Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is fun and also challenging. There’s a lot to take in, both in and out of combat, and several aspects of the game require real concentration and attention to detail. I’m here with some tips to help you learn better and faster.
There are lots of boss-specific strategies in this game, since the fights are dynamic and unique. To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into great detail about those, but here are some basic tips to help you get acquainted with the world of Sekiro more quickly. Following those are tips for a few of the game’s first bosses—spoilers, obviously. You’ll run into plenty of tutorials organically, both in-game and on loading screens, so these tips are designed to get you a little more detail—and hopefully, save you some deaths.
There are lots of reasons to visit the Dilapidated Temple in the early game. It’s where you unlock and upgrade skills and prosthetics, and there are often new abilities you can practice with Hanbei. You’ll also tend to find new story beats and ways to progress early on.
Learn Your Surroundings: You’ll quickly learn that even basic enemies can quickly deplete your Vitality. Get caught in a group of them, and it’s curtains. Scope out as much of the layout as you can. Finding high ground via your grappling hook or good old-fashioned climbing is worth it. Use tall grass for cover as you look around. The first thing you’ll want in most situations is an escape route in case things go south. There are often hidden enemies, and it isn’t always possible to see all of them your first go-round. Beyond this, just be vigilant. Assume there might be an archer or gunner if you see high ground, and if there are multiple routes through an area, try to check them out. There sometimes isn’t a way to avoid being spotted, but you can at least avoid being overwhelmed and caught unawares.
Be Strategic: Be smart about which enemies to take out first. If you can, it’s good to take out large enemies with lots of power and reach, or spear-bearers, who tend to have a little more in their arsenal than swordsmen. And it’s never a bad idea to kill something you’ve never seen before learning what they can do the hard way. As you engage more with enemies, you’ll get a better grasp of how they are in a one-on-one fight; if I see a swordsman and an archer close together, for example, I’ll usually take out the swordsman first, because an archer is pretty much blade fodder in close combat. Use a stealth deathblow for the regular enemies you have trouble with, and engage the ones that are manageable to you.
Stealth Deathblows: There are a few types of stealth deathblow you can use, each with advantages and disadvantages. The opportunity for a deathblow, in combat and out, is shown by red dot indicators on the enemy. It’s often possible to get a stealth deathblow on a mid-boss, removing one of their two deathblow markers and making the fight drastically easier. Just be aware that you can only remove one dot this way; if you go far enough that the encounter ends, they’ll have recovered by the time you come back.
While mid-bosses are challenging, the rewards they yield are generally worth your time, providing things like Gourd Seeds and Prayer Beads for upgrades. I’ve also found that the more I fought mid-bosses, the easier the rest of the game got; it was through learning more complex patterns while fighting mid-bosses that encounters with basic foot soldiers went from difficult to almost mindless. It can be tempting to run right past skippable fights, but it’s generally best to test the waters and see what you can pull off.
It’s important to learn the ins and outs of Sekiro’s Posture and Vitality systems early, and part of that is knowing which way to respond to enemy attacks and when. Blocking and running are both good strategies when you don’t know what an enemy or boss might do. That much is obvious. But there are some cases—like fighting huge enemies with immensely powerful attacks—where blocking and parrying will drain your posture meter quickly. The same is true of relentless combo attacks. Paired with the fact that some bosses need their Vitality lowered before you can even make a dent in their Posture, you’ll want to mix things up and just retreat sometimes (hold your dodge button down to sprint). You’ll also want to create distance from time to time to let your Posture meter lower. Be patient.
The lower an enemy’s Vitality, the slower their Posture recovers. Once it’s down to a quarter, it won’t recover. Don’t be ashamed to hit and run until it seems possible to get that deathblow. You want to eventually get up in your opponent’s face for the kill, but there’s no reason to jump the gun on that. You’re playing as a shinobi, not a samurai; the point is to win tactically.
Use Items Wisely: There are always different ways to deal with enemy formations, and the game gives you tools as well; the Ceramic Shard, for example, can be good for baiting a single enemy out of a room or formation. It tends to be especially useful paired with the wall hug deathblow. The Fistful of Ash temporarily stops lots of enemies, including some bosses, in their tracks.
