Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an action-adventure video game developed by FromSoftware and published by Activision. The game was released worldwide for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on March 22, 2019. The game takes place in a fictionalised, magical version of the Sengoku period in Japan, and follows a shinobi known as Wolf as he attempts to take revenge on a samurai clan who attacked him and kidnapped his lord.
|Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice|
English region cover art
|Release||March 22, 2019|
Gameplay is focused on stealth, exploration, and combat, with a particular emphasis on boss battles. Although most of the game takes place in fictional areas, some areas are heavily inspired by real-world buildings and locations in Japan. The game also makes strong references to Buddhist mythology and philosophy. While creating the game, director Hidetaka Miyazaki wanted to create a new intellectual property (IP) that marked a departure from the Souls series of games also made by FromSoftware, and looked to series such as Tenchu for inspiration.
Sekiro received universal acclaim from critics, who commonly compared and contrasted it to the Souls games. While its high level of difficulty received some criticism, praise was directed toward its gameplay, story and setting. Within ten days of its release, the game had sold over two million copies worldwide.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an action-adventure game played from a third-person view. Compared to FromSoftware's own Souls series, the game features fewer role-playing elements, lacking character creation and the ability to level up a variety of stats, as well as having no multiplayer elements. It does, however, include gear upgrading, a skill tree, and limited ability customization. Rather than attacking to whittle an enemy's health points, combat in Sekiro revolves around using a katana to attack their posture and balance instead, which eventually leads to an opening that allows for a single killing blow.
The game also features stealth elements, allowing players to immediately eliminate some enemies if they can get in range undetected. In addition, the player character has the ability to use various tools to assist with combat and exploration, such as a grappling hook. If the player character dies, they have the option of being revived on the spot if they have resurrection power, which is restored by defeating enemies, instead of respawning at earlier checkpoints.
In a re-imagined late 16th century Sengoku period Japan, warlord Isshin Ashina staged a bloody coup and seized control of the land of Ashina from the Interior Ministry. During this time, a nameless orphan is adopted by the wandering shinobi named Ukonzaemon Usui, known to many as Owl, who named the boy Wolf and trained him in the ways of the shinobi. Two decades later, the Ashina clan is on the brink of collapse due to a combination of the now elderly Isshin having fallen ill and the clan's enemies steadily closing in from all sides. Desperate to save his clan, Isshin's grandson Genichiro sought the Divine Heir Kuro so he can use the boy's "Dragon Heritage" to create an immortal army. Wolf, now a full fledged shinobi and Kuro's personal bodyguard, loses his left arm while failing to stop Genichiro. As he received the dragon’s blood from Kuro three years prior, Wolf survives his wounds and awakes in an abandoned temple. In the temple, he meets the Sculptor, a former shinobi named Sekijo who now carves Buddha statues, and Wolf finds that his missing arm has been replaced with the Shinobi Prosthetic, a sophisticated artificial arm that can wield a variety of gadgets and weaponry.
With the Shinobi Prosthetic, Wolf assaults Ashina Castle and confronts Genichiro again, defeating him, although the latter is able to escape by drinking the Rejuvenating waters, which is a man-made replication of the dragon’s blood. Despite having an opportunity to flee Ashina forever, Kuro instead decides to stay and perform the "Immortal Severance" ritual, which would remove his Dragon Heritage and prevent anybody else from fighting over him to obtain immortality. Wolf reluctantly agrees to help Kuro and sets out to the areas surrounding the castle to collect all of the necessary components of the ritual, learning of a special sword that can cut immortals known as the Mortal Blade from Isshin Ashton’s himself, who befriends Wolf and names him Sekiro, meaning “one-armed wolf” after seeing his prosthetic arm. When Sekiro returns, he encounters Owl, who was previously thought to have been killed three years ago. Owl reveals that he also seeks the Dragon Heritage from Kuro, and orders Sekiro to renounce his loyalty to Kuro.
