Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is Much More than “Dark Souls Japan” (Preview)

Although it was shown off on Xbox’s stage, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will land on PS4 and PC as well sometime in “early 2019.” While that doesn’t seem too far away, the gameplay we were shown makes it seem forever away. The demo we got to see was closed off, and we weren’t actually able to play it ourselves, but Yasuhiro Kitao (FromSoftware) and Robert Conkey (Activision Producer) were on hand to dish out some great information and show us how the title is coming along. 

The Setting

As you gathered from the trailer, the game takes place in feudal Japan. The developers explained that the game is set in the late 1500s Sengoku period of time (where the states were constantly warring). Despite the setting, however, they stressed this isn’t intended to be a historical game and that they’ve created an original world based on the time period. It’s an extremely dark world (I mean, it IS a FromSoftware game), but the developers say a key concept they wanted to explore was the contrast of the violent/brutal civil war era mixed with the stunning beauty of Japan’s nature. 

Other time periods were initially considered, like the Edo period of Japan, but was quickly abandoned. The developers felt like Edo was the start of modernity within Japan and their story wouldn’t have worked in that time. The Sengoku period, however, was so far away that it makes sense that these fantastical things could’ve occurred. There’s a lot of lore to build upon in that period of time, but the devs were quick to note they aren’t explicitly referencing Japanese mythology, but creating new things that could easily fit in with established lore. 

The idea was to make something believable; that feels real like actually researching what was in the period from everything from the flowers to the plants and making it feels as authentic as possible, while having their own fictional, fantastical spin to it. For example the landmarks, like the castles, were researched and built in a way to reflect the history but exaggerated to larger sizes beyond what was actually built.


The Story Setup

The game’s title ties into the story/character you’ll be playing as. “Seki”comes from the Japanese word Sekiwung, which means one-armed person or someone who lost a limb. “Ro” means Wolf, which essentially makes the title “One-Armed Wolf.” The Shadow part of the title references ninjas, while “Dies Twice” represents the character’s survival AND the fact that you’ll be dying a lot in this game.

One of the game’s central characters is “the Young Lord” who has something special about him which makes him a target for the rest of the world. The character gamers play as, however, serves the Young Lord as a bodyguard. They describe him as a cold-blooded and stoic shinobi, whose sole focus is protecting his master…which, of course, is where the game picks up and things go wrong. 

[Warning, we’re getting into some specific story details here. While some of them were seen in the trailer and ALL happen early in the game, if you want to go in knowing nothing, you best turnaround.]

Our demo starts when “The Rival” shows up and kidnaps the Young Lord we’re sworn to protect, and our shinobi character gets his arm severed in the process (which we saw in the trailer). This point is an important one, as the result gives us one of the game’s key gameplay elements; but we’ll talk more about that in a second. 

Of course, our goal then becomes a quest to save the Young Lord from his captors, while also seeking revenge on the rival. This journey will take gamers to a multitude of dangerous and crazy places, with all manner of inventive enemies. As you saw in the trailer, our character replaces his lost arm with a prosthetic that can do a number of different tasks. The replacement arm is mechanical and created by a genius level expert who uses materials from the time to create this arm. It’s very rare and likely won’t be seen on everyone without an arm.

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While the arm will upgrade to serve a variety of functions, one of it’s first (and primary) aspects is the grappling hook feature. This adds a big element of verticality to the game that is crucial to how you traverse the landscape and battle enemies. Better get used to zipping up and around. This is especially true when it comes to the Sekiro’s stealth elements. What good would a ninja be without solid stealth abilities?

This is a FromSoftware game, so of course you won’t be able to sneak your way around every situation. Combat is mostly about the sword-to-sword element, and the intensity of that close quarters combat is something the developers want to retain. There’s a lot of blocking back and forth, with both sides having a “Posture” stat that drains throughout battle. If you, or the enemy, runs out you’re stunned and the damage taken is significantly increased. 

You have a block move to use, but if you’re off on the timing in the slightest it’s not as beneficial as you may think. A poorly timed block will take a chunk from your “Posture” and leaves you open for trouble down the road. The real technique you’ll want to master is the parry option, which deflects attacks and sends it back on your opponent, draining their “Posture” in the process. 

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Each enemy comes with their own weaknesses and finding/exploiting them is part of the fun. More so, each enemy type also has their own unique fighting style. They wouldn’t say a specific number of fighting styles implemented in the game, but emphasized that the developers put a lot of consideration into each enemy’s style and how they come at you in the game. The goal is to ensure that each encounter will offer the player very different experiences throughout the game. 

Jumping and using your grappling hook (going vertical) also plays a big part in combat and vital to your success. It’s kind of hard to explain it since I didn’t actually get my hands on it, but watching the demo made it clear that moving and going high will help you defeat enemies.  

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Your prosthetic arm is what gives you an additional set of tools (though you’ll never be without your katana). The tools included will help in and out of combat. For instance, there is a firecracker tool that can be used to blind an enemy and follow it up with the katana, but it’s also incredibly loud and can affect certain creatures in the game that could be used as a distraction to help you sneak around. A couple of the other prosthetic arm tools we saw include: 

Loaded Axe – A heavy tool that can be used to break shields to allow open strikes with your katana. 

Shuriken – Long-range weapon that can be used to close gaps quickly.  

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Other Tidbits

* As I mentioned earlier the concept of resurrection is part of the game. You can die during a fight, come back, and take your opponent by surprise to win the fight. It’s a limited ability, however, and something we’ll have to wait and learn more about later. 

* There are area effect moves integrated in the combat as well. 

* Watch out for old ladies! They may look sweet but they are part of an evil organization and will sound alarm for enemy soldiers to kill you.

* Boss battles (of course) are a big deal, and are powerful enemies that drastically alter their tactics when they start losing. The Corrupted Monk is just one of several powerful bosses that they are excited for us to experience. In one part we were shown, he used a dark art to create multiple shadow copies of himself to surround/overwhelm the player. 

* Going along with those boss battles, one of the things the developers are excited about in Sekiro are the fun cat and mouse sequences with larger than life enemies.

* One of the other things we were shown are what they are unofficially calling, Shinobi Doors. The idea here is that there are a bunch of these spread throughout the world and only your character can pass through them. These may lead to shortcuts, new paths, or even certain rewards. 

* The developers know that comparisons to their other franchises are inevitable. They say Sekiro is closer to the first Dark Souls in terms of general structure because it’s an interconnected world with multiple paths to get to the objective. The vertical nature, however, lends itself to a brand new experience.


Early Thoughts

Overall, despite not getting to play the game and seeing it in an unfinished format, I was still blown away by the demo. It’s an impressive looking game that seeks to bring in a number of different elements (mechanics and story) that will deliver on an exciting experience for gamers. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is definitely a game to keep a close eye on.