Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice follows in a long line of brutally difficult games from the sadists at FromSoftware. From the mind-shattering learning curve of Demon’s Souls to the chalice dungeons of Bloodborne, From has built a renaissance of modern gaming on the backs of millions of destroyed gamers. And here we are, back for another go.
Make no mistake, Sekiro may be a different game in a lot of ways from its Soulsborne progenitors, but the main thing it shares in common is in its staggering degree of challenge. There is no need for the general hyperbole of difficulty that writers tend to bandy about when talking about the latest tough game on the market here: as someone who has played through, and scored the platinum, for 4 out of 5 Soulsborne games, I died enough times in the first 10 hours of Sekiro that other characters were literally getting sick from the rotten stench of my death.
Yes, Sekiro will kill you (twice) a lot of times before you get the hang of it, and a hell of a lot more after that. However, with a few mini-bosses under your belt, and maybe even a particularly tough butterfly lady, you may find yourself filled with a renewed confidence by the time you reach a battlefield littered with hundreds of dead. And then the gates open…
“MY NAME IS GYOUBU MASATAKA ONIWA!!! AS I BREATHE YOU WILL NOT PASS THE CASTLE GATE!!!” This is the rattling battle cry of the first true boss of Sekiro, and it comes with the roaring cadence of Game of Thrones‘ The Mountain. As if that tremendous introduction weren’t intimidating enough, when the player finally gets a close look at the general, he’s every bit as daunting as you might expect.
A massive, fully armored samurai general on horseback, wielding a spear larger than you are, Oniwa is a sight to behold, and most players will be in such a panic the first time around that he will simply steamroll them into oblivion.
By now From Software have thoroughly mastered the art of the boss battle, and Oniwa conforms to their tried and true strategies to the letter. He is massive, intimidating, outmatches the player effortlessly… and he can be beaten.
Of course, it might not be until the shock and panic of the general begins to wear off that players will notice, but as the trundling horse hoofs begin to dissipate, and the general wheels around for another charge, a small icon appears off in the distance: the grapple icon. Yes, as Oniwa spins his mount around, his spear actually becomes a grapple point, and that is the key to defeating the general.
Finding and capitalizing on a boss’s single weakness is one of most joyful tenets of the Soulsborne games, and by offering such a crystal clear example of this trope in the first boss battle most players will experience, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice makes its first boss encounter an extremely satisfying one.
By presenting you with this overwhelming foe just as you’re getting your footing, you might think Sekiro is just being cruel but its actually the opposite. The feeling of satisfaction that players get when they finally topple this horse master from hell fills them with a renewed confidence to persevere and imbues them with the knowledge that though there will be great challenges ahead, they can be overcome.
A masterclass in boss design, Gyoubu Masataka Oniwa is the first of many epic and fantastic boss battles in Sekiro but he remains notable throughout the game due to his daunting character design, body littered landscape, and one hell of a performance from voice actor Andrew Morgado. It is a battle to be remembered.