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Playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (spoilers within)

Isator Levie

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I've been thinking about Isshin's motives and his relationship with Genichiro, based on things like the statement in his Remnant and getting another look at his dialogue after getting unrefined sake.

It occurs to me that Isshin might not object directly to Genichiro turning to dark powers in pursuit of Ashina's security, but rather that he would hope and try to encourage his promising adopted grandson to find that strength within himself and development of his own skill. That would be things in why he would ask after how Genichiro fought even while he's assisting in sabotaging him, and would come from his disappointed last words about the man while returning from the beyond.

Heh, everything around Isshin make me think about similar experiences with Gehrman from Bloodborne. Gehrman is a character that I like in several respects, and find the context of his final boss fight rather moving, but one of my major disappointments about that game is how he largely disappears from it after about the first third. I think his motives in the finale are still compelling, but think it could have been more impactful of I felt like there was more of a relationship with him. He would have also been a prime opportunity to offer some more hints and insights about what is going on with the world, and the background of the Hunters. I don't know, maybe it was an earlier idea that had to be drummed out.

Point is that Ashina Isshin fulfils a lot of the same desires.

Isator Levie

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Hmm, it would appear that the difficulty of New Game + is finally catching up to me, as this time I died about... sixteen times.

Most of them were with Owl. At nine deaths, that puts him at a higher count than everything else in playthrough 2 combined. I don't know what happened there; I did reasonably on my first go, but for the next several I just lost three plot completely, kept going down within the first few seconds (some of which I elected to not resurrect from because it was too bad a start to sustain). I guess that the guy's mobility and varied projectiles, as well as his capacity to shut off healing and trying to evade that gas (which can line just a moment too long) gives the fight a uniquely tricky cadence that took me a while to get back into. I at least got the gratification of using Shadowrush on him a few times.

After that fight, I went to get perspectives on him from Isshin and the Sculptor, which I thought that I might have overlooked before, but no, that turned out to be their prompts for noticing changes in Sekiro; Isshin giving him recognition for having eliminated an obstacle to his goals without hesitation, the Sculptor observing that he's more clearly fighting for his own chosen ideals. I keep thinking about the way that Owl offers a choice before the fight starts, that the game presents a menu for, and I was wondering whole I started at that menu of I might not get something significant for selecting the option to abandon Kuro. That didn't feel fitting to what I'm trying to do now, but I'll see if that produces any interesting results next time.

There was some business I wanted to resolve before heading to the palace so I first went to eliminate the Headless back in the Sunken Valley (managed to not die despite having used up a lot of healing against those damn samurai apparitions that were in front of the cave now). I checked the dungeon again but it was a bust, and when I tried talking to the local Memorial Mob for any clues, and he surprised me by making such cutting remarks about having cruelly tricked an earnest samurai into the dungeon, and opining that it will be coming back to haunt me. Well, that does at least make me think that something more will be coming up on that end...

(Small side note: speaking to the Info Broker at the Dilapidated Temple made me realise that his comments before about an immortal samurai were about the literally immortal samurai, i.e. Hanbei, rather than Isshin)

Went to find the Headless Ape down in the Depths. That fellow and his companion managed to kill me three times; the backup adore just kept running away from me and towards the one with the sword in a manner that made getting safely close enough to remove him extremely tricky, but it was easy enough to finish once I did manage to eliminate that one. I was mildly tempted to not use the Mortal Blade on the corpse to see what would happen, but I had had too much hassle in that fight to tolerate the possibility of doing it again.

I got that Ashina sake from the village, but for some reason Emma did not seem to be receptive to it. It or any of the other drinks I had in possession. I don't know, maybe the window for it will come up a bit later. I know she's still capable of accepting something because of when I got that Dragonspring sake for her, so maybe when I go back. And I wanted to round out my XP before heading for another boss fight, so I tried talking out a couple of Ministry soldiers in the rooftops, which... got me caught in a bad angle that got me another death and set me back by 16k that took me another ten minutes to get back.

