The demo can make a convert out of any non-fan, if they persevere.
During E3 2018, I remember being excited for the reveal of what looked like a new Onimusha game. It wasn’t until the end of the trailer that I saw the developer’s name and game title that my hopes deflated.
From Software‘s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
I have never played any Dark Souls title or even Bloodborne for that matter. You can call me a casual, noob, or whatever you like, but I was just never interested in those games. Until I tried Sekiro, that is.
Fresh off completing the Kingdom Hearts 3 demo, I entered the Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice booth. There I was, probably one of the few gamers who has never played Dark Souls. I picked up the controller, bracing myself for what the game would throw at me.
And I died. Repeatedly. Many times.
The Versatile Grappling Hook
Let’s rewind a bit. The Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice demo began by dropping me in a massive castle compound. The developer definitely chose a perfect level for the game’s demo, as the huge open areas gave me the freedom to try out the much-hyped grappling hook feature as much as I liked.
Zipping from rooftop to treetop and vice versa felt exhilarating. Not only is the grappling hook useful as a means of easily traversing the environment, but I also used it to my advantage in the demo’s final boss fight against an enemy named the Corrupted Monk (which was definitely the highlight of the demo). However, I still had scores of normal enemies to cut through before I even reached this boss.
Satisfying Combat With No Stamina Meter
I got the hang of Sekiro‘s gameplay relatively fast in the time I was given to play the game. Given the choice of parrying or dodging, I would always choose the latter and that was the strategy I went with. Unlike recent action games, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice doesn’t feature a stamina bar. Instead, both the player and enemies in the game are given a posture bar.
During combat, enemies will either parry or shield themselves from your attack. In order to break their guard or ability to parry, players need to repeatedly strike enemies to fill up the posture bar. When the posture bar is full, the enemy’s shield or guard will break, rendering them vulnerable to a devastating finishing move (which will either kill them outright or take away a huge chunk of their health bar).
Filling up the posture bar and delivering the finishing move felt satisfying, especially against bosses or larger enemies. These finishing moves are also positively bloody and violent as well, as they usually end with blood gushing from the enemy’s wound like we’re in a Tarantino movie.
The few enemies I faced in the Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice demo were mostly different variants of Samurai-type enemies. Some were equipped with katanas, while others had spears, rifles, bows, and even shields. Most of these enemies went down with a few hits, their posture meter filling up almost instantly. However, I did face a Samurai General that felt more like a mini-boss.
In terms of weapons, players have access to more than just their trusty katana. The player’s left-hand does more than just shoot grappling hooks, as it also boasts a variety of additional prosthetics. These include shuriken throwing, a heavy axe attack, and a blast of fire not unlike Geralt’s Igni sign from The Witcher 3.
I experimented with these prosthetics but they had limited uses. Using any of these prosthetics will use up white spirit emblems, which fortunately are often dropped by defeated enemies.
Imagine my surprise when my katana caught on flames and inflicted more damage when I attacked with my katana immediately after unleashing that prosthetic fire attack. I’m sure the other prosthetics have their own unique combos and follow-up attacks too but I ran out of white spirit emblems to test them.
Exhilarating Boss Fight
The main highlight of the Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice demo was the boss fight with the Corrupted Monk. However, had I not managed to defeat him, I might be thinking differently now. It took me many frustrating tries, and I genuinely lost count of the times I had to experience the death screen.
By the time I finally memorized the boss’ attack patterns and movements, I was already running empty on prosthetics and item debuffs. I had to fight this boss with only my katana, my wits, and my reflexes.
The Corrupted Monk had three health bars, not to mention a long-ass posture bar. I had to resort to carefully dodging his attacks and sneaking a few hits to fill up that posture bar in order to deliver the finishing move. Every finishing move I did against her only removed one health bar, so I had to grit my teeth and try not to make mistakes.
Unfortunately, every once in a while the Corrupted Monk will initiate a phase where she becomes invincible by summoning a fog and illusions that attack me. Just like Marvel’s Spider-Man, the key to surviving this was to keep moving and not stay in one place. In Sekiro, that means flitting from one branch to another while evading attacks from smoke illusions in a fog.
By the time I defeated the Corrupted Monk, it was 4pm and I found myself alone in the Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice booth. Every other games journalist and media person had gone home, and I might have been one of the few (or the only one) to complete the demo that day. I was glad that I persevered and improved my skills in the span of only a few hours.
I realized then, that this feeling of utter satisfaction and relief -plus the adrenaline- was probably what Dark Souls and Bloodborne players feel too when they overcome the game’s punishing gameplay.
Before this, I would have said that the odds of me playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice would be slim to none. After experiencing the demo numerous times, I’m sold. Not only will I buy the game when it releases, but I might even get into the Soulsborne games.
Sekiro Shadows Die Twice is slated to release for PS4, Xbox One and PC on March 22, 2019. In the meantime, check out gameplay footage of the very same demo I experienced below.