Top Ten Boss Fights In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro has a lot of great boss fights, but here are my favorites

Maris Crane
Sep 1, 2020 · 12 min read

I recently beat From Software’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and found the game to be an engaging, enthralling and challenging experience. The various bosses and mini-bosses encountered played a big role in shaping that experience. In this piece, I want to go over my ten favourite bosses and minibosses in the game. Most of these fights were extremely challenging, taking me a fair number of attempts to get past, and I’m reasonably certain I’m not alone here. That made it important for the game to create fights that felt fun enough to keep attempting and losing over and over again, until that one magical attempt, and the game more than delivered on that front.

I’m ranking these fights by how much fun I had during them, so this is purely subjective. There’s some bosses here that I think everyone will generally agree on, and a couple that I think I’m in the minority about. I want to explain why I think these fights are fun, and my experiences with each one. Without any further ado, here’s the list.

That sword flash is very important.

The first time I fought this mini-boss, I blundered into his arena furiously spamming the deflect button and got torn to shreds for all my trouble. Jinsuke Saze is an elite version of an already-elite kind of swordsman enemy common to the area, and I naively assumed he’d be a beefier version of them. What sets him apart from those other fencers is his constant use of the Ashina Cross, a rapid pair of crisscrossing slashes that if not blocked perfectly, hit you like a truck.

Learning how to deal with it, and then being able to reliably pull off that method, be it dodging, deflecting or using a shinobi prosthetic is a very rewarding experience. But that’s a progression that’s common to all the boss fights in the game. What makes this one extra fun is the small posture bar Saze has, meaning that you see immediate results for your efforts. Perfectly deflecting the Ashina cross just twice or thrice is enough to get through a phase. It’s a tall order but this makes it a fun, engaging fight that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Challenge round: Fight him inside the house back there.

I think I just innately ‘got’ spear-wielding enemies in Sekiro, meaning that I was able to deflect their attacks without thinking about it too much. After beating this guy, I was a bit surprised to find out how difficult so many people found this mini-boss, because I found him fairly challenging but not a wall that I repeatedly threw myself against. (If this sounds obnoxious, please keep in mind I took a whole week to beat the final boss. Just let me have this).

I found the fight fun because the timing of his attacks made sense to me almost immediately, and his unblockable attacks (which depending on the attack must be countered in a specific way that requires quick reactions) to be telegraphed well in advance. But I can see how not understanding the timing of his attacks could result in a very different experience. There’s also the problem of him being surrounded by common enemies that need to be dealt with before fighting him. There are ways to get around this, though, and the result is an engaging, rewarding fight with an enemy using a weapon that isn’t terribly common throughout the game.

Onikage, the horse, didn’t deserve any of this.

Another spear-wielder. But unlike the last entry, I think this boss inspires unanimous opinion of a more positive variety. Oniwa was the first boss I beat in the game, and is a surprisingly forgiving boss encounter for a game that normally doesn’t pull its punches. The boss arena is huge, giving the player a lot of room to manoeuver, Oniwa rides around in large circles, giving the player plenty of room to heal, use items or generally gather their breath, and he isn’t especially tanky, meaning the fight doesn’t overstay its welcome or increase the chances of making a mistake

I also appreciate that this enemy’s posture bar doesn’t decrease as quickly as other bosses’ do at full health, meaning that the rewards for any deflections you perform don’t immediately vanish, and you don’t have to chase him down the arena unless you really, really want to. I know some people feel that he’s only challenging on a first run, and is a pushover on subsequent playthroughs. I haven’t replayed this fight yet, but I’m confident that after pointing out all the factors that make this fight forgiving, I will still die a couple of times anyway.

The monkeys are easy to kill, but what about your conscience?

I really like the ‘Glutton/Drunkard’ mini-bosses. Unfortunately, the game loves sticking all three of them right in the middle of a small village of other enemies. The work involved in repeatedly dispatching the grunts around Shigekichi and especially Juzou sucked a lot of the fun out of those fights for me. Luckily, the game went easy with Tokujiro the Glutton and surrounded him with very easily-killable monkeys. What I say about Tokujiro does apply to the other two mini-bosses like him too, it’s just that this was the only fight where I was able to appreciate this enemy type instead of dreading dying and having to do ten minutes of table-setting again.

