Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - General Naomori Kawarada Mini-Boss

I really want to play Elden Ring. I’m hearing coworkers and friends speak very highly of it. There’s been a good amount of buzz on social media. And gaming news outlets are all over that game. But I can’t play Elden Ring — not yet, anyway. You see, I’ve been wanting to revisit Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, also developed by From Software, since I first played that game in 2019.

So that’s what I’m doing — and it’s been fun and magical and maddening all at once.

There’s just something about the world of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice that truly captivates me. It’s eerie. It’s mysterious. It feels like something out of an ancient folktale. For as horrific as its enemies and monsters are, it’s surprisingly beautiful. And the combat, well, it’s punishing, but it’s also just super interesting.

Living in that world are some of the scariest and most bizarre enemies I’ve ever seen in a game. Giant flaming bulls. Demonic horsemen. Big ogres wearing thongs. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is terrifying for both the obstacles it throws at you and its wild presentation. Though it takes a lot of cues from ancient Japanese storytelling, it’s definitely one of the most thematically original games to be developed by From Software — at least in terms of modern titles, as the studio was making crazy titles years ago with the likes of Metal Wolf Chaos and Ninja Blade.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - Grappling Hook Prosthetic Upgrade

Even though I spent a lot of time in the world of Sekiro back in 2019, returning to the game meant re-learning everything about it. I’ve played other Souls-likes and challenging titles since, but Sekiro hits different. The game uses a posture meter for both you and your enemies, so you’re not necessarily chipping away at their health. Instead, you’re striking, knocking them back, and blocking their strikes, and these actions fill the posture meter. When full, your enemies will then be vulnerable to your attacks.

Of course, this is a From Software game, so it’s not as easy as it sounds. If you’re not persistent — truly persistent and not button-mash-y — the posture meter will return to normal, undoing your hard work and making all of that tenacity for naught. Learning what works and what doesn’t, identifying your enemies’ tells, and knowing when to back up and observe the situation makes for a very exciting gameplay experience, and it’s something that makes Sekiro feel unique from a lot of other action games and even from the Dark Souls series.

I recently played a lot of Nioh 2 (which is secretly a horror game, by the way), and I can see how some players felt the urge to compare the two titles. Sekiro is a very different type of adventure, though, both in terms of themes and gameplay. Yes, they’re both tough-as-hell action games, but Sekiro feels more difficult, and the combat is much more demanding, which can be mentally draining if you’re not in the right headspace for it.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Do I wish I was playing Elden Ring along with all of you? Kind of. I mean, that would definitely be cool. At the same time, going back to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has been really fun because of the parallels between the two games. Obviously, both being From Software titles, there’s bound to be a little bit of crossover. From what I’ve seen of and read about Elden Ring, it looks like a grim and highly challenging affair, which you could really say about any of the Dark Souls games — and most Souls-likes, too.

Similarly, Sekiro is also very grim, and if you haven’t played it, I’ll tell ya, it’s really tough. So tough, in fact, that I always have a hard time differentiating between mini-bosses and main bosses. So damn brutal that I have chill games like Yoshi’s Crafted World on standby just in case I need to relax and breathe for a moment.

Seeing people ecstatic about playing Elden Ring while I play Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is also fun because it’s like we’re sharing a similar experience with two different games from the same developer. Those initial hours of Sekiro? Yeah, they don’t seem much different from the initial hours of Elden Ring from a qualitative standpoint.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Combat Gameplay

I’ve been slowly making my way through the first few areas in Sekiro. I’ll take down some bad guys, realize they messed me up, save and heal (which means the enemies respawn), and try again, this time using what I learned to play a bit better. Of course, just like my first time playing in 2019, I forgot that there’s an optional area early on that totally kicks your butt — I remembered it was optional after about an hour-and-a-half of failing at a battle.

When Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice came out, the consensus was that it felt very different compared to the Souls games. Judging from what I’ve seen of Elden Ring thus far, that game looks to be a return to form for From Software. As such, it’s obvious that you, dear Elden Ring player, are having a very different gameplay experience than I am with Sekiro. Even then, I’d say that we’re potentially having a similar experience in terms of both design fundamentals and quality of play, as From Software is no slouch when it comes to creating riveting, daunting adventures.

I’ll likely be picking up Elden Ring in a few weeks. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep enjoying this wonderful and frustrating run through Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

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