Looks like it's that time again. A new FromSoftware game is out, and the internet is in an uproar debating difficulty, again.
But all I really care about is how fun this game is, and, let me tell you, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an absolute blast, no matter how many times I resurrect.
It's the biggest departure from the norm that FromSoftware, makers of the Dark Souls, Demon's Souls, and Bloodborne games have ever made. That said, it's still pretty similar to the games I just mentioned, but unique in all the right ways. First and foremost, you only control a couple of your stats, like health, defense (known as posture,) and attack power. Otherwise, it's all about parrying attacks and looking stylish. And in order to look stylish, From has graced us, finally, with a jump button. That may not sound like a big deal, but if you've played any of their previous games, you'll know how huge this is.
We can jump, grapple, hide, block, attack, deflect, and more, all with infinite stamina! But, to make up for the fact that we can swing our katana all day, there's the Posture and Deathblow systems. Essentially, you want to guard break your enemy so you can defeat them instantly, and you'll be using different skills, weapons hidden in your prosthetic arm, and items to do it. Every playthrough isn't quite as varied as other From developed games, but there is still a wild amount of variability in Sekiro. So in order to help those looking for the best and most efficient Shinobi tactics to use in Sekiro, here's The 15 Strongest Upgrades And Items In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (And The 15 Weakest.)
30 Strongest: Whirlwind Slash (Shinobi Arts)
So let's start things off right with a skill you can nab early and for cheap. Whirlwind strike is literally the first skill on the Shinobi Tree. But why is it good you ask? Well if you've played other FromSoft games, you'll know that group combat is messy, one vs one is obviously their forte.
Well, with Whirlwind strike you can still have an option when mobbed upon by multiple enemies! My advice? Use it a bit earlier than you think you should, you want the second strike to be the one to connect. If done correctly, it'll go through guards and clear out the weak mobs.
29 Weakest: Run And Slide (Shinobi Arts)
And, while we're on the topic of early game Shinobi Tree skills, let's talk about one that isn't nearly as impactful. The Run and Slide ability is 100% a quality-of-life skill. So much so it's kind of silly that it isn't a default ability for Sekiro.
But nope, instead, it blocks your progress on the skill tree unless you throw a skill point at it. It's not at all a bad skill mind you, I mean being able to go from running to a crouched, stealthed state is obviously useful. It's just not as useful as 90% of the other abilities.
28 Strongest: Mikiri Counter (Shinobi Arts)
Don't get it twisted, this next skill is essentially mandatory, as it takes one of the harder mechanics of the game and turns it into child's play. Mikiri Counter is a skill that completely destroys enemies that use thrust moves. Basically, dodge towards the enemy when you see the prompt above their head for a thrust attack, and you'll stomp their weapon into the ground for massive Posture damage.
But to avoid confusion, this skill does still require lightning-fast reaction timing. Plus, it is a bit odd to dodge into an attack. But once you get the hang of it, enemies like the Shinobi Hunter are a piece of cake.
27 Weakest: Shinobi's/Sculptor's Karma (Prosthetic/Shinobi Arts)
Spirit Emblems are Sekiro's ammo system. They're ammo for both your Prosthetic Arm Tools and your Combat Arts. They're incredibly useful, cheap to buy and let you experiment with tons of different play-styles. But, as useful as they are, they're in no way worthwhile enough to spend 9+ skill points on so you can carry 3-4 extra.
So just ignore the "Karma" skills as all they do is increase the amount you can hold by a single amount, each time. Sure, if you nab all of the skills, you can throw a couple of extra shurikens, or toss out another firecracker, but that's really it.
26 Strongest: Ichimonji (Shinobi Arts)
Oh boy howdy do I like Ichimonji. This Combat Art is the first skill in the Ashina Arts tree, my favorite skill tree. The Ashina Tree is full of useful moves, comes from my favorite character Tengu, and has some great passive skills. But starting it off with Ichimonji was the right way to go on FromSoft's part.
This Combat Art by default costs zero Spirit Emblems to use, so spam it as much as you want. To elaborate, it's a bit, deliberate overhead swing that absolutely tears through Posture as well as recovering some of your own. And if that doesn't sell you on it, just wait until you get Ichimonji Double.
25 Weakest: A Beast's Karma (Sakura Bull Reward)
So back to spirit emblems, but first, lets chat about the Sakura Bull. This is a boss later in the game. Much later in fact, than what we've been talking about so far. Honestly, it's a recolor of the Flaming Bull fight that was already no fun. The bull mini-bosses are annoying fights, they've got tons of health, and feel repetitive.