I think the moveset of these enemies is really fun to counter. It’s a mix of swordplay and cool-looking sumo-wrestler moves that are easy to deflect once you get the timing down, but god help you if you mess up. Personally, I also think the area where you fight Tokujiro has a nice atmosphere. Additionally, there’s plenty of openings to get your own damage in, all of which makes this enemy type really enjoyable to fight.

This picture looks cool, but Sekiro just missed an attack here.

The True Corrupted Monk is a very enjoyable, memorable fight that took me a while to beat, thanks to the brutal final phase. There’s a lot to love about this enemy: the dance-like attacks, the satisfaction of building posture damage against her, the gorgeous arena and (in my opinion) the best boss fight music in the game. Even though it’s a three-phase fight, the game goes out of its way to ease your way through to the third phase. First, the illusion of the Corrupted Monk fought earlier in the game has the exact same moves as this version’s first phase, meaning you’re fully capable of quickly getting past the first phase. The second phase can be skipped with an appropriately-timed deathblow. And then there’s the third phase.

I really struggled with this one. Her moves are similar to those of the first phase except now they’re much faster and trickier to deflect, and there are some fun additions, like vomit that inflicts Terror damage, and a sweeping-forward attack while shrieking like a banshee that inflicts real-life Terror damage. I normally try to avoid using the shinobi prosthetics in boss fights (not for ideological reasons, but because if I rely on a strategy that uses them, I’m likely to run out of the tokens that they consume), but for this phase, I made liberal use of the firework to stun her. And getting past this fight felt good.

Images that make me break into a cold sweat.

The Guardian Ape is a two-phase boss with diametrically-opposed approaches required for each phase. In the first phase, you run around a lot and get killed by a grab attack you thought you dodged. In the second phase, you mistime a deflect, get hit three more times in rapid succession and get killed. This fight is honestly a weird inclusion because I’m not sure I even had fun during this fight. But when I compare it to fights in this game I didn’t really enjoy (Owl, I’m sorry, but I actually hate you), this doesn’t feel like those fights.

I did have fun during this fight, but it was a different sort of fun than the others. More than any other fight in the game, I felt absolutely outmatched by the boss. The first phase is brutal, and goes against everything the game has taught you until that point. Deflecting is pointless. Posture-killing is near-impossible. Instead you run around the ape, slashing at him during the three openings where you know by now it’s safe to attack, and then immediately sprint to a safe distance.

The second phase is more conventional, but the large health pool means an increased probability of making a mistake you can’t afford. The second phase has a huge opening for getting damage in, and I love the way the game signals this to you. The Ape readies for a huge overhead slam, and the camera pulls back. Landing the deflect results in a larger-than-usual clang and it’s the sweet sound that signals that you can now get a good four-to-five hits in. This fight is brutal and unforgiving, and helped me experience a very different, heart-pounding stressful kind of fun

Don’t underestimate those chopsticks.

Gyoubu Oniwa was the first boss in Sekiro that I beat, but Lady Butterfly was the first one I fought. I spent a whole afternoon trying and failing to get past her second phase before deciding that I was too weak and inexperienced to take her on. I came back later, after Gyoubu and beat her in three tries. Lady Butterfly is the quintessential Sekiro boss. Most of her attacks need to be deflected if you want to get anywhere fast, understanding which unblockable she will perform and then effectively countering it requires swift reactions and a familiarity with her movements. Using the right prosthetic at the right time will take you a long way.

I knew all of this going in, and was able to effectively deflect her attacks and beat her first phase. What I didn’t understand, what I didn’t know the game was asking of me was relentless attack. Isshin Ashina tells you in conversation ‘Hesitation is defeat.’, but this fight demonstrates it. Attacking whenever I wasn’t deflecting, not giving Butterfly any room to breathe made all the difference in my second set of attempts, especially in Phase 2. It’s still not easy, and I still took a lot of hits, but it dramatically changed the way this fight — and the game — felt for the better.

“Why are you crying?” “Because I’m sad.”

