Underneath my yellow skin

Sekiro: Dancing with the devil


Ed. Note: More boss talk. More spoilers. All gold.

not again!
I win! Yeah, no.

The last we met, I was dancing with the devil, otherwise known as the Guardian Ape, phase two. In this phase, it felt as if I were dancing with the boss rather than fighting him. In fact, he reminded me of a combination of the Dancer of the Boreal Valley from Dark Souls III and Mytha, the Baneful Queen from Dark Souls II. It didn’t make it easier for me to deal with him, but it was an interesting observation.

I will fully admit that I was not into this fight. At all. I was tired of the multiphase bosses, especially when the first phase took so much out of me. As I said, the first stage wasn’t hard, per se, but it was grueling. If I made any mistake, I’d have to waste one or two Healing Gourds. I would have loved to have five of my eight left for the second phase, but I usually went into the second phase with one or two Healing Gourds and my three Pellets. That was not nearly enough healing.

Side Note: I like the way the Pellets are meted out in this game. In Dark Souls II, the Life Cems were plentiful and cheap, and I could carry 99 on me at any given time. Therefore, my usual MO was to use the Life Gems to make my way through the level, saving my Estus for the bosses. Or, use the Estus and top off with Life Gems whenever necessary if I was just running through an environment with no boss in sight. If I got low on Life Gems, I just bought more from the hag and didn’t think about it. In this game, Pellets drop randomly from enemies, and you can buy a limited amount from vendors. There is no limitless supply, so it makes me have to be more careful about when I use them. What I usually do is use my Healing Gourds for the level (and eight is usually plenty for this purpose), and I save my Pellets for a boss fight.

Side Note II: This is a side note to the side note. I fucking love that accessing the inventory means pausing the gameplay in this game. It hasn’t in the past, and I was never good enough to add things to my quick item bar during combat. I’m sure there are some Souls fans who are bitching about this change, but I like it. It means if I realize I need a certain item in a boss fight, I can pause and add it to the quick select. Back to the first side note.

I abused the Life Gem system in Dark Souls II, but I never felt good about it. It took away the tension of running out of Estus during a level, and the sight of a bonfire wasn’t as much a relief as it is in the other games (plus, way too many bonfires in DS II). In this game, the fact that Pellets are not unlimited and that I can only carry three at a time means I still have to think about healing judiciously. I can hoard the Pellets (which I do) until I really need them, and then, I can use them, but only until they run out. I can’t replenish them without significant grinding, which, while frustrating, is fair. I think Miyazaki struck the perfect balance with the Pellets in this game.

I got the Guardian Ape down to maybe four or five more hits, and I had run out of heals. I even used the Divine Grass (Divine Blessing item of this game, restores Vitality and removes all impurities) after the three Pellets, and I was completely out of heals. I had no resurrects available–

Side Note III: Let’s talk about the resurrection system. I like it, and I think it’s balanced well in general. You have one automatic resurrect that can be restored at any Sculptor’s Idol (bonfire). There’s a second one that can only be filled by performing Deathblows, and you can get a third one later. I have no problem with having to work for the second and third resurrection, but my issue is that there is a cooldown after using a resurrection (unless you perform a Deathblow on a boss during phase one. I think). I’ve Googled quite a bit, but I can’t find out exactly how long the cooldown is. What that means is that while you might have three resurrections available, after using one, you can’t do it again for a given amount of time. I’m guessing it’s more than a minute, but as I said, I can’t find out any definite answer. I hate that. There have been very few times when I’ve been able to use two resurrections, and I’ve never used all three. I understand there has to be a way to parcel them out, but I don’t think the right balance has been achieved.

I will say that Dragonrot is a mechanic that works well. It’s the consequence to resurrecting at a Sculptor’s Idol, and using the resurrection mechanic accelerates the speed of the Dragonrot. The practical effect of Dragonrot is that it causes Rot Essence in the NPC around you (you’re drawing life from them when you resurrect), and the more Rot Essence there is, the less chance you have of receiving Unseen Aid (the chance to recover your Skill Experience and Sen). The first time it happened, I thought I needed to start my game over, but when I realized it could be reversed, I accepted it and moved on. There are limited Dragon’s Droplets (the item you need to remove the Rot Essence), so I have to take care when I use them. When I’m fighting a boss, for example, I never use one because I don’t care if I recover nothing (which is what I have when I end up fighting a boss multiple times).

what up with the centipedes?
Meet my mortal blade!

