Hesitation is defeat
This line of dialogue not only fits well within the context of the game, but also seems to perfectly reflect the approach of From Software themselves as a studio. For they have not hesitated to break away from the Souls formula to create this unique action/adventure/rhythm game with incredible depth in both narrative and gameplay. And that too with immense panache.
CLANG CLANG CLANG!
Any Berserk fan will immediately connect with the adrenaline pumping gameplay; the sweet sound of swords and spears clashing and deflecting is taken straight out the pages of Miura's work. Where in the case of the Dark Souls games it was the world that was influenced from Berserk, this time the whole core gameplay is influenced by the manga.
And how sweet it is! Sekiro's combat is built on 6 pillars; namely attack, block/deflect, counter, jump, combat art and prosthetic tool, and it is solely upto the player to adapt themselves to any particular playstyle by making use of the pillars they see fit for their approach. There are so many prosthetic tools and combat arts at your disposal and each of these can define a specific playstyle of their own.
Although Sekiro does allow the traditional and slow Souls approach of evasion/attack, it encourages a direct approach aka facetanking and being more bold and aggressive. Timing the perfect deflects feels immensely satisfying and soon the game feels like a rhythm game that asks you to press the correct button in the correct time. This particular rhythmic mood that the combat provides feels fresh and essentially makes the combat in the Soulsborne games feel outdated.
This is also helped by the fact that animation has never been better in a From game. Controlling the character is super fluid and responsive. Running and jumping around as a shinobi makes you feel empowered as this unstoppable force with unlimited stamina. It makes the player feel like a force to be reckoned with. This mobility, coupled with the grapple hook opens up new avenues of world exploration and pacing. You will be able to just zip across the map if you so wish and damn does it feel good!
Stealth is another new and fresh mechanic that is implemented to perfection. Although it is imperative to fight most of thebosses, whole portions of map can simply be cleared with your shinobi capabilities provided you like stealth gameplay. Figuring out the avenues and finding perfect routes for clearing a whole map while one-shotting everybody from behind is not only a viable option, rather it is an alternative and perfectly established part of the gameplay experience.
Visual effects is another aspect that From has improved in spades for this game. There is extremely satisfying visual and audio cues and feedback for any sort of action or effect, which gels so well with the artwork and backdrop of the game. The visual effects for each combat art and prosthetic tool is unique and striking; none of them will feel like cheap mechanics once you check out their cool implementations and attention to detail.
In the name of Ashina
Do I need to say it out loud?
The game looks incredible
The game is littered with jaw dropping vistas and recreates ancient Japan with absolute class. The mountains afar, the jungles down below, the temples, castles are all created with impeccable attention to detail. The textures and environments are so detailed that you can lose yourself in validating the deliberate imperfections put in by the artists to make the world feel so alive. Needless to say, most of the world map is interconnected in typical From fashion and exploration has never ever felt better due to the animations, controls and graphics.
This is further helped by the inclusion of so many NPC's this time around. Where the Souls games were based in dead/dying worlds, the world in Sekiro is alive and teeming with characters; at least way more than what we had in the previous games. The protagonist having a voice and conscience makes the game feel more personal than ever before.
Lets be real – the stories in the Soulsborne games are very shrouded; abstract at best. Only if you delve into hour long item description research or lookup Vaatividya videos will you be able to make some sense of them. However, that is not the case here.
Sekiro has a clear story, with this newfound focus and emphasis on the narrative that is completely new in a From game. The story not only pays homage to ancient Japanese lore and culture, but also to the spirit of manga and anime; all the while keeping a tight grip on the rich gameplay experience. This bold approach that From has taken deviating from their age old narrative formula, and the way they have executed it with such ease is really commendable.
One for the ages
It took me more than 100 hours to finish each of the Souls games, playing offline. Sekiro took me 40 hours. This proves a point I feel very strongly about – Sekiro is the most approachable FromSoft game I have ever played. I had my concerns that the game might be very difficult, but this game encouraged something in me that most other games do not; something I strongly enjoy – the ability to facetank. This aggressive approach, coupled with heightened mobility options makes the game a tad shorter but I believe this also makes the game a better product.
The game throws so much option at you, be it the plethora of consumables or offensive capabilities; that playing smartly often trivialises most of the fights. There are a couple of bosses that can induce frustration, but other than that Sekiro feels better paced as a whole game. We also have to keep in mind the high replay value due to the fact that some of the bosses are locked behind certain alternative endings.
As this review nears it's end, the one thing that I want to emphasise on is the sheer quality of the game as a whole. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice really feels and plays like an ideal AAA product, with every aspect being so polished to perfection. It delivers an unforgettable experience while transporting you to this deep, mystical and fictional Japanese land on the verge of collapse, keeping you on the edge of your seat throughout the journey, while effectively testing all your skills as a player.
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