Hidetaka Miyazaki is a shy type. He practically never fixes the interviewee in the eye, but runs his gaze elsewhere, nervously observing the corners of the room he is in and constantly giving the impression of thinking about something else. This man with an awkward attitude and a good face, however, is in all likelihood the living demonstration of how enormous Lombroso's theories were enormous nonsense (perhaps excluding only the connections between genius and madness): from his mind came titles whose imaginary at times it would start the most disturbed of individuals, and all within even more convoluted structures of the worlds where this vision develops.
Perhaps it is precisely for this reason that the arrival of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice surprised everyone a bit, and gave rise to some unpleasant internet mumbling too many: a title set in feudal Japan with a ninja as the protagonist seemed too simple for someone like the good Hidetaka and for the From Software, so much so that it made us think of a secondary role, or even a direction in name but not in fact, actually entrusted to someone else within the well-known development team. Well, after tens of hours spent on this game, countless deaths, and more than a hardly describable experience, we can assure you that the rumors were totally unfounded. Sekiro is a game that proudly bears the signature of Hidetaka Miyazaki, and respects all the canons that could be expected by now from a work of From Software, but with a long list of enormous differences that leads him to detach himself significantly from the subset of the "Souls" as it is commonly understood. We want to explain to you why all this is a great good in this review, but also to warn you, because the videogame we are talking about is not a meek animal, nor with a totally impeccable pedigree.
A story surrounded by fog
Anyone who decides to face Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will find an experience nourished by the same minerals that give sustenance to all of From's other works awaiting him. The stylistic code of the software house and the director is immediately recognizable, and a huge number of superstructures are identical re-propositions of ideas already experimented with the Souls, starting from a environmental fiction of enormous complexity that must be carefully explored, analyzed and reconstructed to be fully appreciated. If, however, on the one hand, the game still retains many of the most interesting elements of its own background hidden, the same cannot be said of the main plot, which has never been so clear in a work by Miyazaki (he himself explained that he finally gave his developers all the elements of the story during development, whereas in previous works he tended to keep even them partially in the dark). And it is indeed a pleasant story that of Sekiro, who sees you in the role of a skilled and taciturn shinobi at the service of a young gentleman endowed with a mysterious power; it just doesn't take long for the themes to get more raw, and what seemed like a linear epic full of battles turns into something darker and more multifaceted.
It can be seen, in short, in the adventures of Wolf and Fuel, a strong influence linked to some great manga seinen - Basilisk and The Immortal above all, but they are clearly not the only ones - and to the themes most loved by its author, from the power of blood to the horrifying transfiguration of man in search of power absolute. Each event then flows at an excellent pace, and the general plot is enriched by the presence of ben four different endings (some of which are rather difficult to obtain), and from the maniacal refinement of the setting: a Japan in full swing was Sengoku completely "revised" in a dark fantasy key. Sekiro's is once again a wonderfully rich world worthy of being gutted, which at times even touches the heights reached with Bloodborne, albeit slightly less fascinating due to its greater clarity.
Iron on iron
However, the diversification of this game from what preceded it is not only in the narrative approach. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice makes it clear right away that it's not a soulslike, thanks to a phase tutorial cleverly built to let the player absorb all the main innovations, and allow him to gradually learn the system and its complexities. Right from the start, for example, you will have the opportunity to to swim e blow up freely, while the absence of weapons will not push you to the desperate search for an instrument of death with which to defend yourself, but rather to use the stealth to avoid enemies and listen to their speeches (often full of important clues) from the relative safety of the shadow. The way of the silent ninja, however, is not the focus of this title, although its importance is undeniable and closely linked to the way in which certain situations are handled; and the combat system the central element of the production: a set of carefully mixed mechanics that enormously changes the player's approach to dangers, and forces them to discard much of the habits acquired by the Souls.