So, making it through should warrant a pretty hefty reward. But instead, what we get is a skill called Beast's Karma, which again, only increases your Spirit Emblems! To be frank, it's absolute Bull.
24 Strongest: Breath Of Nature (Ashina Arts)
We're back on the Ashina Arts tree. It's so good! They're mostly passive skills that frankly just make the game a bit more bearable in terms of difficulty. And one of the best skills on this tree is Breath of Nature: Light. This skill passively recovers Posture per Deathblow, all of it. Now that doesn't sound like it'd be all too useful right?
Maybe in the early game, it wouldn't be, but once you're a bit farther in, blocking any attacking without deflecting almost immediately fills your posture bar. Plus, most bosses take more than one Deathblow, so this really just sets you up for the Phase 2 part of most fights.
23 Weakest: Devotion (Temple Arts)
Now we're onto the Temple Arts tree, which you get from the Senpoud Monks. One of their passive skills is called Devotion. On paper, it's a pretty useful ability, as it increases the amount of time that Buddhist Candy is active. Buddhist Candies are the little "sugar" items you've been picking up throughout the game like Ako's Sugar.
These things can reduce or buff damage, increase stealth, or let you tear through posture. They're really useful honestly. But the buff only buff's them by about 50%, so a 30-second duration becomes 45 seconds instead. Decent, sure, but not at all as you'd think it would be.
22 Strongest: Breath Of Life (Shinobi Arts)
Now this skill is even more mandatory than Mikiri Counter. In fact, I'd say that if you managed to beat the game without this skill, you deserve a bit of praise. Breath of Life in the Shinobi tree gives you health back for every Deathblow.
That's absolutely insane, especially in the area's where there are 15+ weak mobs. Basically, it lets the skilled players keep their health topped off so that when it comes time to fight a boss/mini-boss, they've got all their Healing Gourds stocked are raring to go.
21 Weakest: Spiral Cloud Passage (Mushin Arts)
So we've talked about one use for the Spirit Emblems, but another use is for the Combat Arts. With sword-spinning skills such as Spiral Cloud Passage. This move is at the very end of the Mushin tree, one of the last and hardest trees to unlock.
It costs an absurd nine skill points and sounds insanely powerful. But, in the end, I don't think it is. Which stinks because it's absolutely a blast to use. But, its damage is weak and costs 5 entire Spirit Emblems to use each time. Which is just much too high of a price for me personally.
20 Strongest: Mid-Air Deflection (Shinobi Arts)
So we missed this one a bit earlier but another handy dandy early-game skill is Mid-Air Deflection. I say that, but I barely used this skill. Still, if I barely used it yet consider it one of the stronger skills, you know there's something to it.
A lot of projectiles in this game can absolutely destroy you, even more so in the air, so having the ability to not only block but deflect while jumping is a lifesaver. Especially if you're like me and get the prompt for sweep and thrust attacks confused. Because at least I can now block the thrust attack I accidentally jumped right into.
19 Weakest: Ashina Cross (Ashina Arts)
Ashina Cross is such a tragedy. I had such high hopes for this skill as it's a costly one, and it sounds so cool from the description. I mean "Draw your blade from a sheathed stance" is probably the most "samurai" move you could possibly do.
But, what that actually translates to is "Drawn a teensy X in the air with your blade, use a ton of Spirit Emblems, and do mediocre damage." I mean honestly, it costs 5 skill points! I can get more damage and reliability out of Whirlwind and that only costs 1. Such a shame.
18 Strongest: Suppress Sound/Presence (Shinobi Arts)
Man, stealth is just so useful in Sekiro, especially considering how little in played a part in any of FromSofts previous games until now. What is even better is there are two skills that make it even easier to nab that Stealth Deathblow.
Suppress Presence is the big one, and Suppress Sound is useful as well. Both of these are found in the Shinobi Tree and just simply making sneaking around easier. So nab them, as quick and early as you can. Because you want to get a stealth stab on every mini-boss you can, it just makes sense.
17 Weakest: Mist Raven (Prosthetic Tool)
It's hard to talk trash about any of the Prosthetic Arms because they all serve a purpose and cater to different play-styles. But personally, I find the base form of the Mist Raven to be pretty useless.
Just as a quick summary, activate it when you're about to be hit and you'll teleport a short distance in any direction shrouded in raven feathers. Now don't get me wrong, once you upgrade it you can burn, teleport behind, and destroy enemies with it, but its un-upgraded form is just not special compared to other early game Prosthetics.
