Your instinct is to compare "Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice" to "Dark Souls" or "Bloodborne" or "Demon Souls." It is a From Software game after all, from the same developer that brought you those other brutally hard games, and made brutally hard games action role-playing games cool again.
But your instinct is wrong. The latest game from From Software actually channels a title from longer ago. Back in 2004, on the original Xbox, we were gifted "Ninja Gaiden," an action fighting game with fast-paced combat that required complete focus from the gamer. It was a masterpiece, one of the finest games ever. And the more you play "Sekiro," the more experience a slice of "Ninja Gaiden."
"Sekiro" is that good. Put simply, it's one of the finest action games you'll ever play, powered by fantastic, fast-paced combat. Its menus and interface take obvious cues from titles like "Bloodborne" and "Dark Souls," but its gameplay is all its own. It's a unique crossover title, marrying the ultra-challenge ideas of the "Dark Souls" era to the blood and gore and fast-paced spirit of the likes of "Shinobi" and "Ninja Gaiden." To some extent, Nioh did this brilliantly and proficiently two years ago, but "Sekiro" is better, more satisfying in its combat and slightly more polished in its overall look.
You play as Wolf, a shinobi warrior in a story that's more straightforward than a typical Souls game. Despite that, there's intrigue and plenty to learn about the world of Ashina, all worthwhile and interesting and enriching.
Gameplay, meanwhile, is captivating, but different from what you might expect. This isn't a game about blocking and attacking and grinding. Instead, it's a game about mastering timing and reading your opponents, about quick, reflexive button presses that end in blood and gore.
That timing takes center stage over the blocking of a typical Souls game. Parrying is an art in "Sekiro," and its one you must learn. Sure, you can attack, gradually eroding each enemy's defensive "posture," but that's simply not efficient. Knock away an enemy attack at just the right time, though, and they're open for a deathblow, your best way to victory.
Plus, learning that art against peon prepares you better for the rigors of boss battles. Bosses come with their own challenge, including unblockable attacks, and they require multiple deathblows. They often can't be attacked willy-nilly, so you need some sense of combat to find a route to victory.
Unblockable attacks, a source of frustration in other games, show the smart game design of "Sekiro." A symbol flashes briefly on-screen before one is about to land, giving you a split moment to react, to dodge or backstep or simply run away. It never feels unfair, and figuring out how to beat each unblockable winds up feeling satisfying.
Should you die, the game's title shows itself to be more than a title. Unlike a Souls game, you can either accept your fate, or you can respawn at a checkpoint, or you can respawn right in the middle of battle. There are consequences in the world to your decision, though, which makes each death require choice and thoughts.
Combat is enhanced by few weapons along the way; the mechanics you learn at the beginning are never cheapened or made easier by completely new ideas. Wolf eventually acquires a prosthetic arm and you gain a few little advantages, but by and large, the skills you hone early in the game are required throughout.
You need other skills than combat, too. Sekiro delivers stealth gameplay, too, but this stealth offers none of the trappings of modern games. There is no radar or marking or scanner, just your wits and focus. Your eyes watch the lustrous visuals, not some corner-screen HUD, and the game is better for it.
It all adds up to one of the finest ninja-style games you'll play this year. If you've liked From titles before, you owe it to yourself to play "Sekiro." And if you haven't? Play "Sekiro" anyway.
5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox One
Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
This article is written by Ebenezer Samuel from New York Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.