In Sekiro there is no stamina but, despite the remarkable speed of movement of your alter ego, trying to approach the game as if it were a Japanese version of Bloodborne represents a sure suicide. The beating heart of the entire system is in fact the parade, since Sekiro places an additional indicator dedicated to the "stance", and bases the vast majority of his more complex fights around it. More in detail, this is a bar that indicates the breaking of the guard like those found in many fighting games; curiously, however, Sekiro absorbs precisely from this genre its most useful defensive mechanic, which is nothing but a perfect parry defined here "deviation"To clarify: Anyone hit during the guard animation will see their posture rise, regardless of whether it's you or your enemy (and humanoid enemies tend to parry almost every frontal hit); full fill of the bar causes an imbalance, which allows you to perform a coup de grace on the opponent and eliminate him instantly. The perfect management of the aforementioned saves is the key to the clashes, since staying in defense constantly makes you vulnerable, but pressing the guard button the moment you are hit does not, and leads your posture indicator to remain stable while that of the opponent fills up. All this is obviously accompanied by the presence of many miniboss e boss with multiple life bars, the patterns of which must be memorized and contrasted to perfection, and a long series of techniques and brilliant founds that offer multiple options in battle.
The many means of the ninja
Dodging, in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, simply doesn't represent the core of the defensive mechanics. Positioning and perfect coordination of offensive and parry maneuvers they are more important than a jump at the right time, due to a marked tracking of the opponent's shots, which does not allow to avoid everything with continuous lateral scatterelli (obviously this is designed precisely to favor other defensive maneuvers). Dodges and jumps are always extremely significant, however, due to specific enemy maneuvers - conveniently indicated by a red symbol at the time of departure - which can often only be avoided, or countered with a learnable maneuver called "Mikiri"designed to move an enemy thrust if you dodge him at the moment of his attack. As defensive mechanics, therefore, the complexity is certainly not lacking in From Software's new child ... when you go to offense, however, you are not certainly dry of interesting ideas, despite the choice of the developers to offer the Wolf one katana base that remains the primary weapon throughout the game.
In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the variety of weaponry transformable or simple movesets of the past this time you will have to look for it in yours mechanical arm, a tool of incredible flexibility, where the From have poured much of the offensive variety of the combat system. In practice the Shinobi prostheses (so it is called), allows you to mount particularly unique gadgets, which require the consumption of easily available (but limited) symbols and offer all kinds of amenities in combat, from flames to shurikens, up to other surprises that we do not want to reveal to you. The beauty is that all of these tools can later be enhanced and modified by the sculptor who gave you the arm, become options that can be equipped separately, and offer variable effects against which certain enemies are particularly vulnerable. An almost Zeldian concept, which however we have interpreted as the only distant connection to the Tenchu (the series of which Sekiro was originally supposed to be part of) remained in this product: as in that historical series of stealth game preparation and careful use of tools led to enormous facilitations of otherwise extremely difficult levels, here taking advantage of the right gadgets at the right time can make the difference, and guarantee the overcoming of opponents who initially seem insurmountable. Given the monstrous difficulty of the game, it is really worth taking these factors into consideration.
Ultra hard difficulty: Git gud
We are not exaggerating in defining the "monstrous" difficulties by Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. With this title From Software seem to have shown their true face, and it is an austere and immovable face, which stares at the player defiantly. Even the Souls, who were already more than well placed to wickedness, pale in front of this video game, since the adventures of the Wolf do not offer simplifications, and the possibilities to circumvent the difficulty depend only on your wits, never really coming to cancel it. There is no cooperative here, no one can accompany you against a boss, and it is not even possible to bet everything on the experience and enhancement of the protagonist, since the game is a action with RPG elements much less marked, and the growth of statistics it only depends on two types of objects that can be obtained by defeating the bosses (and sometimes, rarely, in rather hidden maps). The skill points and the money that are obtained by eliminating enemies in bursts obviously help, yet they allow in the first place to obtain improvements to the prostheses (which require rather rare materials for the most devastating modifications) or techniques that still need to be mastered to be really effective ( there are some passives, but they mostly concern the validity of the treatments and the power of the techniques just mentioned). You will die, and even the best veterans of the Souls will not be exempted from constant visits to the creator.
