make subsequent fights easier, necessitating perfect play in the absence of defense-boosting items or bags of dirt you can use to stagger bosses on-demand.
In the end, I challenged the Corrupted Monk again with nothing but five healing items, a sword, and an axe… And managed to beat the demo again. Final time: a little over 14 minutes. A publicly-available demo of Sekiro isn’t out yet, so I can comfortably sit on what is probably the a record for clearing the demo. Like a phantom limb, I’ll be feeling Sekiro’s absence from my life for the long months leading up to its March release date.