Sekiro is then presented with the option to follow Owl and betray Kuro or to remain loyal to Kuro. If Sekiro sides with Owl, he is forced to fight Emma, a doctor in service to Isshin, and Isshin himself. Upon defeating them, Sekiro then proceeds to impale Owl through the back of his chest while Kuro, in horror, realizes he has been corrupted by bloodlust and fallen down the path of Shura. It is then stated that a demon roamed the lands for many years slaughtering many people, possibly referring to the corrupted Sculptor, Sekijo. If Kuro is chosen Sekiro fights and kills Owl. He then uses the items he has gathered to enter Fountainhead Palace. Sekiro then enters the Divine Realm, where he fights the Divine Dragon to obtain its tears for Immortal Severance. Upon returning to Ashina Castle Wolf discovers that it has been attacked by the Interior Ministry and is informed by Emma that Kuro has fled through a secret escape passage. Sekiro finds an injured Kuro and Genichiro, wielding a second Mortal Blade. Genichiro then challenges Sekiro a final time. Upon his defeat, he sacrifices himself to bring Isshin, who recently died from his illness, back to life at the height of his power. Although Isshin is on Sekiro and Kuro's side, he honors Genichiro's sacrifice and chooses to fight Sekiro.
After defeating Isshin, the player can obtain three endings depending on what is given to Kuro. The standard ending is "Immortal Severance". Sekiro gives Kuro the dragon tears and severs his ties to the Divine Dragon. This process ends up killing Kuro, while Sekiro becomes the next sculptor and ends his life as a shinobi, as the previous sculptor fell to the hands of Sekiro after becoming a demon of hatred. In the "Purification" ending Sekiro manages to save Kuro at the cost of his own life, allowing Kuro to live a normal mortal life. After decapitating himself with the Mortal Blade, he is buried with his sword, whereas the final scene shows Kuro and Emma visiting his grave. The final ending, "Dragon’s Homecoming", is obtained by helping the Divine Child of the Rejuvenating Waters complete a ritual to return the power of the Divine Dragon to its birthplace in the West. Kuro's body dies but his spirit lives on inside the Divine Child. Wolf remains a shinobi and chooses to travel with the Divine Child on their westward journey.
Development of Sekiro began in late 2015, following the completion of Bloodborne's downloadable content, The Old Hunters. The game was revealed via a teaser trailer at The Game Awards 2017 in December, showing the tagline "Shadows Die Twice". The game's full title was revealed to be Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice during Microsoft's press conference at E3 2018. It was directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki of the Japanese development studio FromSoftware, best known for creating the Souls series and Bloodborne. The game was published by Activision worldwide, with FromSoftware self-publishing it in Japan, and Cube Game publishing in the Asia-Pacific region. Sekiro's soundtrack was composed by Yuka Kitamura, with some contributions from Noriyuki Asakura. The game was released for PlayStation 4, Windows, and Xbox One on 22 March 2019. A collectors edition of the game was also released the same day, and included a steelbook case, a figurine of the protagonist, an art book, a physical map of the game's world, a download code for the soundtrack, and in-game coin replicas.
Sekiro draws inspiration from the Tenchu series of stealth-action games that were partially developed and published by FromSoftware. The team initially considered developing the game as a sequel to Tenchu, but as that series had already been shaped by several different studios before they obtained the rights to it, they instead opted to take the project in a different direction. Miyazaki intended for the combat changes to capture the feel of "swords clashing", with fighters trying to create an opening to deliver the fatal strike. He and the team also created the game to be a fully single-player experience, as they believed multiplayer to have limitations they wanted to avoid. The word "Sekiro" means "one-armed wolf" in Japanese, while the subtitle "Shadows Die Twice" was originally only meant to be used as a slogan for the teaser trailer until Activision requested it to be kept for the final name. Despite the game taking place during the Sengoku period of real world Japanese history, there are no real historical people or locations featured in the game.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice received "universal acclaim" according to review aggregator Metacritic. Many critics praised the game's combat for departing from the typical style of FromSoftware's other similar games. In a review for Destructoid, Chris Carter described open combat as "akin to a waltz" and praised the variety of ways the combat could be approached, writing that players had more choices than in Dark Souls or Bloodborne. Brandin Tyrell from IGN praised the game's focus on "split-second swordsmanship", and despite the fact that "to any Souls veteran, Sekiro's timing-based lock-on combat of strikes and slashes is familiar", the game's "sense of safety" caused the combat to feel "refreshing and new". PC Gamer journalist Tom Senior called the combat "beautiful" and praised the posture system, writing that "instead of chipping down health bars until the enemy keels over, you overwhelm their posture bar with strikes and perfect parries until an opening appears, and then finish with a deathblow". He stated that the system takes "the catharsis" of beating a great boss and "focuses all that emotion into one split second". In a review for website GameSpot, Tamoor Hussain wrote that the game "rewrites the rules of engagement", stating that, while previous FromSoftware games demanded quick decision-making, Sekiro "pushes these demands further" than ever before. Reviewers also praised the resurrection mechanic, with Carter calling it "genius", and the stealth options, which gave the player freedom without descending into frustration.