To emphasize even more the demonic soul of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a From have then seen fit to make all the boss damage monsters, in most cases able to eliminate the player with two, maximum three hits. This creature of Miyazaki and his followers is therefore a brutal test of fire, and it is incredible to see to what extent, once replayed from the beginning, he manages to change the entire mentality of those who face him, transforming opponents who previously seemed invincible into challenges. almost negligible once their initial impact has been disposed of and trained properly their reflexes. In some ways Sekiro operates in those who play it a transformation similar to the one that Demon's Souls was able to apply during the launch period: it completely changes the user's approach to video games, forcing him to adapt patiently to a new and punitive system, for example. an extremely more hardcore level than can normally be conceived in similar products. The whole game campaign it has a gradualness linked to forced blocks of progression - it can be partially eliminated by obtaining a specific object, but we are talking about an incredibly convoluted alternative and obtainable only in the advanced story - and it does not make discounts of any kind. There is no other way to advance than by observing the behavior of the bosses, formulating a valid tactic and applying it to perfection. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is, ultimately, a title already set to ultra hard, a completely crazy product for the modern video game market, and designed to be appreciated almost exclusively by that niche of users who can tolerate dozens of failures to enjoy. that single moment of exaltation brought about by overcoming a terrible enemy. Many will abandon him almost immediately for his cruelty, but it is precisely this madness that makes him magnificent for anyone else.
Gameplay and stealth in particular
If the combat system is in our opinion promoted with flying colors, the same cannot be said of every single element of the gameplay by Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and in particular by stealth we were discussing at the beginning of the review. As already mentioned it is certainly not the soul of the experience but it is still an important element, and while it works great as a mechanic to quickly eliminate certain difficult enemies or facilitate exploration, it seemed to us in general rather crude, too dedicated. to quick kills, and exploited to the bare minimum. Let's not joke, there is only a specific phase of the game where the stealth is pushed to the limit, during which it is demonstrated without the possibility of appeal how From has programmed theartificial intelligence enemies to react separately to the sight of the Wolf or the noise it causes as it moves around the map. Yet, while wandering around the world and eliminating the enemies behind, this system breaks several times for obscure reasons, and it can happen that a whole group of guards does not react to the elimination of their companions via shuriken from a few meters away, or on the contrary, pay no attention to your passage in the immediate vicinity, only to magically wake up when there is a din on the other side of the map. Really strange that, confirmed the existence of internal systems for the response to your presence, the stealth is calibrated so badly (and the presence of passive skills that improve it is unfortunately not a sufficient justification). Overall it certainly doesn't spoil the experience, but it could have been more refined.
Then there are other deficiencies related to the gameplay, but they are almost pathological in From productions, and by now we are used to seeing them to the point that we can not help but consider them technical limitations that the house has never figured out how to eliminate. We usually talk about problems related to the ability of enemies to strike through certain elements of the maps, of a behavior that is not always very reliable. camera, and some imbalances of difficulty typical of practically every single From Software title. Sekiro keeps all these flaws, but if nothing else it greatly diminishes the one linked to the camera, due to significantly more extended and verticalized maps, which better support the heart-pounding clashes that the protagonist is constantly facing. It is unfortunate to see the persistence of these cracks in the remarkable productions of a now revered group of developers, even though they are aware of how easy it is to ignore them.
On the other hand, we are a little more conflicted about the management of deaths in the game: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice completely loses the tension of the so-called "corpse runs" of the souls, having no recovery of resources at death, but at the same time penalizes the player with the loss of half of these (half experience points of a bar not complete and money, to be exact), and with the slow blocking of non-player characters' quests through the Mal di Drago, a disease that spreads by dint of dying. It is a more personal penalty than usual that creates a lot of tension at the beginning, but quickly loses power when you realize how it is not able to effectively eliminate the supporting characters of the Wolf, and can be treated with some ease. On the other hand, an even greater penalty in an already difficult title would perhaps have been excessive, so there is no need to complain.
