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Playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (spoilers within)

Isator Levie

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Well, going after those overlooked items in the poison swamp (another prayer bead and some more Money Booze lying amidst a giant ape skeleton) led to a couple of questions being answered.

Not just about trophies, but about what was up with that large chamber just before the misty woods, and why Sekiro didn't use the Mortal Blade on the infested Guardian Ape (or as a dying gunman called it, oozaru); I take it that is because you won't necessarily have the weapon for that fight.

Still, on multiple counts that fight was not too hard, from my higher attack power and general familiarity with the move set. Even when he called in a reinforcement ape... that was tricky on the first attempt, but on the second I used fire and the Living Force technique to increase damage and disorient the two beasts to make it easier to isolate and eliminate them.

It's a curious thing to me that you can get a memory for beating the Headless Ape, but actually taking the step of severing its immortality is optional, and the trophy for winning only comes from doing so. It was also how I got the final ninjutsu, so I now have the cool ability to coat the sword in the blood of backstabbed enemies to increase attack range. And the fight was worth two more prayer beads, bringing me to another four to turn into more Vitality, which still want the maximum. And I've already seen how NG+ doesn't yield prayer beads twice, so I wonder where another four could possibly be.

I'm not gonna talk about absolutely everything in the second playthrough of course, but there are a few highlights.

If been wondering how the game's start would work on a second round with the more cinematic opening, and the solution of simply cutting off a lot of items and capabilities until the appropriate moment is elegant.

I'm curious about this Kuro Charm, but opted to not return it to him when prompted. I guess that I'll have another chance when I met him again.

I was wondering if it was possible to actually win against Genichiro at the start. He put up a pretty good fight all things considered, but I had more than enough to overcome him. So it turns out that doing so simply has one of his Nightjars distract Wolf by throwing a blade at him from behind, giving Genichiro an opening to server his arm, after which his quip is changed to one of how a shinobi should understand the difference between honour and victory.

I think there's a decent increase in cash and XP rewards for beating enemies in this playthrough, that will help with buying up my remaining upgrades.

It's interesting to come back at the game's beginning and see all of the little bits of foreshadowing, especially as regards the Sculptor; things like his certainty that he can't yet die, his Rot Essence describing him as trying to hold off being consumed by the flames, and the nun asking if I wonder about where the hatred of war ends up and that she pities "him". Incidentally, I like that idea of a character that isn't particularly important or even named, but is still tired in the world with some background and insight.

It was also interesting to get a reminder of the first encounter between Wolf and the disguised Isshin; I had forgotten how hostile he acted at the beginning. I doubt it was sincere, if he was already directing Emma to provide assistance (unless it took a moment for him to make the connection). Speaking of Emma, I never fully noticed before, but I'm pretty sure that he clothing is more loose and affords greater mobility than would be common for Japanese women of this period, so that's another instance I like of design tying into characterisation, how she's a more proactive character.

Got all the way to Gyoubu (I've only noticed this time that his battlefield consists of a mix between Ashina and Red Guard soldier corpses, another nice bit of environmental storytelling) with only one death and one resurrection. The resurrection was from that one tough general in the area just before the Serpent valley. The death... was a pretty embarrassing thing from the Chained Ogre. Like, my fight with the guy was messed up from the start by one of the nearby soldiers being unusually resilient and kept backing away from me so that he was still around when the Ogre broke out and kept interfering, and then when I was close to winning I had an attempt to grapple hook the guy become messed up by targeting a tree branch, and then in trying to reorient myself I ended up grappling him while he was at the very edge of the cliff and I was flying over the chasm, causing me to plummet to a death that wouldn't allow resurrection.

I know at this point that I'm pretty close to the path to the Abandoned Dungeon and Senpou temple, so I'm going to head straight to those so I can get things started with the surgeons and fight me way up to the high priest and get that book from him; I'm concerned that if I go after rescuing Kuro, I'll only find the bell in the main hall, and that I need to have the book for the Child to initiate the path for the alternative ending.

