A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a ninja warrior game for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PCs. Players control an honorable and duty-bound shinobi who uses a variety of bladed weapons to brutally kill human, humanoid, and animal enemies in service of his young and imperiled master. Blood sprays violently from wounds, and enemies stagger dramatically and moan before collapsing. Some scenes show dismemberment and decapitation. Though the action glamorizes graphic violence, play also encourages and rewards patience and strategy. This is an extremely challenging game that forces players to analyze enemies and practice a variety of context-specific moves in order to succeed. Parents concerned with alcohol representation in media should also be aware that a small part of the game includes collecting sake and providing it to non-player characters to drink and analyze.
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What's it about?
SEKIRO: SHADOWS DIE TWICE puts players in the soft-soled shoes of Sekiro, a stealthy ninja who loyally serves his master, a boy with mysterious, magical blood that can make people nearly immortal. Sekiro is one of these people. He can survive terrible wounds -- his arm is lopped off early on and replaced with a mechanical prosthetic -- and he can even resurrect himself during combat (hence the game's name). But the boy feels his blood is a burden with potential to be abused by nefarious forces -- and, indeed, he is captured by evildoers at the game's start. Sekiro embarks on a mission to aid his master through the Japanese countryside, working through temples, villages, and castles that have been raided and occupied by bandits and worse. He must stalk and kill these enemies, using his ninja abilities to quietly attack foes without being seen when he can, and confront them head on when he can't. Most enemies can be dispatched with a single "deathblow" if they're taken unaware. If combat is required, players must keep an eye not only on an enemy health bar but also a posture gauge that measures an opponent's level of exhaustion. This gauge affects how quickly they can move and how effective they are at blocking and countering attacks. Once the posture bar is full -- which is often before the health bar is completely depleted -- their defenses are broken, and a deathblow becomes available. Enemies grow in strength and ability throughout the game, but so does Sekiro via upgrades to his own health and posture bars as well as modifications made to his prosthetic arm, which can play host to everything from a spring-loaded spear to firecrackers that can be used to distract enemies.
Is it any good?
This one's not for the easily frustrated: It's among the most demanding but rewarding action games you're likely to find. Even minion-like enemies in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice are extremely powerful, capable of killing Sekiro in just a few swift moves. And both bosses and mid-bosses can be gruelingly challenging, capable of stumping even veteran players for hours. What's more, if you fall in combat, you permanently lose half of your accumulated experience and money, with only a slight and random chance of receiving something called "unseen aid" that prevents the loss. This forces players to be extremely cautious in how they explore the world and approach enemies, and also practice and perfect Sekiro's growing arsenal of ninja abilities. Understanding how to properly identify enemy attacks and then dodge, block, and counter them is absolutely vital, and it can take a long time to develop this comprehension. An undying stranger who graciously offers his unkillable body for Sekiro to use in training helps, but most of the time players will need to practice with -- and repeatedly die at the hands of -- the foes they need to kill.
All of this said, once you begin to find a groove and feel confident in your abilities, you'll start feeling like a true ninja. Making Sekiro gracefully grapple his way through tree branches and rooftops before landing softly behind a group of enemies to stealthily eliminate them one by one is extremely gratifying. Finally working out a viable strategy to deal with a particularly challenging boss -- and potentially receiving a rare and valuable item, such as a seed that magically refills the life-giving gourd Sekiro carries with him one extra time -- can make all the effort seem worthwhile. And the world itself is a pleasure to explore. It's filled with hidden mountain paths that require skilled traversal and lead to beautiful locations and unexpected treasures. The game is sometimes at its best during these quieter moments, which can feel like a reward for having survived a brutal battle. Much like From Software's other games, including Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has a peculiar taste that many players will never acquire, but those who take to it are likely to savor the experience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in media. In a game like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, what is the effect of the constant focus on violence? What, if anything, is gained by making this violence graphic and glamorized?
How do you feel when you accomplish something that was exceptionally hard? Is the sense of achievement worth the struggle?
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