There are lots of stat-boosting items, too; those are good for tougher fights, but resources are limited, particularly at the start of the game, so they’re best used when you feel confident that you’ll be able to finish a fight out. Also keep in mind that most items that heal status abnormalities also increase your resistance to them; it’s often a good idea to use one as a booster shot before engaging an enemy who can afflict them, particularly for terror or burn.
Get Yourself Some Skills, Starting With The Mikiri Counter: You can access shinobi skills early in the game, as soon as you get your first skill point and return to the Sculptor. There are three basic types: latent skills, combat skills, and shinobi martial arts. Many of these skills can vastly change the dynamics of your gameplay and often deal more damage than regular attacks, so make an effort to build and collect skill points without dying and losing them.
The Mikiri Counter is essential to start with, making it possible to counter otherwise unblockable thrust attacks. The game offers it to you early, so take advantage. Other combat techniques vastly expand the sorts of tactics you can use and tend to do more damage than regular attacks. The Whirlwind Slash, for example, can help with crowd control, and once you can access the Nightjar Slash, it’s great for closing distance, grabbing a quick hit, and running away. The Grappling Hook Attack provides similar benefits and can be extremely helpful for bosses. You can always practice these skills with Hanbei to get a feel for them, so take advantage.
It’s important not to ignore latent and shinobi skills, though. Run and Slide, for example, is helpful for closing distance to enemy with a ranged weapon. Suppress Presence makes you harder to detect even while in stealth, even if you’re not concealed in cover.
Know Your Prosthetics: In addition to skills, knowing the ins and outs of your prosthetics is important. The game generally provides hints on how to use them; figuring out timing is the next step. The Firecracker, for example, is great for neutralizing beast-type enemies and can provide an invaluable opening for an aggressive foe; they generally have to be used up close, though, and within the enemy’s field of vision. Dodging or parrying and then countering can work well and will open up a somewhat wider window than either would on its own. The Shuriken can be good for interrupting attacks or continuing to press a fleeing enemy from a distance, and the Flame Vent is useful for inflicting damage over time—great for a hit-and-run strategy and even temporarily incapacitating certain foes.
In addition to useful items and information, exploring Sekiro’s world often yields rewarding results—it’s possible to find new prosthetics this way, for example, or even new skill trees. The world opens up pretty vastly after a certain point, and I’ve found tips or useful items for far-away boss fights way across the game’s world. The game’s setting, across a mountainous region fraught with steep drops and winding trails, means there are hidden points you can hang from, obscured grapple points, and plateaus to jump down too all over the place. I’ve found that exploring an area after I’ve cleared it of enemies is the best time, as long as I’m not too attached to the idea of retreating if I discover something unsavory, like a new boss or—I won’t spoil it for you—a unique stealth/chase sequence through a freezing crevasse. There also tend to be lots of items in enemy encampments. It doesn’t hurt to meander a little bit as you progress.
Sekiro uses an auto-save function, which means if you die or use an item you didn’t mean to use, that’s it—it’s saved in the annals of your gameplay history. Idol Sculptures, your checkpoints, are locations to restock and regroup—if you do, though, you reset regular enemy locations all across the map. If you’re worried about dying at any point, it’s generally a good idea to just backtrack and regroup. Where this becomes tricky is figuring out when to press on a little further in situations where you’d need to kill enemies again in order to progress or accomplish a goal; for example, it’s always easier to fight mid-bosses if you kill their lackeys first. Going back through with a better feel for enemy layout is always a possibility, though, so keep your options in mind.
Learn When To Run: If you’ve already used up your Resurrection and feel like you’re flailing around in a fight, it’s probably a good time to run. Dying will respawn regular enemies anyway, so you might as well flee and rest on your own terms instead of doing it the hard way and losing money and experience in the process.
Go to a shop and purchase some Coin Purses, which allow you to keep your money when you die, or to acquire some skills. There are unavoidable boss fights as well, and going into them with as little to lose as possible is smart. When it comes to money and experience points upon dying, it’s essentially a case of “You can’t take it with you.”