Isator Levie

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I suppose the only question I should ask is "do you want non-spoilery hints as to how to get some of the things you missed?".
Nnnot yet. I already got the Headless Ape since you posted, and know how to get a start with the Senpou stuff and am going to send that one samurai to the dungeon as a starting point; I think that I can make some progress building off of that for the second playthrough.

And indeed, having encountered the Ape, at some point in the late game I'm going to go back over several areas and find out if anything else has any additions.

Once I've done that, I might accept a hint or two.

Isator Levie

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All right, making good progress. I've managed to again only die properly once, to the Ashina Spears bastard in the reservoir; once again, he knocked me into a chasm with too little health, leading to instant death despite resurrection. I paid him back for that something fierce.

I'm really liking this Dragon Flash attack; it both looks cool, and has practical benefits as something that can strike from range, through defence, and good for crowd management. I put it to good use against some typically tricky enemies, such as the blade-wielding monks.

I never quite paid attention to it before, but I like how detailed the world map is when it's still at the smaller scale of having been to fewer locations; it makes me wish that the map could be zoomed in on later. I've also recently been noticing a few world design elements that lend a bit more verisimilitude, specifically a few points where there are broken bridges that stretch away out of the playable game; it gives the impression that there's more to Ashina than the castle that the story primarily revolves around, and it makes sense that they'd be cutting off access in preparation for dealing with invasion.

Hmm, the Armoured Warrior. I would have thought defeating that guy couldn't get any rougher, but I happened to break his posture when I was in between him and the open shutter, so I vaulted over to kick him out from behind, and... the way that he looks over his shoulder and tries reaching back for me while teetering on the edge before plummeting over... it really conveys to me an impression of pleading. :(

I'd wondered what the significance of giving Kotaro the red and white pinwheel was, and it appears that it's all about making him trust Sekiro on the basis of responding to how he's making an effort as an opening for suggesting that he should head to the Abandoned Dungeon. I, errr, I don't like it! I'm not even happy at having sent Kumano Jinzaemon down there (and then going back and seeing him sitting forlornly in the cell; I'm not sure if I still want him to be there when I get back the ability to swim underwater and can access that room). It would be an unpleasant scenario in any event, but when it's facilitated by things like exploiting trust or manipulating a fixation... yikes.

That Lone Shadow Longswordsman just past Kumano went down easy enough; I had never before recognised that the perilous kick attack qualified as a thrust that could be Mikiri countered, but I stumbled into that defence this time.

Anyway, so I've got the Holy Chapter: Infested and plenty of persimmons, so I'm well on my way. I've also purchased all of the tier five prosthetic upgrades besides the Malcontent, so I'm also on my way to that trophy (I've got four lapis lazuli now, so if I get the same number in this playthrough in addition to purchasing two from the pot nobles, that would be enough to buy all of the final tier). Gonna make my way up Ashina castle next so I can continue to advance engagement with the Child of Rejuvenation.

Isator Levie

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Oh, just a little incidental note that I forgot to bring up before; I suspect that Isshin is also partially inspired by Date Masamune, given the whole one-eyed master swordsman thing.

Isator Levie

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Heh, I'm reading some things about Japan, and it's making me recognise the probable irony behind the Everblossom as the seat of the immortal Divine Dragon when the sakura tree is typically a Japanese symbol of transient beauty. I take it that things like how the tree initially appears sickly and the Dragon is missing an arm are meant to convey an impression that the tree's eternity is something twisted and transgressive.

Isator Levie

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I had a lot of fun storming Ashina castle. It was very entertaining to fight the Nightjars by employing the Nightjar Slash to close distance and knock them out of the air. And then inside of the keep I threw myself into a lot of good fights with the samurai, using that blood blade ninjutsu. I also wanted to make greater use of the prosthetic, getting a lot of good use it of Divine Abduction to thin the ranks of some enemy groups, Mist Feather to evade (leaving a trail of fire to punish, which was especially useful against Ashina Elite Jinsuke Saze) and Phantom Kunai for a few good ranged harassment attacks. I had this one especially fun moment when descending from the rafters by throwing a kunai at a samurai as a distraction so that I could backstab his companion to strengthen my sword, making it ready for handling a trio whole keeping it or their range.