This is a very high position for an inconsequential optional mini-boss to be in, isn’t it? And yet I simply love this fight. I love the atmosphere, a dark and haunted forest. I love the woman-scorned backstory that O’rin seems to have. I’m glad there isn’t any more lore about O’rin and Lord Sakuza, because it would rob her of her air of mystery. And most of all, I love the mini-boss herself. Sekiro is no stranger to enemies whose attacks resemble dances, but to me, O’rin towers above them all. Her attacks are almost more dance than swordstrokes. You fight plenty of female enemies in Sekiro, but this fight seems to me the most feminine, something that adds to how unique it feels. And when you respond with perfectly-timed deflects, it feels like you’re dancing with her.

I should say, I don’t think this fight is challenging, I her on my first try. I later read a description of this fight somewhere comparing O’rin to the Long-Armed centipede miniboss type, an enemy that attacks persistently and rhythmically, making it easy to deflect and build posture damage against. O’rin is an ambulatory version of that. But I think the lack of challenge isn’t something everyone feels, and in any case is a testament to how memorable and atmospheric the fight is despite its ease. O’rin was my favourite mini-boss to fight, and I think this fight needs to be appreciated more.

Bringing a gun, a gigantic spear, a sword and lightning to a sword fight.

Sword Saint Isshin is easily the most difficult video game boss I’ve fought. He’s the final exam boss, and his moveset includes attacks you’ve seen other bosses and mini-bosses use through the game, like the Ashina Cross, spear attack, and even the exact same slash-and-leap-back the Corrupted Monk did. This is a three-phase fight (not counting Genichiro, Warm-up Act), and unlike the Corrupted Monk there’s no breezing past the first two, to get to the third. The first phase is harrowing, but not much more difficult than the average boss you’ve fought at this point. There are enough openings, and generally he waits for you to make a move before responding.

The second and third phases make the fight what it is. In these phases Isshin uses a spear, a sword and what I can only assume is a pistol because I’ve never gotten a good enough look. In the final phase, he also uses lighting, because why not, I guess. This was one of the fights that I needed to watch a walkthrough for. Most people say that the final phase is easier than the middle one, because reversing the lightning does a ton of damage. These people are wrong. I still don’t understand the timing for the lightning reversals and every single successful one I’ve performed is a fluke. There’s nothing like getting hit by lightning and then getting shot four times in a row right after.

Having said all of that, it’s still a really fun fight, fun enough to keep fighting it over and over for a week. The familiar attacks help add to the sense that it is possible to get past the boss and the insane difficulty makes every bit of damage you get in feel rewarding. The only reason this fight isn’t in the top spot is that I think this fight was long and grueling enough without having to fight Genichiro every single time. Having said that, beating this boss elicited emotions that no other piece of media ever has. I was shaking from head to toe and laughing giddily for about five minutes, and that’s an experience I don’t think I’ll forget in a hurry.

Genichiro is the Kylo Ren of Sekiro. (Also Senpou Temple in the background of this picture).

Genichiro Ashina is the perfect boss fight to me. It’s challenging, but it’s extremely fair. Genichiro is a boss with no gimmicks, there’s no skill or shinobi prosthetic he’s especially vulnerable too. No, the only way to beat him is the traditional way, i.e. adopting a combination of perfect deflections and attacks just like one of the loading screen tips tells you. Genichiro’s fight follows up the Lady Butterfly fight as a reminder to attack relentlessly. Persistently attacking without missing deflections is key to getting past this enemy. Giving Genichiro any room to breathe is severely punished, so getting comfortable with hounding him is important.

After about twenty minutes of fighting him, at which point I’d seen all the attacks in the first two phases, I fell into a rhythm of attack-deflect-deflect-attack-attack, and it got to a point where I often took no damage in his first phase. Getting into a rhythm fighting this boss is a big reason for its enjoyability. His final phase, Way of Tomoe is your first test of lightning reversal, and I found it well-telegraphed and easy to pull off. He has much less health in this phase, and if you know what you’re doing, you’ll make quick work of him. (I didn’t at first, so it still took me a bit).

Aside from the lightning, there’s an overall lack of frills here and I think it adds to how brilliant this fight is. The fight also lacks any extraneous elements like other enemies to get rid of. Each time you die, it’s a short 15 seconds back to the arena to fight Genichiro, and get better at timing the deflects in his Floating Passage attack. From Software were able to create a challenging, engaging fight using the basic elements of swordplay that you’ve seen in the game so far, and the result is a fun, fair fight that I think is the embodiment of the very best aspects of this game.


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