Characters you can actually talk to come few and far between, and they generally have valuable items and information. It’s also a good way to get bits and pieces of the game’s story. Be sure to keep track of what they tell you, as they often give good advice about upcoming situations or bosses, or otherwise about places where you can discover new tools and secrets. However, Dragonrot can make quest lines temporarily unavailable, so it’s good to keep track of who’s where and what their status is. There’s eventually a mechanic which can remove Dragonrot, so be sure to use it if you find yourself collecting Dragonrot indicators in your inventory. You can’t do this freely, so be deliberate about when you remove it. I generally like doing so after an unskippable boss.
With all this said, the game opens up as you get intimately familiar with what does and doesn’t work, and sometimes, that just takes trial and error. You may run into a boss that can counter your Mikiri Counter in a way you weren’t ready for, or find yourself stuck in a pit with an enemy you’re under-equipped for and can’t run from. Part of the fun is figuring things out on your own and learning from it. Save the pursuit of perfection for a second playthrough. In the meantime, just try new things and have fun lurking and slashing and burning your way through feudal Japan.
Those are just the basics—here are some specific strategies for a few of the game’s early bosses. Spoilers!
This is where you first really get into the meat of Sekiro’s combat. After a series of fights where you’re largely deflecting enemy attacks, the Ogre throws a wrench in that by fighting like a grappler, giving you a crash course on avoiding grabs and sweep attacks. You’ll be using your dodge a lot here, and it’s worth noting that his long-ranged charging attack, which looks like a grab, actually counts as a sweep attack and is dodgeable with the jump and jump-kick combo. Just give him a wide berth and watch for openings; his drop kick attack usually leaves him wide open, and his other kick attacks can be parried if you watch closely.
Two prosthetics are super useful for this fight—the Firecracker, which will stun the Ogre so you can land some juicy hits, and the Flame Vent, which is harder to get but worth it. (An in-game tip hints at this, but it’s in the Hirata Estate section, just before the bamboo forest in a campfire surrounded by thieves.) The Flame Vent will set the Ogre on fire with two uses, or just one use if you throw oil on him first. Not only does that do damage over time; he’ll also be stunned, so you can mercilessly slash away at him until he regains his bearings.
Juzou is a big boy. He’s also surrounded by little fellas, whom you do not want to be dealing with while you work on Juzou. Sneak around his encampment, starting with the soldiers in the building to your left and being careful not to step over anything and make noise. There are two reasons for this—one, there’s an ally, Nogami Gensai, directly across from Juzou, and you want to avoid leading any soldiers toward him as he’ll engage early and probably die. (You also don’t want to talk to him until you’re ready to fight Juzou, as he’ll immediately announce himself like a badass and charge in if you do.)
Two, the entryway gives you a route around to where Juzou and a few henchmen are for easy stealth kills. You may mistakenly alert the guards once or twice as you figure out the process, but just run away, avoiding your ally until the heat dies down, and continue picking everyone off.
Once it’s just you and Juzou, sneak up on him from whatever angle makes sense, get your free stealth deathblow on him, and then lead him toward Nogami Gensai, who will actually be useful now. While Juzou is distracted, go to town on his broad backside until he notices you. Then, dip, dodge, duck, dive, and dodge while your bud continues to attack. Rinse and repeat until you get your second deathblow indicator.
This fella would probably be enough of a challenge on his own, but he has flaming horns, so that’s cool. That means you’ll be taking some burn damage throughout the fight, so take Dousing Powder—even better if you have the reusable Withered Red Gourd, which you can get from the Treasure Scale merchant for just two scales. You can collect the two you need in the same area.
The Blazing Bull’s attacks can be parried, but they cause burn damage and significant Posture damage as well. That means you’ll need to parry sparingly and do a decent amount of dodging, hitting, and running. The fireworks do a great job here; you can use them as he’s charging you, or for a somewhat safer strategy, parry his charge attack and then use it as he’s turning toward you, creating a small window to wail on him.
You’ll quickly start to see the bull’s Posture meter rising as you chip away at his Vitality, so bear down and keep attacking and parrying, keeping an eye on your Vitality and burn meters, and you’ll get a deathblow marker sooner than you expect.