Complaints, on the other hand, certainly cannot arise when analyzing theart direction of the game, and you get lost in the wonderful structure of his world. From Software have always been masters in these two elements, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice makes no difference, thanks to a distorted but extraordinarily inspired vision of Japan in the 1500s, which expertly mixes Buddhist imagery and historical research with the fantastic element. and esoteric, using Miyazaki's visionary spirit as the perfect glue. All this comes to life also thanks to the fabulous work of the artists, who with a skilful use of color and their imagination have created a frighteningly varied map, able to easily range from the snow-covered forts of the surroundings of Ashina to the lush vegetation of Mount Kongou. without ever forgetting to insert here and there touches of class that subtly highlight the danger of each of these places. From a purely technical point of view, Sekiro is not a particularly avant-garde title, but its visual impact remains exceptional thanks to this masterful overall work, and if nothing else we cannot but praise the animations in toto, made excessive and crystalline to favor the player's response to enemy actions, but not qualitatively sacrificed for this reason.
If we move on to the geographical analysis of the world then the joys accumulate, because Shadows Die Twice not only follows the "Miyazaki manual of interconnected maps" that so many have tried (often unsuccessfully) to imitate, but sometimes even takes it to the next level , due to a verticality never seen in a From title before and guaranteed by the jump and the presence of the grappling hook. Let me be clear: the movement in the map is not always completely free, and to maintain the typical concreteness of its locations and favor a partially linear advancement, the team has inserted forced "blocks", thus preventing you from reaching certain areas if not with fairly abstruse turns. or with the defeat of particularly annoying bosses (as usual, as long as they remain with them there is also a fog that stops the passage). After some of these walls, however, the crossroads multiply, and with them the complexity of exploration. Finally, if we count the addition of navigable stretches of water, Sekiro is perhaps the From game with more hidden gems among the maps; the decision to keep the system a checkpoint and typical teleportation is therefore quite sensible, in a product where the backtracking not only is it of great weight, but desired by the player himself. And if you still have fears, perhaps related to longevity, we assure you that there is no need to worry: we have completed the first run in about forty hours of play, trying to reveal every secret and spending more than a few evenings expiring in front of some of the most tense boss fights of this generation (to make a direct comparison, it took us 22 to complete Bloodborne); the game certainly does not boast the replayability of a Souls resulting from the variety of builds available, but still contains a New Game +, does not force you to start it immediately after the conclusion, and manages it with slyness, focusing it on the player's abilities with some further increases in the already impressive difficulty. You will not finish this adventure in a few days, we can assure you.
CommentTested version PlayStation 4 Resources4Gaming.com
The existence of a product like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice leaves us speechless. A title so brutally hardcore and faithful to its initial vision is a gem of priceless rarity in the panorama, and represents a curious precedent, the effect of which on the market and on the players will be studied in the months to come. Miyazaki's latest creation is not meant for the general public: it is a title that requires you to master its remarkable systems, sharpen your wits, and constantly improve; a trial by fire designed to be a tough obstacle even for those who have been weaned from the Souls. It is impossible for us to recommend it lightly to everyone, since for many players it will simply be too punitive an experience to be truly enjoyable. However, we cannot penalize it for this, because in its particular niche it is once again an extraordinary videogame, equipped with a brilliant combat system and an imaginary whose insane lucidity fascinates us like never before. If you are not afraid of difficulty, make it yours; is one of the best games of the generation.
- Remarkable combat system, full of brilliant ideas
- Numerous and often spectacular boss fights
- Extensive game world, full of secrets and artistically magnificent
- Remarkable longevity
- The high level of challenge will be a boon for some players ...
- ... but the brutality of the game borders on the unbelievable in the current landscape, and it might put off most people
- The stealth mechanics are not particularly refined
- It retains some of the historical flaws of the From titles