Aaaaand my fight against the Corrupted Monk got a last three deaths. I actually managed her perilous attacks far better than I did the first time, was able to recognise and respond appropriately to almost all of them, particularly for how in the third phase she uses mostly sweeps. Instead my first problem was when I made a botch job of guarding against her phantasmal attacks in the second phase, the second had my misreading a Terror attack as a sweep and jumping right into it getting a full blast in one go, and for the third I just got my guard broken at the wrong time.

I put a bit of a rush job on going around the palace. Used Gacchin's spiritfall to get through the courtyard quickly without being bothered very much, and finally tested out Eel liver for the enemies shooting lightning; that stuff makes a huge difference, maybe I should have been using it before. And when I got to the Flower Viewing Platform the Sabimaru was still hugely useful in managing the Okami warriors. Knowing where to go also allowed me to go straight back to Pot Noble Koremori and cash in my scales to immediately by up his supply of lapis lazuli. All I'll need now is a couple more fights and sideways and finding that ring, and I'll be able to complete my Shinobi Prosthetic entirely.

Hmm, I was comparing my progress to my notes here, and... I'm a bit behind on developments with the Rejuvenation Child. I had the encounter with her while she was sleeping, but she's not yet asked for a persimmon, and that had been sorted by this point before... maybe it'll be ready the next time I visit, and if not I'll try delaying by giving away my rice to those old ladies. I definitely want it sorted before going any deeper in the palace.

In the meantime, I got a little something new from Kuro; I came upon him in the middle of hoping that somebody (probably Sekiro?) was all right and then asking him directly if he was unhurt, before giving him a gift of rice balls that, unlike the ones made from the gift rice, carried a note on how Wolf senses that they're made with feelings of regret and reluctance to pay ways, emotions that tend to be mumbled alone rather than shared with others. It seems to have been a bit more proactive to the shinobi than he usually gets, since his voice sounded a bit choked up to me as he reaffirmed his promise to acquire the Dragon Tears. I find this useful; once the Child suggests an alternative approach, it will feel like something that will make the motive to go along with it feel more organic.

And I decided to spend the skill points I had bull up to finally start moving up the Temple Arts, getting the first and second attacks in it. I was pretty surprised to find that it includes latent skills for increasing the rewards from defeated enemies; that stuff would have been a lot more useful in the past, but that's what I get for prioritising depth over breadth. Maybe in a different file.

And the last thing I did was go after the Sakura Bull. I actually manned to get a vantage point for hitting it with a deathblow immediately from above, but the surprise messed it up. I didn't die there anyway, and had made sure to have plenty of emblems for fireworks; I used the Tanto to get some more before jumping down, and made up for that health just from killing the archers.

Isator Levie

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Oh, there were a couple of things I forgot to mention that had stood out to me.

When I went back to Kuro that last time, I got a new bit of dialogue in which he brought up noticing that the Interior Ministry is starting to put feelers out, and stating that Isshin has actually been checking in on him to offer assurances, despite his condition. I like that because it combines with an offhand reference early on (Isshin having told him about the secret passage beneath the moat) to create an impression that there's a relationship between these two characters to which I'm not privy.

The other is that when I saw the giant route figure that carries you to the palace, I saw now it had a huge log with a talisman attached to it sticking out the front of its groin. I wonder if that's also something referencing Japanese folklore, or was just being a little bit cheeky. I'm curious about what the text written on it says.

Isator Levie

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All right, after having had a break to devote myself to WorldCon, finally making some progress.

First up, I had looked up where the Malcontent's Ring was. Then I initially went to the wrong place, and spent about five minutes making sure there wasn't somebody hiding at the Guardian Ape's watering hole before heading to the burrow, thus encountering the third Shicimen warrior. An enemy that was irritatingly placed just out of reach of me being able to land on it from above. Only managed to kill me once, but despite the large open space it was a pretty damn annoying fight; such a massive density of projectiles hanging around, and then for the second phase he would cling to a wall ensuring that they'd all be closing in with nowhere to go. Had to figure out making slower, more precise movements to weave between them. It was also very helpful to start using shuriken on him while he leapt about. That method of fighting still took ages.

The ring is curious. The reference in the flavour text to it quelling a voice of rage in combination with its backstory made me immediately think of the Demon of Hate. Similar good for how the Sculptor specifically refers to it once I bought the upgrade, talking about it making a somber but enjoyable tune. When I gave that boss again, I'll be interested in seeing if the shinobi tool has any particular effect.