Up at the top, it was funny to hear Kuro's line about Genichiro's victory meaning nothing, because I'm like "damn right it didn't, I kicked his ass and he cheated!" Same went with Genichiro's cockiness. All of that alone would have been enough to make it incredibly satisfying to have won against him in one attempt. And it was hardly easy, he got a lot of good hits in, such as getting me with Shock in the third round at one point when I was way too close to catch it, and in the first round he caught me with something that I had never seen before; a grab attack that I jumped right into thinking it was a sweep in which he put his sword away to grab Sekiro by the shoulder and then punch him heavily straight in the gut; ended up using up eight of my gourd draughts, through the fight. But I still had Nightjar Slash to get up close to him, and I'm just so familiar with his pattern; I'm thinking that Genichiro is going to be this game's equivalent to what I felt with Artorias in Dark Souls, an initially challenging fight that I experience thereafter as a kind of beautiful dance. There was also one especially fun moment when I got the first deathblow on him by way of driving him into the arena's corner; my experience in From Soft games is that backing an enemy into a wall is counterintuitively disadvantageous to me because I don't have room to dodge behind them but against an enemy like him in this combat system being stuck there put me in control, as he couldn't bust through my defence and couldn't dodge away from my onslaught. I've also got to say that the fight looks much better in that dusk twilight than it did in the stormier weather I first saw it in.

Incidentally, I was looking up stuff about the name Genichiro, and noticed how this character's version is written in a manner different from the norm. I wonder what the story behind that is; when I've played enough of the game to be willing to look at its wiki, I'm hoping that character entries will include trivia about the meaning of the kanji their names are written with.

Having gotten back to Kuro (who does not appear open to taking his charm back now, so maybe the next playthrough), I got to see how some of the conversation between them went when I had not gotten the Fragrant Stone ahead of time; instead, Sekiro told the boy about the letter he found in the dungeon, and they put their heads together trying to figure out its meaning. I'm not sure if I really did about before, but I like the way this has a distinct take on the usual From Soft thing of needing to piece information together from scattered sources by making that something which characters collaborate together on.

Had the first meeting with Isshin again, which allowed me to appreciate how that conversation ends with him stating (in a bit more detail) his philosophy of how hesitation in battle means defeat. It even has an adorable moment of Sekiro finishing one of his sentences. And I gave him that Monkey Booze I'd been holding on to, prompting him to gleefully say that Sekiro knows him so well and then that he knows what is like to breathe fire after taking a swig. On a more... sober.. note, he brought up how another name for the drink was Shura's wine, claiming that he'd killed one (or at least something like it) once a long time ago. It was a term I recognised from the Remnant for the Demon of Hatred, and I was with Sekiro when he asked what exactly Shura, but Isshin still feels like he's being a bit evasive by simply saying that those who keep killing eventually become them, losing all memory of notice and acting solely for the joy of violence. He then turned the subject back to the shinobi, claiming to see the shadow of Shura in his eyes and swearing that he would kill him if ever given cause. I find the whole exchange uncharacteristically deadly serious of Isshin, and that intrigues me.

On the same note, I went back to the Sculptor to give him Isshin's gift of unrefined sake. I had not recalled him being so cagey about why his arm was severed, saying he was on the verge of being consumed by Shura without elaboration on what that means. That prompted me to look back on the Remnant, and noting how it described a man who failed to become Shura, and that becoming a vessel for flames of hate was an alternative fate. It's talked about so much and so obliquely that it makes me wonder if there might be something in the game that would cause somebody to become Shura as another optional boss fight.

Before going to start collecting stuff, I went to check in at the Abandoned Dungeon and eavesdropped on the surgeons in with Kumano, Dougun and Dousuke; but oddly enough, only the former seemed to actually be in the room, even if his master was apparently responding to him. I wonder if it's going to be a bit of a Psycho situation... in any case, talking of how a strong, young samurai was an ideal test subject, and to prepare the Rejuvenating water for the glory of Ashina. Very creepy.

