No Game Feels As Good As FromSoftware’s Most Overlooked Masterpiece

Out of the shadows.

screenshot from Sekiro
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If Dark Souls is a game of shields, Sekiro is a game of swords. Thriving in Dark Souls requires a good defense, whether that means using your actual shield, dodging attacks, or preparing for battle by leveling up and allocating stats. Thriving in Sekiro is all about offense. Whether you’re facing a rifle-toting guard or a giant, monstrous gorilla, the only way out is to stand inches from your opponent, stare into their eyes, and cut your way through. Released on March 22, 2019, Sekiro is an outlier in FromSoftware’s catalog, and a bold inversion of the Soulsborne tradition that still stands on its own five years later.

It’s hard to overstate the thrill of playing Sekiro for the first time. By the time it was released, FromSoftware had already established its formula in Demon’s Souls, three Dark Souls games, and Bloodborne — which had plenty of its own twists but still felt more or less like a Souls game. Sekiro was something entirely new. We knew going into it that there would be no leveling up to overpower enemies, no multiplayer to get out of tough jams, no magic builds to cheese through difficult encounters. Other than that, everything that confronted us was a surprise. And given FromSoftware’s skill at pushing players to their limits, surprises in its games can be terrifying.

Combat in Sekiro is an intricate dance of parries and slashes.


Playing Sekiro today is a different experience. With five years of spoilers and hindsight, Sekiro is a known quantity. But even if you know some of what you’re signing up for now, making your way through its cursed version of Sengoku-era Japan is still bound to be full of unexpected turns. The reveal of the final boss, the Guardian Ape’s second phase, what exactly is up with those immortal monks — there’s still more than enough to make you fumble your controller in surprise.

The biggest surprise of all might be just how good it still feels. The Souls series is built on methodical, sometimes clunky, combat. Learning to navigate your decaying body in combat against much more capable foes is part of its charm. Sekiro makes you as fearsome as any Dark Souls boss. Armed with a katana and a collection of tools from fireworks to axe blades grafted to your prosthetic arm, you are a force to be reckoned with. Beating a boss in Dark Souls feels like an impossible victory against a force of nature. Doing it in Sekiro feels inevitable. This time around, you are the scariest thing in the game.

A lot of that comes down to the swords vs. shields distinction. In Dark Souls, you block attacks to protect yourself. In Sekiro, you deflect them to leave your enemy vulnerable. At its best, Sekiro’s combat feels like a bloody rhythm, each perfectly timed parry bringing you one step closer to winning with a single, fatal strike. Sekiro is an incredibly difficult game — one many consider FromSoftware’s most challenging — but the feeling of playing it isn’t one of despair, but of overwhelming power. You can beat anything the game throws at you. All it demands is perfection.

Sekiro’s immortality comes at a price.


For all the ways that Sekiro is different from Dark Souls, it’s the same in one crucial way. FromSoftware’s games are about cycles, and the decisions that keep them going. Extending or extinguishing the First Flame, ending or prolonging Yarnham’s hunt, repairing or shattering the Elden Ring. In the end, it’s always up to you whether the cycle continues or ends. That’s the same in Sekiro, with some crucial differences. In most FromSoftware games, the cycles are metaphysical, created by the nature of the world, or at least by an intelligence beyond human comprehension.

Sekiro’s cycle is maintained by human hands. Immortality is passed down from heir to heir, solidifying the power of the emperor while drawing the life out of anyone unlucky enough to get close to them. As the inheritor of that power, your eternal life in Sekiro comes at the expense of others, just as the world’s rulers hold onto their power despite the suffering it causes for anyone else.

Sekiro includes some of the toughest fights in FromSoftware history, and they’ll well worth mastering.


Sekiro might look like a broken cycle itself. Unlike most Soulsborne games, Sekiro never got DLC, and its influence on Elden Ring is minimal compared to Dark Souls. But bits of its free-flowing movement found their way into Elden Ring, and in a more substantial way, so did its story. Where Dark Souls is concerned with uncaring gods and lone adventurers, Sekiro is more political, with major enemies representing political powers rather than supernatural forces. Like the curse of immortality in Sekiro, the titular Elden Ring is a manifestation of order used by the powerful to cement their power, until it becomes a tool in their infighting.

We may never see another Sekiro game. But in true FromSoftware fashion, everything the studio makes seems to be reborn in another fashion. We never would have gotten Sekiro if it hadn’t moved on from Dark Souls, so maybe it’s best that the cycle be broken, after all. Sekiro might lack the genre-defining power of FromSoftware’s best-known work, but there’s no way to forget the thrill of playing it, from the first clash of swords to the last.

Sekiro: Shadow Die Twice is available on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.

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