16 Strongest: Emma's Medicine Aroma/Potency (Prosthetic Arts)
So of course, Sekiro has its own little hub. This is a FromSoftware game, after all, hubs are their specialty. This one is a bit less crowded than, say, Firelink Shrine gets in Dark Souls 1 or 3. But, one of the characters hanging around is Emma, your walking Estus Flas-I MEAN Healing Gourd smith.
Emma is your medicinal consult whether it's the Dragonrot or giving you access to some skills, such as Emma's Medicine. There are two versions of this skill, Aroma and Potency. Both do the same thing, healing items heal for more, simple as that. Oh, and they stack. So yeah, grab that ASAP.
15 Weakest: Finger Whistle (Prosthetic Tool)
Out of all the Prosthetic Tools, this one had the most potential. But, It truly suffers from its placement in the game. If the Finger Whistle was available at an earlier point in the game, players could completely orient themselves towards stealth gameplay for the most part.
It would have made Sekiro feel a bit less one note when compared to the thousands of different "builds" you could do in all of the other FromSoft games. The Finger Whistle is found shortly after the Sunken Valley boss and is a pretty neat little reward. But by this point in the game, I personally feel like it ends up being about half as useful as it could've been.
14 Strongest: Virtuous/Most Virtuous Deed (Temple Arts)
So I'm not a huge fan of the Temple Arts tree, which is surprising since I'm way more into Shaolin Monks than I am Shinobi or Samurai. But, the Combat arts kind of fall flat for me. Luckily, there are two skills on this tree that save it, and those are the Virtuous Deed skills.
Both of them stack on each other and passively buff Sekiro's chance of getting an item from defeated enemies. Plus they buff the amount of Sen you receive in general and considering some of the best upgrades, tools, and buffs require deep pockets of sen, these skills sure come in handy.
13 Weakest: Sabimaru (Prosthetic Tool)
I adore poison damage in video games. Weirdly enough, I'd say it's my favorite status ailment. But for some reason, I just couldn't get behind the Sabimaru Prosthetic Tool in Sekiro. My issue with it primarily is just how quickly it tears through Spirit Emblems. If you do the full combo it's like 4 to 5 of them, each time!
That's way too much for just a bit of flair and poison. For that same amount of Emblems, I could do 2-3 Firecrackers and deal free damage directly to the boss. Plus I don't personally like the longer combo's in Sekiro considering most enemies worth using them on will just deflect the second or third hit anyway.
12 Strongest: Shadowrush (Shinobi Arts)
Now we've come back to Combat Arts. Still keeping it a bit to the early game here. Well, kinda. Late in the Shinobi skills, there is something called Shadowrush. This ability allows you to perform a long reach thrust attack that is similar to the one you can do by default by holding down the attack button. But Shadowrush is stronger, by far.
The distance you cover while thrusting is insane, and it's free to use! The only thing that costs spirit emblems is if you want to hop into the air off the enemy after stabbing them. Honestly one of the best Combat Art's in the game by far.
11 Weakest: Spring Loaded Axe (Shinobi Axe Upgrade)
I adore the Axe, I really do. It's the heaviest hitting Shinobi tool in terms of weight destroys basic enemies. Sure, it's slow on the startup and you're likely to get hit while swinging it, but I still love it. Unfortunately, the first upgrade for it is a bit redundant, in my opinion.
The Spring Loaded Axe is just the normal Axe, but with the ability to do a sort of wide-swinging axe combo. This is meant to be a way to hit multiple enemies, but it kind of falls flat. It's insanely slow, and Whirlwind will usually do a better job in less time. Thankfully, later upgrades are much, much better.
10 Strongest: Iron Umbrella (Prosthetic Tool)
Having a hard time with some of the more insane attack strings? Just can't nail down the timing on some of the delayed heavy hits? Well thankfully, the Iron Umbrella is your saving grace. This is a Shinobi Tool unlocked in the Ashina Castle that gives you a safety net when learning some of the harder fights in the game.
The base Iron Umbrella simply blocks enemy attacks/projectiles and makes deflecting a bit easier. It's the most defensive Shinobi tool by far and when an entire game is built on a defensive tool like deflections, it really comes in handy.
9 Weakest: Purple Flame Spark (Firecracker Upgrade)
This Purple-Fume Spark is the second to last upgrade for the Firecracker and one that sounds good at first but frankly hurts more than it helps. So, the firecracker now has a delayed pop, meaning it'll take a second for it to actually go off. But, in exchange, the enemy hit with it takes a bit more vitality and posture damage for a short time.
Personally, I think this is way too risky to be worth it. I missed constantly on normal enemies with this upgrade. Luckily, you can equip multiple versions of the same tool, so maybe if you want to use it on the slower bosses, you can equip both the regular and Purple Spark versions at once.