I saw how most of the final tier upgrades will require more fulminated mercury, of which I had very little at the time; enough to have bought the axe upgrade, but I wanted the Sabimaru one for the palace, and I was just short of that. I know I'll get a ton later on, but for the moment I remembered how the Sunken Valley had a bit, so I headed back there. That one white monkey put up a pretty neat fight against me while I was trying out the Senpou martial arts on it (a bit short ranged, but good combos once I got the hang of that), so for the group of them I opted to use my new tool to turn them upon one another. So now I've got the Lazulite shuriken and Sabimaru, and the trophy for having gotten so much as one final tier upgrade.

Then I wanted to spend some time trying to move forward with the Rejuvenation Child. That was a bit frustrating for a while, with no change in her dialogue for a while. I tried spiriting away Kotaro and beating up the Okami leader boss to make some progress there, to no avail. Also got another death from the palace Headless; had to use a lot more three-dimensional movement to keep ahead of their projectiles, but once I got into the flow on the second attempt I managed to be untouchable. The thing that finally sealed it was using up some more of my rice (have it to the old lady in the valley) so that the Child would provide more. When I went back (after having checked in Mibu village to see if having been to there palace would get a reaction from their priest; it did not), there was the dialogue about requesting a persimmon that got the ball rolling.

When I went to give Kuro the gift rice, I was able to give that Ashina sake to Emma, getting her to talk about how being a doctor gives her other users for the stuff as well, such as a low grade disinfectant and anaesthetic. She also talked a bit about her childhood as an apprentice doctor, competing with her feels to be the one to provide treatments for the abundant wounds of the rebellion, and remembering the one especially troublesome patient of a shinobi who would come in and not speak about where he had been hurt or what pain he was in, asking if that didn't sound familiar. I notice here that whole speaking her eye line is looking away from Sekiro and down at her cup in a somber, reflective manner, and I wonder if she's been doing that with every drink or it's due to the nature of what she's describing. I also like the further sense of growing empathy from Sekiro from how he is a bit shocked to hear that Emma has been doing medical work since she was a child.

And taking the Dragonspring sake I got from being up the warriors before the Great Sakura tree to the Sculptor because I forgot what he talked about from it answers my question about whether or not she got those rice balls from a literal monkey.

I wanted one final check on the Abandoned Dungeon to see if anybody had come back, but it was the same as it ever was (although I can't recall if those bodies covered up with blankets in the surgery cell were there before). I think I may need to call that one s wash. When I went back to get the rice balls from Kuro, I decided to not best around the bush and do something different in its own right by eating one right there. It was fun to have a moment of Sekiro's stoicism being broken down by delicious sweets, playing of of Kuro's ready confidence in them.

Once I moved things along by reporting the incident to the Child, I went for the palace Shicimen warrior to collect his lazuli that I would need. I had been putting off that confrontation for a while because of how it went the last time, but miraculously it was probably the best fight I've ever had against this type of mini-boss. It helped that I would start by going around the side and taking out the dogs on the far side of the river so they couldn't interfere when he teleported over there. But the real kicker was that, somehow, his placement was just perfect so that I was finally able to take out one of his health bars from the start of the fight while jumping down on him. After that, his being in a more confined space actually felt like more of a boon compared to the one back in the burrow; it appears that I was able to effectively leverage it to stick to him constantly and break up his projectiles before they could close in, possibly due to the instinct from the last fight to move more slowly and carefully around him and between attacks. He didn't keep much, but the Lazulite shuriken was good for punishing when he did. Had one death, which after the nightmare the first time I'll happily take.

So I then went back to find the Child having relocated to the Hall of Illusion, and had the conversion to start the new path. When I went through that tunnel to the side of the main hall the first time I had taken note of the one priest in the blue robes, so I made a beeline for that. From her talk about him providing instruction, I expected him to spring to life now, but instead he was only carrying a new Holy Chapter, Dragon's Rebirth, talking about how them being undying permitted waiting an age for the dragon's return, for the Divine Heir to imbibe child drain tears and a cradle to consume a pair of serpentine fruits and sheltering somebody into the west.