Got myself the Mortal Blade back and handed over the Holy Chapter; it was nice to fight those monkeys without having to run around not knowing what to do, especially to have a direct look at the hearing monkey when I rang that bell next to it. My one gripe is that I tried to use a snap seeds to dispel the ethereal monkeys attacking, but it again seemed to do nothing.

And the one time I did that session was when I went down to deal with the Shicimen warrior again. I'll tell you, with the memory of having fought the one in the Fountainhead fresh in my mind made being able to go against that bastard in a wide open space feel like a dream. I even realised that I could improve it a bit by making him pay for constantly jumping around by throwing deadly butterflies at him. Still a real hit point sink, but he went down effectively enough.

I'd been holding off going back to Hirata all of this time because I wanted to get Isshin's unrefined sake first so that I could... not need to give him his own gift right back. But I'm gonna sort that out next before heading back to the Depths.

Isator Levie

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Returning to Hirata went quite well; I found it quite gratifying to judiciously apply fire on the enemies therein. I did write well against Juzhou the Drunkard even while taking him more head on in a manner that allowed his crew to join in both from seeing him alight, using Must Feather to dodge him, and a lot more confidence with actually blocking his attacks rather than constantly dodging and running (although for some reason I got no unrefined sake for beating him). And then with Lady Butterfly, hey, I finally managed to make worthwhile use of snap seeds, which have that fight a lot less pressure even while she herself still put up a good fight. Good enough to make me think it might be worth enhancing my attack power some more (and setting what the Remnants for the Headless Ape and Isshin might say).

Incidentally, looking at the area right before that arena, I wonder if those two people lying in pools of blood might be Kuro's parents.

I still don't really get the deal with Nogami Gensai. Unless it's just supposed to be a momentary gag about a samurai who ineffectually rushes in after the fight has ended to try taking credit.

And I get more of the foreshadowing for the Sculptor when he talks about how the only thing he ever sees when he makes offerings to the Buddha are visions of the world consumed in flames.

This session's death tally was the highest yet. First was against Snake Eyes Shirahagi in the poison swamp, who was still a bit of a tricky fight with her gunplay and being able to push me back into that narrow passageway.

In the misty forest, I still wonder if there's more to that old man sitting in front of the Buddha statue, and if there's some way to fulfill his wish for the idol to return to its temple. I tested a snap seed on the illusory enemies just to see if it would work here as well (it did) but otherwise made a beeline straight for the Mist Noble. I was curious about that guy so I have him a chance to defend himself, but he's truly pathetic; can barely move, and his only attacks are an incredibly slow and weak arm swing and stab attack. Then I went for Tokujiro the Glutton, who even with a backstab to get his first deathblow and the same tactics as before managed to get in the second death of the session. But at least he was one that actually yielded more sake.

Getting back to Mibu village put me in mind of how this and the forest are very weird parts of the game that get the least explanation. Like, what is a Fountainhead noble doing occupying a decrepit temple? Who is the head priest of the village, and what is up with his and the other inhabitants drinking that water that is needing them up? And the name of the village is the same as a mansion in the palace. Is there a firm connection, or is it merely a demonstration of what other people attempting to reach the palace might do and how messed up that is?

Well, before I rushed back through it, I bought that Dragonspring sake to bring back to Isshin (in addition to his only slightly modified dialogue for getting a different unrefined sake sample). Apart from his general enthusiasm for getting the high quality stuff, it had him reminiscing on the parties that Emma talked about, although from his perspective they entailed a bunch of fools who would invite themselves over demanding a sampler. Evidently, Isshin did not think to highly of his peers, at least when they came around drinking; I'm guessing his reference to somebody with a cross-spear was Gyoubu and illusion techniques meant Butterfly would also come around, while the guy who kept tinkering with one hand while holding a cup in the other was obviously Dogen, and there's a very fun moment of him chuckling as he tells Sekiro about how his own father would turn bright red from just the first drop off booze. The only sorry left now to uncover odd to find what Emma will tell when she's given Ashina sake.

