A Shadow Tells A Story

A Shadow Tells A Story

This guy is gonna die a lot, but it's fine. Really. 

I approach the giant ape silently, swinging through bare white pines jutting from a shallow pond nestled in some misty mountains. My swinging, a mix between Batman's grappling hook and Spiderman's web-slinging, gets me almost to the ape before I splash down in the pool, exchanging my grapple for my sword.

The ape hears me, turns, rage and blood already etched on its face. A sword, far larger than mine, juts from its neck. A failed attempt from someone I'd never met, would never meet.

The ape roars at me.

Recognizes me.

It should. After all, we've fought many times before.

I try a more aggressive strategy, darting forward to get a few scratches in while the ape's considering how best to bash me to bits this time. The chunky beast takes the hits before raising his fists, ready to batter my skull. I dart back as the swings hit the ground, splashing water and nothing else.

The ape takes its miss and keeps going into a swinging punch series. I block the first, second by deflecting the blows at the last second with my pitiful blade. The defense throws off the ape's timing and it falls, rolling onto its back and presenting a target.

The old me would've rushed in, ready to deliver a clean hit. The old me has died to that one enough times. Instead I circle around, well away from the ape's arms, so that when it starts reaching, thrashing, raging I'm over its head with a clear shot, one I take.

We dance, the ape and I. It launches rocks at me that I duck under. It kicks, punches, leaps, all big haymakers that I roll, slide, or deflect. My cuts add up, driving the ape mad. As it loses its composure, the ape's barreling brawl gets looser, messier. Deadlier for the careless swordsman, but I'm hardly that anymore.

Finally the ape collapses, stunned, and I deliver what should be the final blow. I give the worthy opponent a bow and look to where I might adventure next, what treasure the ape protected in a nearby cave. I start walking that way, my blade washing off its deeds in the water around me.

I'm nearly there when I hear a grizzly sound from behind, a rending, tearing noise that has me spinning around, already bringing up my blade. Here, in these mountains, it's best to assume any noise means danger, death.

The ape is standing again, headless and seemingly at the mercy of the giant sword that had been in its neck a moment ago. It's taken exception to my attack, and as I ready myself, the magical thing unleashes a primal scream not from a throat but from a force beyond. An unreasoning terror rises in my veins, but I swallow it down.

The thing--not an ape any longer, for certain--swims towards me, blade held high. I go for the block, preferring to learn my enemy's moves before committing to an attack. The monster takes advantage of my hesitation, unleashing a varied string that, with its pressure, breaks my defense and leaves me open to a swift skewer.

Darkness rises as I collapse into the water. The pain is immeasurable, agonizing, and gone in an instant.

In another, I awake again before the ritual idol. Close by and below sits the pond, the white pines, and beyond them, resting, the ape. Whole and hearty, ready to go another round.

This time, as I draw my sword and start my swings, I know the real fight comes later.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an exacting game, one that demands both more and less of you than the other titles in From Software's illustrious pedigree. Dark Souls, Bloodborne, both punish you harder for dying than Sekiro, a notable shift because in all three you'll be dying often. The soft resurrection Sekiro provides serves as a difficulty salve, letting you get a little more time to memorize patterns and perfect reflexes, or save a brilliant fight from a single, ruinous mistake.

The resurrection ability is crucial to the story, too, a tale that remains, like From's other games, Sekiro's prime weakness. Not because the story isn't there, but because so much of it is inscrutable, its characters shown in small cuts and conversations. Motivation remains a mystery, and arcs are few. The final fight, should you make it that far, doesn't match From's dark fantasy titles in their epic grandeur.

Nevertheless, Sekiro is a tuned instrument. You have a sword and a few tricks, that's it. Enemies and bosses alike force you to play Sekiro like a shinobi, learning its systems until your fingers hit the buttons without thought, a pure flow. In this, Sekiro more resembles a difficult platformer, where advancing requires time, effort, and memorization. Completion is less the result of clever strategy and more repetition, grinding until your skills are up to the task.

You cannot 'solve' a piano, you must practice the piece until you can play it. Sekiro is the same, and if you enjoy its dance as much as I did, you won't mind exploring its mountains, its temples, its battlefields in search of the next test. When you pass, you'll get that triumphant glimmer, that moment of achievement.

If that's enough for you, then Sekiro is all you could hope for. Me? I could've used a little more around the edges, a few more reasons why my guy kept coming back from the dead, why he wanted to save a cursed child-king, and so on. Still, if you enjoy these games, I'd encourage you to pick up the sword and start swinging.

Oh, and if you find that ape, bring firecrackers.

A.R. Knight

A.R. Knight