8 Strongest: Shuriken (Prosthetic Tool)
Okay so here's the thing, Sekiro requires lightning-fast reactions. You need to be speedy on both your button presses and reaction time. There's not a millisecond to lose in the heat of battle. Which is why the first Shinobi tool, the Shuriken Arm is so crucial.
There's no preparation or thinking when it comes to the Shuriken, toss one out for quick damage or the last little pip of posture. Plus, if you're really good, and peg an enemy with one when they're in the air, they're godlike. Quick tip, hitting Lady Butterfly in the air makes that fight a whole bunch easier, trust me.
7 Weakest: Sen Throw (Prosthetic Tool/Shuriken Upgrade)
So I don't want to trash-talk this upgrade too much, because it's just so charming. I always enjoy when a game utilizes a currency/upgrade material so late-game players can still find a use for it.
Because, past a certain point in Sekiro, Sen is still a necessity but only just. It's just like it reads, you chuck money at the enemy. But, the problem is, it's not really useful. Sometimes at the perfect range and amount, it destroys posture. But mostly, it's just a fun gimmick.
6 Strongest: Shinobi Firecracker (Prosthetic Tool)
I had to double-back to make sure I got the Firecracker tool. They're a bit hidden, so keep an eye out. Basically, look around real close after you get the bell from a certain forgetful mother. Anyway, this tool is what I like to call the "cheese king tool" as it's perfect for cheesing out the harder fights.
Difficult purple-clad mini-boss? Hit 'em with the Firecracker, stab them once, rinse and repeat. Swarmed by monkey or wolves? Throw a firecracker and stun them all at once. They're basically a guaranteed stun for a meager 2 spirit emblems per use. My absolute favorite tool.
5 Weakest: Malcontent (Finger Whistle Upgrade)
So I already threw some shade at the Finger Whistle, but Malcontent is just so odd to me. Certain upgrades feel so targeted towards a singular boss, like this one. With this upgrade, the Whistle can now stun apparition-type enemies. But, "apparition" enemies are few and far between.
Basically, this upgrade is for those who need some extra help defeating the Headless bosses. But, again, the Finger Whistle is decently late in the game, and a good portion of people will have already beat all of them by the time they can afford Malcontent, so I just don't get it. Again, maybe a NG+ ability?
4 Strongest: Long Spark (Firecracker Upgrade)
I can't stop being a hype man for the Shinobi Firecracker. It's my favorite okay? I can't help it. And the Long Spark upgrade, in particular, is insanely good. The Firecracker has a set range every time. Sure, enemies can walk into them while they're going off and get stunned, but it happens infrequently.
Now, with the Long Spark upgrade, it happens constantly. Essentially, this tool becomes a safety net for the times you misjudge the distance between you and your opponent. And while fighting groups, it basically becomes a wall of fireworks that stuns all who approach.
3 Weakest: Divine Abduction (Prosthetic Tool)
This Prosthetic is really only useful for grinding a chunky enemy for sen or skill experience. But if you need to use a specific tool to turn the enemy around for a back-stab, just to progress, then you probably should be grabbing the stealth-based skills instead.
Most enemies in this game can be easily back stabbed with careful platforming and timing, even mini-bosses. But, as I said, every single item, weapon, and upgrade has a purpose and suits a different playstyle. So maybe this one just isn't the one for me, hopefully, my NG+ run will change my mind.
2 Strongest: Bloodsmoke (Ninjutsu)
At last, let's talk about Bloodsmoke. This skill is one of three Ninjutsu traits in Sekiro, abilities which are literally Magic. You won't unlock it until you defeat a certain boss at Ashina Castle, but once you do, there's no going back.
Basically, anytime you perform a deathblow on an enemy, you can create a cloud of literal smoke from their blood. This smoke resets your "stealth" state and allows you to essentially chain stealth deathblows in a crowd of enemies. And in the late game where health bars are especially chunky, this is a godsend.
1 Weakest: Vault Over (Shinobi Arts)
And finally, let's end on an early game skill. So, here's the thing about Vault Over: it is almost entirely useless on its own, which is why I've put it here. But, there's a reason for that. Vault Over should only be bought after you have the Bloodsmoke Ninjutsu. Or, if you're not a fan of Bloodsmoke, any other skill that takes advantage of Back-stabs.
Basically, Vault Over lets you get behind Posture-broken enemies to back-stab them. Which again, is great for constantly activating Bloodsmoke and going back and forth between stealth and combat. But, Bloodsmoke is only in the late game and Vault Over is really early, meaning that this skill is useless for over half the game.