Got me first brand new thing from this playthrough when I popped back to the dungeon. Things are apparently not going well, as the surgeon was standing before the cell door with his face in his hands, groaning about how something isn't even human anymore, and passing on a request for me to acquire those red carp eyes to help them improve their procedure.

Last of all was charging through the village (after noting that O'Rin is still here on her own, so I'm curious how she'll act on being defeated with nobody around to comfort) to take on the Corrupted Monk, who handed me my third death of the session. All those deaths feel like a bother, because I had accumulated ten thousand Sen and Unseen Aid did not save it once, but... I don't know, I'm kind of past the point where I need to buy anything other than a small number of remaining upgrades. It's mostly just the principle of the thing.

But yeah, Corrupted Monk; far more aggressive than I remembered her being, certainly more than she is up at the palace. I suppose that's what you get when there's only the one phase, and my greater willingness to clash against attacks rather than run from them didn't help. And looking at the damage I was doing certainly makes it feel more like I'm at the point of needing some more power.

But I did win on the second attempt, even getting to throw that deathblow straight out of a Mikiri counter, and the XP from that finally brought me up to the ten skill points I needed to buy the last three steps of the Ashina Arts. I'm expecting some fun from trying out the Ashina Cross on somebody in future. So from herein all of my skill points are going to be banked towards buying up the Temple Arts, of which I have not one.

Hmm, I wonder what will come next after I deliver those carp eyes. And I've got to be sure to check back in with the Child of Rejuvenation to try and make progress on that side.


Trust a flumph.
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As you seem to be going through this second playthrough at speed, I'm going to put a vague (plot-free) hint as to how to get the biggest thing you missed the first time in this spoiler box
Spoiler: Show
After defeating Owl, but before defeating the dragon, make sure you eavesdrop on all the major NPCs. (and reload areas to get them to progress)

Isator Levie

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As you seem to be going through this second playthrough at speed, I'm going to put a vague (plot-free) hint as to how to get the biggest thing you missed the first time in this spoiler box
Wellll maybe when I've finished this playthrough. And kind of hoping that the biggest thing I missed was not that big (if only for being able to withhold knowing ahead of time that there was some big thing I missed; that should be something to discover in the moment, and now I'll be constantly on the lookout for it).

Hmm, I think that I may have messed up something with Doujun. I gave him the carp eyes, and he was all talking about how it would make his master happy but he himself can't quite muster the same enthusiasm for it. And... somebody called out deriding him as a novice. I had my suspicions before, but I'm pretty sure that Doujun and Dousaku are the same person. Anyway, when I went back later he was back in the cell and the two were having an argument in which the apprentice realized that his master next intended to test the stuff on him, abusing him off having become bewitched by the rejuvenating waters and stayed from the path of medicine, and trailing off into frantically demanding answers from his silent master (even going so far as to call him by name); by this point, the samurai appeared to be gone from the cell altogether. Some time after that I finally decided to swim into the cell via the underwater tunnel, where Doujun had been reduced to just standing with his face in his hand wailing Dousaku's name and plaintively along why he won't answer him (with Dousaku's note complaining about being abandoned still lying in there). I opened the cell door to leave, and the next time I had a look he was nowhere to be seen.

I'm not really sure what I could have done differently, maybe hold off on speaking to him or opening the door, maybe having gone to visit the prisoner before handing over the carp eyes. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself and he's still somewhere or in the world with some more to work on.

Oh well. I got to see what would go down of I went back with the stone after Kuro and Sekiro had discussed it among themselves. The first time I played their realisation that the Mortal Blade was needed to draw blood didn't happen until after I beat Owl, so it coming up earlier here allowed me to see the cute way that Sekiro was all "we don't know what it'll do to you, let's wait until we have the rest of the incense so that the risk might be limited", which I'm sure was not at all about reluctance to cut his child liege lord.