I've been wondering for a while about the two fruits. My initial instinct was that the dry one was implicitly easier to acquire and of lower value, but when I thought about how they would be needed for a new ending that felt like it made less sense. Especially when I started thinking about how the conditions for finding both of them are about equivalent; they both need ninja puppetry, for instance. In the end, I suppose it's simply about making it necessary to acquire two items in distinct but related ways.

In any case, I went back to the Child without ever having actually rested at an Idol, so I didn't consider how there was nothing to reset her location and dialogue, leaving her seemingly heedless of my acquisition. I went to see if Kuro or Emma or Isshin would have any comment on it (none did), took a slight detour to take out that Lone Shadow down by the serpent shrine (went round the back to get the do on him, and then taking out his second healthbar was pretty simple), and decided to get a headstart on acquiring the dry viscera. That cave have me another death, as I got caught in an awkward situation where having missed one of the wall-popping spear ghosts left me in a spot where there was one on either side, constantly stabbing in the back. Otherwise I acquired the item without incident.

So then I went back to the Inner Sanctum to advance things with the Child. The circumstance seems to be a bit more proactive to her than she's usually been; she sounded a bit frantic asking after the high priest, and was shocked to hear that his infested body had mysteriously died. And then she read the note describing how to reclaim the Dragon's Heritage, she asked a tone of quiet resignation that turned into firm determination as she resolved to consume the fruits and become the cradle. I especially like how when Sekiro asks if she's certain she wants to do it, she points out how being the only survivor of the monks' experiments means that death does not come easily for her; it's kind of addressing that she's been wronged, giving her a brief moment to feel the same over it, but coming out with using it as a source of strength.

So I immediately have her the stuff, Sekiro pretty uneasy at the notion of her actually reading them. I'll admit, I initially found her hesitance to do so in front of him mildly suspicious, but I'll get back to that.

Moved forward in the palace, being through the Carp's tunnel without taking a hit, and having a look at what giving him Precious Bait will do. At first it seemed anti-climactic, merely appearing to leave him placid enough to not attack in his tunnel; on the first play, I presumed that this was the default function of the bait, before needing to go through to even get to the place to feed him, and if it just showed acquiring the item down there unmolested it seemed rather minor. But then I chatted with the feeder, and if I presume that his references to "he" were him speaking to his master about myself rather than vice versa, I take it that he was sitting the Carp that I would be happy and rewarded for my arrive, then giving me a whopping four treasure carp scales. It was funny how he was then all "feed master in moderation, he mustn't get fat".

I returned to check on the status of the Child, finding that the doors were closed and eavesdropping revealed simply that she was gasping and writhing in pain within, so I killed some more time by going to deal with the Ogre at the bottom of the castle. I made that fight s bit harder than it really needed to be; I became really determined to win via breaking posture rather than deleting health, and while deflecting his attacks went pretty well, the problem was that being positioned to do so also left me exceedingly vulnerable to his grapples. He killed me the first time, and the second did enough damage that I had to throw up my arms and simply cut and burn him to death. Then I putzed around the reservoir to see if anything new was there before returning to the sanctum.

So the Child of Rejuvenation has apparently been rendered blind, and in asking Sekiro to take her hand revealed that her body had become exceedingly cold, which she compares to having become an ice house, with even her years freezing as they roll down her face. Those years were offered to Sekiro, since consuming them in combination with the Dragon Tears will initiate the Cradling ritual. At this point, it appears that mistrust for her was displaced, and she's on the up and up. When I spoke to her again I have her one of the Taro persimmons to make up a bit for her travails. And it would appear that despite them, her outlook has remained good, or even improved, as when I requested rice she giggled at the notion, revealing that the change in her body brought force rice shimmering with a frozen gleam. In his astonishment Sekiro compared it to fine snow, and she took to the comparison enough to decide that that's what they would call it from then on. There's always been a charm to the Child, but I find her emotional range depicted from these events rather compelling.

So that's all in order now, nothing to do but get the last necessity. Back at the palace, I gave noble Koremori's bait to the Carp and collected my lazuli reward. I'll admit to finding it a bit disappointing that the result was basically the same as the other noble, the Great Carp vanishing and the pot noble turning into a smaller one, located in the water just below the cliff where he'd resided. He at least seemed a bit less needy about it, and turned out to have an indefinite supply of a product to purchase with some of the bay number of scales I've acquired again, that red lump item I've never used. Just expected something a bit different from the talk of wanting to become one with the master is all.