Back to the Guardian Ape. He caught me in one of his combos, and I was done. The next run sucked, and I gave up after several more tries. I knew myself, and I had reached the point of diminishing returns. Even though I wanted to power through until I beat him, I knew that I would just get worse and worse with each attempt. It was better for me to put down the controller and try again the next day.

The first few runs of the next day were uneven, but I was getting him down. The thing I hated about the second phase was that I felt as if the opportunities to attack were few and very far between. There was one attack (a large overhead chop) that if I parried it, I could get in four or five hits afterwards. If I missed the parry, however, then he hit me for massive damage. It was a high-risk/high-reward situation, but not doing it meant a much longer fight. I will say that even if I didn’t parry it, I could get in two hits afterwards if I was close enough and didn’t get hit. It was still an iffy proposition.

As I continued to fight him, I got his moves down. I could recognize when he was going to do his unblockable moves, and I knew which one it was going to be. In the second phase, if he was raising his head, then I just full-out sprinted in the opposite direction because he was going to spray Terror all over me–which was usually instant death because once the Terror meter was filled, death. If he was moving side to side when it appeared, I jumped so his sword wouldn’t hit me. If he shot straight up in the air, I ran away so he wouldn’t plop onto me OR hit me with his sword.

I knew his pattern, and while I didn’t escape getting hit, I was able to greatly mitigate the amount of damage I received. I was getting to the point where I would have three or four Healing Gourds by the second phase, which, while not optimal, was better than one or none. Still. The windows for attacking were so small, I really had to be patient with the second phase. I knew I would get it–I just didn’t know when. It took me several more tries, but I finally got him, pulling the centipede out of his neck stump, and it was a feeling of sweet victory. It wasn’t nearly as exhilarating as when I beat Genichiro, but it still felt fucking great.

Why? Because I earned the win. I painstakingly learned his moves, and I got fucking good. Or if not good, then decent enough to beat the boss. I had to use my second Divine Grass, which didn’t please me, but I got it done. I wouldn’t have had the same amount of satisfaction if I had the ability to knock down the difficulty (because I would have after the twentieth death. I know myself). The other reason I wasn’t exuberant about it was–


I knew he was coming back. When I looked up how to fight him, I came across a very different fight. I tried not to spoil myself even further, but it was nearly impossible to avoid. It turns out that the Guardian Ape is guarding the Lotus of the Palace. It’s something he is tending to in order to offer it to his bride. It’s also one ingredient in the incense needed to reach the Fountainhead Palace in order to sever the immortality of the Divine Heir. Believe me, that all makes sense in the context of the game. 

After beating him, I went around doing other stuff, and then I went to an area that I had noticed before was a big, empty space. In fact, I noted at the time how weird it was because every other area was filled with stuff. This was just an empty arena, but it meant nothing to me at the time. Before I went in, there was a guy dying, so I had a little chat with him. He told me that he had been attacked by a large ape, and I knew this was the second time I had to fight the goddamn Guardian Ape/Headless Ape. I had just fought him a few days ago, and I really wasn’t in the mood to tackle him again. I decided to try it once, and I waltzed into the arena. There he was holding his stupid head, and he got me fairly quickly with his fucking four-swipe combo. I went in for one more try and got him to the first Deathblow. Then, he raised his head and did the Terror scream, and a brown ape dropped into the arena. It’s his wife, and she’s mad as hell!

I sighed and girded my loins. To my surprise, it didn’t make the fight that much more difficult because they rarely attacked at the same time. She had the same moveset as the first phase of the first Guardian Ape fight, and I managed to get them down to roughly half health. As with the first fight, my biggest problem is having enough healing items for this fight. I don’t have any more Divine Grass, and I do have one Rice (a powerful healing over time item that I haven’t tried yet), but I hate using consumables. Plus, I know this isn’t going to be the hardest fight, so I don’t want to waste resources.

I know I’ll get this fight sooner or later, but I don’t want to do it. I’ve been exploring other areas, and that’s one thing I really like about Sekiro–there is so much to do at any given time. It’s not an open world game because it’s very scripted, but there are so many arteries to the main path, and I usually have two areas to explore at the same time. It’s impossible to see everything in one playthrough, but I’m trying to do as much as possible as I can because I don’t know if I’ll play it again. There is less replayability (except for different decisions and endings) than there is in the other FromSoft games.

This game is incredible. I’m close to saying it’s the best of the five FromSoft games I’ve played (still haven’t played Demon’s Souls), but more of a one-time experience. I’ll have more to say once I’ve finished the game, of course (which feels very close), but even if I were to quit today, I would be fully satisfied with my Sekiro experience.

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