If your experience with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice™ was anything like mine, you grew accustomed to hearing the old man taunt you with this pithy adage as he sheathed his blade for the hundredth time.
Isshin, the Sword Saint—the revered kensei of Ashina returns from the afterlife to honor his grandson’s one dying wish: that Ashina be restored to glory with the power of the accursed Dragon’s Heritage.
“Pitiful grandchild… This was your last wish. To see Ashina returned from the great beyond… which means, Sekiro, I must destroy you.” —Isshin, the Sword Saint
The only thing standing in his way? A fangless Wolf, sworn to defend his lord’s life at all costs.
Frustration Begets Frustration
“Come, Sekiro!” —Isshin, the Sword Saint, Phase 1
Strip the final boss of all artificial difficulty, and you’re left with only one true test of your mettle: patience.
How many times are you willing to die at the hands of an old man wielding a spear, a blade, a revolver, and the power of lightning before you learn to counter everything?
How many times do you hear the familiar crumbling of stones as you approach the silvergrass fields, skip the cutscene, and begrudgingly humor Genichiro’s last stand so you can get to the real fight?
You know the quotes by heart, now, too.
“How my blood boils! Face me, Sekiro!” —Isshin, the Sword Saint, entering Phase 2
Hesitation is defeat. You hesitate, and you’re defeated. You don’t hesitate, and… you’re still defeated.
When patience runs dry, you accept your defeat and walk away. And sometimes, all you need is a break.
Nothing Is Truly Impossible
“This… will only take a moment” —Wolf to Lord Kuro
In my case, that break lasted roughly a year.
Thankfully, I later returned to this masterpiece of a game and decided to give it another go. Only I continued dying. Again. And… again. And a few more times still.
I grew impatient with every attempt, as I waded through the tedium of fighting Genichiro, then the trivial Phase 1 of Isshin, abusing the Mikiri Counter in Phase 2, and, if I was lucky, eventually reaching the third and final phase.
It’s exhausting. But it’s also the culmination of every single challenge that the game has thrown your way up until this point. You find yourself at the crescendo in a grand composition of cling and clang—a dance of blades, well-timed parries, and relentless pressure that test everything you’ve learned.
At his peak, Isshin Ashina devoted himself to deadly conflict in pursuit of strength. A single-minded killing machine of a man. —Memory: Saint Isshin
At long last, with muscle memory developed through hundreds of painful deaths, you conquer your enemy. Isshin collapses to his knees with an agonizing bellow. His final words?
“Do it!” —Isshin the Sword Saint to Sekiro, who stands with his blade readied for an execution.
The words Immortality Severed shimmer on your screen, and the sounds of war dissipate.
For me, this was the single most rewarding experience that a game has ever offered: to be defeated countless times by a seemingly insurmountable foe, only to triumph in the end through persistence.
So, farewell, Isshin—and thank you, Miyazaki, for yet another stellar Soulsborne title.