Killed poor Hanbei around now. I can't really see any sense in having him linger unpleasantly.

Took care of a few apparitions, each of whom killed me once. The Headless in the forest I tried to take with more deflection, which led up to an instance of him pushing me back and catching me stuck between some tree roots with the tip of his very long sword. The one in the castle moat, well, I just got a bit cocky there; bastard caught me with a water blade blast while I was in the middle of trying to take a swig from my purple gourd, killing me with Terror. And O'Rin... well for one thing, I discovered that Divine Confetti is in fact not needed to harm her, but the death was having forgotten just how damn quick she is.

Oh wait, she was actually one who killed me twice. Twas a fight that prompted me to finally use those last memories from the previous playthrough; learned that the Headless Ape once had a mate who died while he was infested, which is surprisingly sad (I'll be interested to see if Kuro comments on anything to that effect of I go back one time having beaten him first). And for Isshin, it first noted how those who return from death do so at the height of prosperity, and described him as somebody who conveyed strength and multiple techniques throughout his life, wishing for (and receiving) war until his final hour, which I think confirms my assessment of him.

But yeah, it turns out that killing her without the samurai to receive her results in her using nothing but an anguished will as she disappears.

Hmm, I think I found something different in Isshin's disposition here than I did in the first playthrough. I've got three Arts trees finished now, so when I met him at the snake shrine he recognised me as having mastered a technique immediately and handed over the Mushin text, and then while he was trying to say that he knew Sekiro (or was possibly interrupted while trying to say that he knew something about him) be broke down into hacking coughs in a manner that appeared to embarrass him, if his dodging questions about his condition with claims that he was just going to hang around with the fresh air for a while and then harshly dismissing Sekiro were anything to go by.

Taking on the gun fort went pretty well. I found Ashina Cross to be a pretty good technique on the inhabitants, got Snake Eyes Shirafuji without dying, and stealthily took out everybody in the main fort without seeing of a single noise trap. I mean, not until after they were all gone, just as a form of victory lap.

Oh, now I remember why I headed inside of that cell with Doujun; I wanted to check one last time if he wanted anything before I took out the big snake. Mind, looking at it now, the comparison between its heart and a persimmon makes me think it's a lot more likely to be something related to the Senpou Child's alternative path. And that lake gave me enough carp scales that I'll be able to buy both piece of lapis from the pot noble.

I killed all of those monkeys again, so now I have three pots of Monkey Booze, but want given one bottle of unrefined sake at all and can't remember where I got that second bottle of Ashina sake that I want to give to Emma. I might just check a wiki page for that one, just for the reminder; easier than combing through my own footage.

Damn Guardian Ape got a few good hits in at the start while it took me a while to find my rhythm again, in a way that caused me to lose all of my healing in the fight, and I used up all of my available spirit emblems trying (sometimes failing) to set him on fire, but that one did not manage to kill me.

No, that final honour was reserved for when I went back to take on Ashina castle. In fairness, it took until I returned to the dojo and fought Lone Shadow Vilehand for that to happen; I preferred to turn his backup into blood for my sword rather than a puppet, an I suppose that between that and being a bit cocky, plus the way that his kicks kept causing him to be bounced back a good distance in a way that threw me off, he did manage to overwhelm me once, and even in the second go I was pretty hard put to it. Shadowrush helped a lot.

Well, at least my path is set up for going straight to Owl now, which is a confrontation I expect to be similar to Genichiro. I think I'll go over my prior footage a bit this time to see how things developed with the Child of Rejuvenation and if I might recreate that a bit.

Isator Levie

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While taking a moment to look into the location of the Ashina sake that I had found in my prior playthrough (apparently in Mibu village), my eye stayed over two solitary words that, whole devoid of all context and direction, are sufficient to make me consider some possibilities for how to approach some things from a different angle.

It's not precisely how I would want things, but it still puts the majority of the work in terms of reasoning things out on myself, so it is acceptable enough.
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