If I am being completely honest, even though I am a huge fan of Miyazaki and the work he has done at From Software, I was very leery of Sekiro before it released earlier this year. For the first time it seemed that the mechanics and gameplay would be so vastly different from their other beloved games that failure was an actual possibility.
But I am extremely happy to report to those who have yet to plunge into this new experience that it was well worth their risk. Ultimately this game is an even better rendition of the “challenging, but fair” combat that they have established and trademarked in our modern gaming culture.
Combat is fast and fluid this time around and requires every ounce of attention and foresight that you can muster to pass through its harder sections. However, there are a few things that remain faithful to the formula and one of them is the inclusion of tough, memorable boss fights.
Anyone familiar with these games knows that these are the types of fights that kick your butt and dare you to come back for more. But come back we do, over and over again if we must, because we are living out what it means to be a human: having the hope to succeed and having the will to see it through.
Now we just have to find out which of this game’s bosses will be the ones to test our hope and will more the others.
This list will only include the main bosses of the game. There are over thirty mini bosses that can be equally as challenging if not harder so we may get to them on another day. They are also ranked based upon my own personal experiences and how much trouble each one gave me in my first playthrough.
Here we go.
Spoiler Warning: Many unique and awesome surprises await the player who is willing to enter Sekiro blind, harder though it may be. Bookmark this page and come back if you don’t want any potential story spoilers or tips on beating these bosses.
16. Folding Screen Monkeys
Although I have this “fight” in last place on my list, I do not actually think this is due to poor design, but just simply for lack of difficulty. The Folding Screen Monkeys are more of a puzzle than an actual boss, and it seems that From Software has gotten into the habit of putting at least one of these into each of their games.
I imagine that this encounter would actually be higher on my list if it weren’t for the clues, pictures, and literal NPC dialogue that spells out exactly what to do to bring down each of these chimps. The setting is wonderful and imaginative and the puzzle itself is intriguing, but the developers actually made the rare mistake of making this part of the game just a little too easy for veteran players.
Overall Difficulty: 1 out of 10
15. Divine Dragon
Once again, another fantastical and imaginative setting is slightly tarnished by a far too easy and extremely gimmicky boss fight. The world’s strangest game of Othello begins as you attempt to clear the area of the white dragon-like creatures and avoid the black ones that you created.
After all of them have been defeated, the Divine Dragon appears in the distance, wreathing in all his hideous, yet compelling visage. I absolutely love the design of this boss and every ounce of me wishes the fight were as memorable as the way he looks.
Simply find the tree that has been endued with lightning and grapple to it, taking the lightning in your hand and hurling it at the Divine Dragon, then avoid a flurry of his attacks in the form of deadly blasts of wind and repeat the process.
After several of your attacks he will collapse and you can run up and climb his sword to deliver the one and only Deathblow required to bring him down.
Overall Difficulty: 2 out of 10
14. Genechiro, Way of Tomoe
This would be a much harder fight if it werent for two things: you have already faced this exact verion of Genechiro above Ashina Castle, and you are hopefully now much stronger in both stats and skill level.
It is not necessarily a bad thing that Genechiro is so easy at this point however, because it represents how beaten he is in body as well as spirit and helps to explain the great lengths he is about to go to in order to make your life a living nightmare.
If you haven’t finished the game, stop reading now and go enjoy the ending for yourself, but just know that you are in for a lot more than this guy when you reach the end. Do not get lured into a false sense of victory, it will only serve to crush your spirit later.
Overall Difficulty: 4 out of 10
13. Gyoubu Mosataka Oniwa
There are many challenging mini bosses to face along the way to Gyoubu, but it becomes apparent after just a few seconds in the ring with him that he is going to be a lot tougher. There isn’t a doubt in your mind that a boss fight is coming due to the sheer size of the massive yard the fight takes place in, but as you drop down from your perch nothing happens.
“Okay”, I thought to myself, “I guess I was wrong.” And then practically making me drop my controller, this horse-riding barbarian comes charging at you through the gates ahead, screaming his name at you and attacking with wide, sweeping strikes from his massive glaive.
He is meant to startle you and cause you to run, but he serves as a lesson for the rest of the bosses you will fight: stand in there and take the blows, learning your opponents patterns and tendencies all the while. As a matter of a fact, unless you are entirely careless, you can just stand there and hold down block until he is done with each of his hissy-fits.
Utilize the ability to grapple to him when he turns around if you have it unlocked at this point, because sticking close to him will reduce the attack power of his glaive and make it easier to get extra hits in when you get windows of opportunity.
Overall Difficulty: 5 out of 10
12. Corrupted Monk
Just so you are aware, I have the strong opinion that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has the hardest collection of bosses of any other From Software game. If you have read any of my other ranking articles then you might have already noticed that the difficulty curve is rising a lot faster for this game. That’s not to say that the other games aren’t chuck full of seemingly impossible foes, just that there are very few easy ones to be found here.
So when I say that your fist encounter with the Corrupted Monk is easier than most of the main bosses you will face, do not take it to mean that I think that she is easy in any way. She has long attack combos that can punish you greatly if she catches you early in them and she requires the rare piece of Divine Confetti to fight properly.