The level design was also praised. Particular emphasis was given to the increased verticality the player had due to the addition of the grappling hook and a dedicated jump button. Tyrell wrote that the grappling hook "sends ripples throughout the gameplay", writing that "where all previous Soulsborne characters felt rooted firmly to the ground as they trudged down hallways and slowly climbed ladders, Sekiro's level design has permission to be much more vertical". Carter wrote that the hook provided "a more vertical and in some cases more challenging level design from an exploration standpoint". Senior wrote that the game used "large but separate zones rather than a huge connected world", but praised the "many secrets hidden just off the critical path, often reached with the excellent grappling hook, which lets you vault between tree branches and rooftops". The levels themselves were also praised, with Hussain writing that "buildings are placed together to encourage exploration and reconnaissance, with roofs almost touching so that you can leap between them and scope out all angles", with the branching paths "creating that satisfying feeling of venturing into the unknown and then emerging into the familiar".
Reaction to the lack of online multiplayer was mixed. Several reviewers noted that this allowed the game to have a full pause button, which was praised. However, Tyrell noted that he "missed the small notes left by others in the world alerting me to imminent threats or hidden secrets, or that vague sense that danger lurks behind me in the form of an invading player" that defined the experience of playing "Soulsborne" games. He also noticed the "lack of PvP battles, which seem[ed] like a waste of the new emphasis on skill-based swordsmanship", and argued that the parrying and blocking mechanics would have suited online play.
Similarly to other FromSoftware titles, the game's high level of difficulty polarised players and journalists. Several reviewers praised the difficulty, with Senior calling it "brutal" but "spectacular". Hussain wrote that the game "punishes you for missteps" and was "suited for people of a certain temperament and with a very specific, slightly masochistic taste in games", but argued that victory was "intense" and "gratifying". Tyrell wrote that the combat had a "steep curve to mastering it" but argued it was "somewhat easier than its predecessors", while still providing the sense of being "the greatest swordsman that ever lived" after tough victories. However, several journalists found it to be too tough, with Dan Rowe from The Spinoff calling it "infuriating", and writing that he was not having fun after six hours with the game. Forbes journalist Dave Thier criticised FromSoftware's decision to have one set difficulty on the game, claiming this made it inaccessible to players with a lower skill level. He argued that the studio should "respect its players" and add an easier difficulty mode.  Several days after the game was released, hackers managed to develop mods which would make the game easier by changing the speed of the player's character relative to the game. James Davenport of PC Gamer claimed that the game's final boss was too difficult for him to beat without the additional help of the software.
On release day, Sekiro drew over 108,000 concurrent players on Steam, the highest for a new game launched during January–March 2019, and the third highest of any Japanese game in the platform's history, behind only Monster Hunter: World and Dark Souls III. Later in March, it had reached over 125,000 concurrent players on Steam, making it one of the most played games on the platform at the time. In its debut week, Sekiro topped both the UK and EMEAA (Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia) charts, surpassing Tom Clancy's The Division 2. In Japan, the game debuted at first with 157,548 retail copies sold in its opening weekend. Within ten days of its release, over two million copies were sold worldwide.
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