And I got one more death from messing around the flower viewing platforms getting into fights. Wound up in a bad spot with ranged attacks coming from multiple directions, and one heavy one that took off most of my health in one hit to finish me. When I first saw enemies playing with footballs, I should have known that they would prove to be my bane; seeing Sekiro's head smashed in recalled to me my own unfortunate incident at a stadium. Still, got my revenge.

Heading up to the Sanctuary of the palace, I didn't waste much time; didn't feel a need to sir up my XP for wither skill point know that I knew what to expect in the boss fight. That being said, the Divine Dragon did pull off one surprise on me; when it's towards the end of the fight and the trees keep disappearing, a hot in a spot where he was charging up this enormous hurricane attack while I was on the far side from where the trees reappeared, and I couldn't get to them before he unleashed that massive blast followed by a sword stroke that actually took down one of my resurrection nodes. I became nervous when that started again, but managed to line myself up in time. Managed to not miss any of my redirects this time.

So, everything's ready for the final stretch now. I'll journey to the demon to acquire the materials I need for my final upgrades and see what effect of any Malcontent had on him, and then it shouldn't be too much hassle to finish off Genichiro and Isshin to get my second ending. To make things a bit easier on the next few fights, I did go and raise my attack power a bit more, bringing it to fifteen.

Isator Levie

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Okay, quick overview:

Getting through the invaded Ashina outskirts was a bit of a gauntlet, but one that failed to kill me. I got a few occasions of using the Finger Whistle to separate enemies, and despite being down to half of my gourd drafts (several of which I had accidentally used up by briefly mixing up the quick item and prosthetic buttons; there's still a bit of Dark Souls muscle memory in there) I was able to take on Shigekichi easily enough with a combination of taking out his first healthbar from stealth and effectively deflecting several of his attacks. Actually managed to break the posture of one of those huge bastards with a deflection for once, getting that fancy setup. And I didn't bother fighting that Ogre they had fairly, just leapt down on top of him.

Well, I say that it failed to kill me, but it used up all of my resurrections going in to the fight with the Demon of Hatred. I had about twelve thousand Sen at that point, and I didn't want that all to go to waste, so I went back to buy another upgrade; went with the Lazulite Axe. That was where I found that I had not acquired enough mercury, and I'm wondering where any of the rest is. I'm going to look back over my footage of doing it the first time to see if there's any I missed, or if it was dropped by a lot of enemies.

(I also checked in with the Info Broker, who had an item I had never seen before, the Valley Apparitions Memo. I guess that is description of things in the Guardian Ape's den was a hint about finding the Shicimen warrior taking up there.)

So, the Demon, another thing that went much better this time; only took thirty minutes, with seven deaths. Malcontent turned out to be something that would stun him for a few seconds, but would only work the times, so it's a lot like Gascoigne's music box from Bloodborne, albeit something I can see being a lot more useful here than with that guy; I got into the habit of using it on occasions when he would get very far away from me to keep him from using that widespread fireball attack so that I could close in on him. I'd say something else that helped equipping that Ministry dosing prefer rather than using the red gourd, so that I could actually stop fully built up Burning whenever it came up. The only hiccup was a couple of occasions where he got some lucky shots in at the start that made me give up rather than waste my one resurrection, and one time where we got stuck at the edge of that cliff and I could barely move around and at one point accidentally jumped into the abyss.

And hey, I finally actually used on of those Jizu statues when I realised that I could really use another resurrection node. It turned out I didn't actually need it though, since the first time I got to his third phase I did so without dying once, and then in the last stretch I couldn't get clear of one of his firestorms in time, but it worked out in the end.

So, with all that I'm up to five skill points, and spent three of them on the Virtuous Deed skill, in the event that I need the higher do rate for gathering the mercury I need for my final upgrade. Then it'll be off to get my next ending and start the merry go-round all over again.

Isator Levie

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Yeah, definitely going to need to go back over the outskirts a few times, use some of those balloons and try farming the enemies for mercury.
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