After surviving 60 hours of brutally punishing bosses in Bloodborne, my first instinct was to move on to some far less stressful and easier, breezier fare. In the ensuing days, every time I booted up my PS4, I saw that Bloodborne icon and tried desperately to convince myself not to give into the temptation of initiating a sadistic New Game+ run just to see how skilled I had become. For a few nights at least, I kept the siren’s calls at bay, but the following Saturday night while bored, I thought “What could possibly be the harm?” in checking out the latest FromSoftware Opus, Sekiro, which had been sitting on my Playstation since a super holiday sale last year. This compromise of playing something new would surely placate my desire for a challenge and allow me to move on with my gaming life. Naturally, this quick peak into the world of Sekiro soon blew up into a month of repeatedly dying until I could once again add another gaming badge of courage to my collection that can only come from defeating a Soulsborne game.
Despite my brain telling me to run away, I was instantly hooked due to how fresh the game felt compared to the rest of the Soulsborne genre. The combat was as crisp as anything I had ever encountered in a game and made me wonder if I would’ve had far different opinions of Jedi: Fallen Order had I played this first. Never before had a game come this close to making me feel like I was engaging in truly epic swordsmanship thanks to brilliant posture and deathblow systems that were worlds removed from the stamina driven combat of the rest of the Soulsborne universe. This combined with the thrilling verticality afforded by the grappling hook fitted prosthetic arm and the immersion brought on by playing this shinobi’s tale in the native Japanese was seemingly everything I could’ve hoped for in a followup to the gothic “bliss” of Bloodborne. Plus, given all the insanity in the world right now, there was something to be said for the sense of triumph and relief overcoming a seemingly impossible challenge had to offer. While I cannot say for sure if Sekiro is my favorite of FromSoftware’s games, it does easily reach the highest highs and delivers the most punishing battles of anything else in the genre.
Now, as I do for all FromSoftware games, here are my rankings of the best bosses encountered in the game. Given that Sekiro places such a strong emphasis on mini-bosses throughout your adventure, I’ve also included those in a separate set of rankings to start things off.
5) Juzou the Drunkard
Sure, by the 4th time you fight a variation of Juzou it seems downright simple, but that initial introduction sets the tone for the rest of the game. Surrounded by other enemies and infinitely stronger than you are at that point, this is the battle that teaches you to stop trying to play like this is any other Soulsborne game. Attempting to face this foe head-on will certainly result in your death, so it’s best handled by utilizing the lack of a stamina bar and running around like crazy while waiting to pick your spots.
4) The Headless
While this recurring mini-boss doesn’t drop prayer beads like the rest, the spirit statues they do relinquish are essential for standing a chance against the much harder late game bosses. While the underwater variety are an interesting nuisance, the slow-mo fighting of the main land ones is bone-chillingly frightening especially when they teleport directly behind you for a deadly grab. Balancing getting swings in while keeping your terror meter low takes seemingly all game to master.
3) Snake Eyes Shirafuji
After the brutal gauntlet of snipers required to pass through the sunken valley on the way to the aptly named gun fort, you’re suddenly confronted with a mini-boss wielding a powerful boomstick that forces you to utilize new fighting methods to proceed. Good luck trying to block that piercing buckshot. Instead, you’ll have to turtle underneath the Umbrella prosthetic tool and hope for the best. While definitely frustrating, learning the intricate ballet routine required to beat this mini-boss was among the most rewarding feats in the game.
2) Lone Shadow Masanaga, the Spear-Bearer
Upon entering the Hirata Estate for a second time using Owl’s memory, you are instantly struck by the foreboding burning estate in the background. What awaits atop the lengthy staircase to the engulfed grounds is one of the toughest challenges in the game. Reminiscent of Dark Souls‘ Capra Demon, with his deadly dog companions, this mini-boss requires remaining on the offensive at all times to achieve victory. Just one moment’s hesitation will allow him to summon his unforgiving brood and quickly overwhelm you from all sides.
