The latest in the long running series of hard-a** games, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in the most release by From Software. In this rendition of masochism, the player takes on the role of a shinobi in feudal Japan. Armed with a single katana, the player attempts to protect the shinobi's master but fails miserably and loses an arm in the process.

Herein begins the twisted tale of Sekiro, the one-armed shinobi who now wields a katana in one hand and is equipped with a prosthetic, magical arm in the place of the missing limb. This "arm" is referred to as "Shinobi's Fang" by a mysterious one armed old hermit named "The Sculptor". The prosthetic arm can be retrofitted with a variety of unusual items to weaponize it, such as shuriken, shields, spears, magical fans, flame vents, even firecrackers. As Sekiro we are first tasked with securing our lord, the Divine Heir, a child with supernatural powers. En route to him, the player recognizes very quickly, that though the setting is Feudal Japan, there is abundance of the supernatural here as well. The more one progresses the more twisted the story and the more sinister the settings become.The first half of the story is spent securing the lord, but the second half is where things to absolutely bonkers. We then have to spend the remaining game collecting key items that will allow the immortal Divine Heir, the ability to die.  

The combat in this game is vastly separate to Dark Souls. First and most foremost, there is no stamina bar. Sekiro has infinite stamina, thus infinite sprinting, jumping and step dodging. In this game, each character has 2 kinds of health. One is the Vitality, the normal health bar. Its pretty straight forward. The other is the hidden Posture Bar. The Posture Bar increases and fills up whenever you get hit or block any attack. Same applies to the opponent. Unlike Vitality, the Posture Bar is constantly regenerating in proportion to the Vitality on hand. Filling the Posture Bar to max exposing the victim to a "Deathblow" an insta-kill that ignores all vitality and shown by time slowing down and a red orb appearing on the enemy. Opponents cannot Deathblow us, so instead, when our Posture is maxed out, Sekiro falls down, exhausted and unable to block or Dodge for a brief moment.

Knowing when to attack pretty much sums up the entire combat system. However, it is much easier said than done. Each opponents attacks in a different speed and many can Deflect and block just as well as you can. Additionally, stronger opponents also can use "Perilous Attacks" identified by red Kanji appearing above Sekiro. These attacks are unblockable and should be avoided. Not that normal attacks are any better. Even the most basic of attacks can take a big chunk of Vitality in an instant. So, the game encourages stealth. Sekiro like most anime shinobi, also has the ability to stealth kill any enemy. Thus stealth has a BIG role in this game. You can even half the healths of most bosses and mini-bosses this way. 

So the way to fight in Sekiro is the same way as you would imagine Samurais do, constant aggression. By aggressively crossing swords you can fill up the Posture very quickly. But know that the opponent can and will block you. So here comes the point that Sekiro distinguishes its combat from Souls Series. In Sekiro, by blocking the attacks at the exact moment of impact, you can "deflect" the attack. Deflecting prevents your own Posture from rising and instead increases it for the opponent. Deflects are animated by a louder clang of the clashing weapons as well as a bright yellow spark animation at point of impact. Thus a combination of Deflects, Dodges and attacks make the entire combat. As you progress, Sekiro learns to deal more damage to Posture and easier Deflects. But again, resting and waiting is asking for trouble. Opponents will regenerate Posture the longer they are not being attacked and/or deflected. Hence why the game encourages fast paced combat.

An additional component unique to this game is the ability to pause the game. Yes, you can pause the game mid fight and change your inventory or quick items. VaatiVidya on Youtube suggests that this may be to encourage item use. And from what I have played, that seems to be the case. Using items in this game provides a nice advantage and in some cases, is necessary for survival. Like the Cursed opponents in Dark Souls, there are Apparition-types in Sekiro. These build up Terror from being in range to the player or hitting them. Terror builds up regardless of blocks or Deflects and leads to instant death. Thus it is encouraged to use as many items as you can to gain the needed advantage. Many a times, the key to beating a boss is through using the right equipment at the right time.

The game does not punish the player in the same way as Dark Souls does. For starters, we are immortal as well but in a different way. When the player dies, they have the choice to be resurrected at half health instantly. This can be done twice (after upgrades, thrice) though there is a cost. The resurrection is shown as pink orbs above the vitality bar. the left most is pink with a white circle in the center. this "node" is given by resting at any Sculptor Idol (Bonfire equivalent) and is always the first to be used. Once used, a black strike though appears, masking the remaining nodes. To remove the strike-through, Sekrio has to perform a "Deathblow". the second (and later third) nodes are only available after deathblowing at a number of opponents. Each deathblow increases fills the node little by little till it can be used again. These remaining nodes are also pink but instead of a white circle in the middle contain a white needle.

Should you die and have no node of resurrection available, you will respawn at the last used Idol. As punishment for dying, you lose 50% of all money (sen) and experience on hand. This once lost, is lost permanently, so there is no concept of "Retrieval" in Sekiro. So should you wish to purchase something expensive or want to buy an upgrade, you need to be pretty perfect and not die, risk losing a ton of stuff. Furthermore, there is also the ability of "Unseen Aid". A max 30% chance of Divine Intervention whereby you lose nothing upon death. However, die enough times and you receive an item called rot essence that reduces your Unseen Aid percentage by 50%. It also becomes attached to any one random NPC, freezing their questline till you cure Rot Essence. These ill NPC lay sprawled in their place and cough and wheeze excessively. Rot Essence can be cured a very limited number of times, so its best not to die. Or only use the cure if you wish to grind. Using the cure before a boss fight is stupid as every boss fight will cause you to die repeatedly. Note however that using the cure for rot cures it for all NPC and resets the Unseen Aid and resumes NPC questlines. 

Sekiro does not have typical rpg elements. There are no armours or weapons other than the default ones. What you can do is accumulate experience to unlock skill points in a skill tree. Skill tress are unlocked by obtaining Skill Texts. Skill points are gained by beating enemies only. Health and Posture are upgraded by collecting Prayer Beads. 4 Bead can be used to upgrade substantially the health and posture of Sekiro. Attacks are upgraded by beating bosses that drop Memory. These can be "confronted" at any Idol and increases Attack Power.

Graphically Sekiro is quite beautiful with plenty of scenic routes and vibrant colours. The entire map is gorgeous, I personally found it far more pretty than any Dark Souls area in any of the 3 games as I dont have PS4 so haven't played Bloodborne :(. There is also no multiplayer, so no "Phantoms" nor Covenants and no online play nor invasions. Throughout the game, you are on your own.

I would definitely recommend this game to all gamers to at least try