Sekiro: The 5 Stages of Getting Gud [Minor Spoilers]
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the first FromSoftware I’ve played extensively. I mean, I’ve dabbled in Bloodborne and Dark Souls out of respect for their excellent design, but I never felt like the games were something I could enjoy for several reasons.
Until the release of Sekiro, I was quite certain that From Software titles simply were not for me. My time with Sekiro has taught me many things, as ultimately Sekiro is a teacher both brutal and effective. When my time with Sekiro is through, I plan on diving into the other “Souls-borne” games with a new perspective on how to play video games.
Thematically, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is quite grim. It is, after all, about an immortal shinobi that dies repeatedly. This death, much like death in the real world, impacts not only the dead and dying, but also the living.
As I played Sekiro, I found myself meeting death far more than the game’s tagline might suggest one could. In repeated failure, I began to discover many things. Most notably, I discovered I could, with persistence, overcome each challenge I encountered. In completing the early hours of Sekiro, I overcame a host of negative emotions. I began to understand why people play these brutally challenging games. The losing sucks and can even throw a person for a quick loop through the five stages of grief. While that might sound melodramatic (I am a fan of many anime, after all) continue reading this piece as I explore the early game bosses of Sekiro, while applying the Kübler-Ross model for grief in the context of some of the early game bosses.
From this point forward I will be presenting an early boss encounter paired with one of the five stages of grief explored by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying. This book is intended to provide a framework for understanding the grief associated with dying in the real world, but I think the general framework can be applied to the context of Sekiro. A summary of the five stages of grief referenced here can be found both in the previously mentioned book and at https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/.
I present to you The Five Stages of Getting Gud at Sekiro.
Denial: Shinobi Hunter Enshin of Misen
The first speedbump many players will encounter during their time with Sekiro is a named enemy known as the Shinobi Hunter Enshin of Misen. Approaching this enemy without the prerequisite knowledge and counter skill will end badly every time. It is at this point many Dark Souls players will realize they can’t dodge roll their way to victory. The best way to deal with this guy, and the surrounding enemies, is to make use of hit and run guerrilla tactics. From the bridge approach, run down the left side of the path, making use of flowers for cover. Take out the archers with stealth attacks and run away if you’re spotted. Once all the enemies on the left side of the path are dealt with, take the grapple up to the higher right path. Stay in the grass on the right side, and you can take out the two enemies standing around the fire with ease. This leaves you alone with the hunter and removes the pressure other enemies could add when you fight him. If you die, you’ll be repeating this method to set the stage for another attempt.
Killing Enshin of Misen is achieved by using the Mikiri counter skill to counter his perilous thrusting attack. It is obvious this boss is intended as a skill-check for this mechanic. When he prepares to thrust, get ready to dodge into the attack the moment it lands. Successfully pulling off this counter will severely damage his posture and prevent you from being skewered. Please note that you will need to unlock this skill at an idol before attempting the counter.
Anger: Juzou the Drunkard
If the Shinobi Hunter was designed to teach you how to parry thrusting attacks, then Juzou is intended to test your ability to plan the approach necessary to deal with areas in the game that are dense with enemies. This guy has more friends than a 90s NBC sitcom. You’ll need to deal with two large groups of enemies before you even touch the mini-boss.
You can take a rooftop pass to avoid the first group entirely, but then you still have an arena full of dudes to kill before worrying about the boss. Approaching from the lake, sneak around to the entrance to the house on the left side of the arena. Be sure to note the samurai in the water, as you can talk to him later for some help. Enter the house, and quickly kill the swordsman and torchbearer. Clearing this house first will allow you to use the hallway approach to Juzou and his goons. Sneak up close, stealth-kill one of the shield bearers, and run forward to assassinate the archer before anyone notices you’re in their base killing their dudes. From here you should use hit and run tactics to kill the rest of the enemies while kiting the slow moving mini-boss.
Once you’ve set the stage, break line of sight with Juzou, and he will turn his back on you like a good boy as he returns to his default position on the map. Sneak up on him to deliver a stealth deathstrike, then run back to where you’ve left the samurai in the pond. Quickly talk to him, and he will serve as an effective punching bag for the mini-boss while you wail on him from behind.
(Unlock the idol up ahead, and you’ll have easy access to an area great for farming enemies.)
Bargaining: Gyoubu Oniwa the horseman
By this point, you’ve probably tried to sell your soul to a higher power for a better edge against some of the enemies you’ve encountered. This is the first main boss you’ll encounter unless you push past Juzou the Drunkard, but I don’t recommend doing that until you beat this guy for the few powerful rewards you can access after his defeat. Fortunately, he is relatively easy. Deflect his attacks, waiting for his overhead strike that kicks up snow. You can get two quick attacks in when he does this, then resume your defensive stance. When he runs off, grapple onto him for two free hits.
Slowly but surely, you’ll kill him.
Depression: Lady Butterfly
This boss will be the first absolute progress wall many players of Sekiro will face. This is the point where I began to wonder if I’d spent money on a game I couldn’t fully enjoy.
Lady Butterfly is designed to test the player’s knowledge of the relationship between the vitality and posture mechanics. She heals posture damage quickly and attacks the player even faster. There are a few tactics that can be used to defeat her, and the boss isn’t as challenging as it might initially seem. She has two phases; the first phase is a relatively simple duel. Maintain a defensive stance, and attack once every time she ends a combo. You can whittle her health down without risking your own vitality, and you’re going to need it in her second phase.
In phase two, Lady Butterfly will summon ghostly fighters and augment her attacks with ghostly lights. Fortunately, you can prevent the summoning of the ghosts by knocking Lady Butterfly down when she jumps up on her wires with shuriken. Maintain pressure on her with relentless attacks, and you’ll break her posture bar before you take too much damage from the ghostly projectiles she loves to launch at your head. If she manages to summon some of the spirits, they can be dispelled with snap seeds. Otherwise, they can be killed and will eventually de-spawn on their own.
Be careful, as they turn into homing missiles that can easily break your defense and kill you.
Acceptance: Genichiro Ashina
This is my favorite fight in the game, and I believe it is one of the most rewarding fights to conquer. You’ll be facing the ultimate test of your mastery of the combat system. You will be dealing with nearly every style of enemy attack at some point in this fight, and the result is a white-knuckled fight between two master swordsmen.
I don’t have much in terms of advice for this fight. Just know that you will be tested here for the challenges that will come later in Sekiro. This boss marks the end of what I consider to be the tutorial phase of the game. Use what you know, and don’t try to take more than the game is willing to give you. Best of Luck. It won’t get easier, but you will get better.
Thanks for reading my thoughts on a few of the most interesting early game encounters in Sekiro: Shadows die Twice.
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