1) Seven Ashina Spears – Shume Masaji Oniwa
The final mini-boss is also the most memorable and the perfect way to send you off to the last battle. At first, this spear wielding samurai accompanied by an almost equally deadly samurai general seems like far too much of a match for you, but as you unravel the environmental puzzle around you, it becomes clear how you must utilize all the skills taught to you over the previous 50 hours to achieve victory and that final prayer bead. By using the puppeteer ninjutsu on a nearby rifleman, you can then create a distraction that allows you to take the samurai general on in more friendly terms. From there you just have to defeat him, successfully perform a vault over, and then puppeteer him as well and then, just maybe, you stand a chance against the deadly pole-arm bearing foe.
Honorable Mention: Guardian/Headless Ape
I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the boss that literally throws his own shit at you. While the Guardian Ape is more about patience than relentless attacking, he’s one of the most memorable encounters in the game – especially when he surprises you by continuing the come at you once he’s lost his apparently unimportant head. Of all the bosses to appear multiple times in the game, this feces flinging fiend is perhaps the most deserving.
Approximate Deaths: 15
5) Demon of Hatred
Having just finished Bloodborne, I thoroughly enjoyed this throwback battle that looks suspiciously like that aforementioned game’s Cleric Beast and Laurence, the First Vicar bosses. There is no use attempting to block or parry a single attack here. Rather it’s all about circling the hulking beast’s lower half and hoping to avoid a fiery doom. Bonus points are awarded for bringing the Sculptor’s story to a poignant close and bringing us face to face with a shura.
Approximate Deaths: 25
4) Owl (Father)
While the initial battle with your adopted father, Owl, is somewhat anticlimactically easy due to the disgraced shinobi being a shell of his former self later in life, the second encounter with him at his prime in the memory world is up there with the most punishing face-offs in the game. Once you do manage to make it to his second phase, trying to stay a step ahead of his literal owl form adds an entire new level of danger to the proceedings and clinches it a spot on this list.
Approximate Deaths: 50
3) Lady Butterfly
Lady Butterfly is the first skill check in the game, and if you take the same path I did, the first merciless boss you will encounter. The grace and speed of her movements knocks you right on your ass and serves notice that this game will be far harder than you were prepared for. Just two days into the game while suffering hours of defeats, I began to wonder if I was cut out for Sekiro’s challenge. Fortunately, finally emerging victorious gave me just the confidence boost I needed to keep going.
Approximate Deaths: 50
2) Isshin, the Sword Saint
Prior to starting Sekiro, I had heard quite a few people lament that they never finished the game because the final boss was so hard. Even with those warnings, I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to face. Counting the initial Genichiro phase, an unprecedented grand total of 4 phases must be overcome to achieve final victory and land that last Shinobi Execution. While the first two phases are classic clinics in posture depletion and maintaining the attack, the final two are lessons in keeping your distance and knowing when to strike. Isshin’s famous words “Hesitation is defeat” hold incredibly true throughout this war of attrition as doubting your next move for even a millisecond is enough to send you all the way back to phase 1. Strikingly pitch perfect and surprising, this was a well deserved and fitting end for the hardest and most brilliant of the Soulsborne games.
Approximate Deaths: 100
1) Genichiro Ashina
The second major skill check in Sekiro was its most dynamically paced and magnificent battle. It emphatically showcased the glory of the posture and deathblows systems that set Sekiro apart. While near perfection and swift decision making are required, Genichiro still never felt cheap, and his grand finale where he unleashes lightning hammered home the epic scope of seeking revenge on the man who took your arm. Hell, this isn’t just my favorite Sekiro boss battle, I am also convinced it’s the best any of the 3 Soulsborne titles I have played thus far have to offer. If you can make it past Genichiro’s razor sharp blade and powerful bow, you can hold your head up high knowing you can handle whatever the rest of the game can throw at you.
Approximate Deaths: 50
Reflecting back on my time serving under the Divine Heir has made me miss all those glorious deaths. Thankfully, the impending release of Final Fantasy VII Remake, will force me to take a breather before testing my luck at Dark Souls 2 and 3. In the now decidedly less immortal words of Isshin Ashina, “Well done, Sekiro“.