The thing that makes her a bit easier than most is her lack of overall aggression. In between attacks she just kind of lumbers toward you and allows you to get her patterns and timings down in your first go around. If you don’t get her on your first try, chances are you will get her on your second one.
Overall Difficulty: 5.5 out of 10
11. Lady Butterfly
Judging by Sekiro’s response upon seeing Lady Butterfly, I would imagine that she played a large part in his young life and possibly was even one of his tutors in the art of being a shinobi. Personally I wouldn’t mind skipping this touching reunion if it meant I wouldn’t have to deal with this lady spamming her distance attacks and zipping around all over the place!
This fight took a lot out of me and I will readily admit that I was stuck here for a little while until I learned two things: firstly, bring snap seeds with you to dispel her summoned spirits, and secondly, use the Prosthetic Art called Nightjar Slash to make quick work of her.
As of this writing there is still an unpatched issue in which she does not recover fast enough from this attack, allowing you to spam it over and over again for a quick, but not really well deserved, victory. If you want to do the fight a bit more fairly, then learn when to use shurikens to knock her down out of the air.
Overall Difficulty: 6 out of 10
10. Isshin Ashina
If there is such a thing as a standard boss encounter in Sekiro then I suppose this fight would probably fit the bill. The developers accurately depict an aging veteran of swordplay with Isshin, someone who clearly has mastered his craft but no longer has the physical strength to push you to your limits.
His second phase is very similar to his first, with the exception of fire being added to his attacks. I suppose if he added more attack varieties in phase two I would place him a bit higher, but once you take his first Deathblow marker the fight is all but won.
Just be sure to keep your cool when he turns up the heat.
Overall Difficulty: 7 out of 10
9. Great Shinobi Owl
Should you choose to play the game in the expected manner, Owl will serve as the second of three main boss fights that progress the story. As such, you can be sure that you will not have an easy time with him unless you have found the game to be easy up to this point.
He is one of the most aggressive foes I have ever faced in a video game and he has many tricks up his sleeve to lure and punish the overconfident player. He also has one attack in particular that seemingly allows him to cross the entire arena in one sweeping motion.
At no point are you actually safe in this fight, so keep your attention focused on him at all times. A good attack to wait for is his Nightjar Slash as he is pretty vulnerable afterwards and you can get two or three hits in. He doesn’t use it all that often though so don’t rely on it too much.
Overall Difficulty: 7 out of 10
8. Headless Ape
In my opinion developers should avoid having re-skinned bosses in their games because it gives off an impression of laziness and lack of originality. However, if you are going to have one of these reruns, it ought to be as well thought out and crafted as the Headless Ape fight.
If you have had the unfortunate pleasure of having to deal with the Guardian Ape already, then you are probably aware of the reason he is holding his head in his hands. What you probably didn’t expect however, was his bride-to-be coming to help him in the second phase!
She is really nothing more than a brown version of Guardian Ape’s first phase, but add in her sword wielding fiance and you get the recipe for a bad time to be a shinobi.
Overall Difficulty: 7.5 out of 10
7. Emma, the Gentle Blade
Of all the bosses that Sekiro has to offer, Emma is probably the one whose fighting style is the most like your own. She isn’t terribly aggressive but throughout the fight she seems to almost be studying you as much as you are studying her.
There really isn’t any great secret to beating her other than being patient and learning all the patterns that she is going to throw your way. Don’t be too aggressive when on the offensive with Emma though, as she loves to punish misses and she will frequently counter a lot of your stronger art attacks.
The other thing that makes this fight difficult is knowing that you need to save some f your healing items for Isshin who comes directly after this battle. Having to fight Emma again each time you die to Isshin is probably the punishment From Software had in mind for the player willing to skip out on two-thirds of their game.
Overall Difficulty: 7.5 out of 10
6. Genechiro Ashina
Please don’t hate me for what I am about to say but I don’t really enjoy Japanese art and media the way that many people my age do today. Anime in particular has always been confusing and uninteresting to me.
That being said, the cutscenes in this game featuring Genechiro and his absurdly large bow have come the closest of anything that I have seen to allowing me to understand why people love this art form so much. He is way over the top in both appearance and dialogue, yet still commands respect from the player because they don;t yet know what they are in for.
Every From Software game has a “bell gargoyles” moment that forces player to “get good” before they continue on. This fight is that moment for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
This second phase of this fight will become much easier if you will take the time to perfect the “Lightning Reversal” art. You may find more use for that ability yet…
Overall Difficulty: 8 out of 10
5. True Corrupted Monk
Out of all of Miyazaki’s games, this has to be my favorite boss fight arena of them all. Anor Londo Cathedral is great, the Astral Clocktower is fantastic, but this random little leaf covered bridge between two gates has to be the most beautiful use of color I have seen in a game in quite some time.
Now I just wish that there was even a split second to look at it because this crazy lady seems to be a tad bit upset that you defeated her astral form a few hundred lives ago.
She has three unique phases that require a lot of running and dodging, which is inconvenient considering the fact that there is not a lot of room to do that. She also spews toxin out of her head in the last phase, adding one more inconvience to the list.
True Corrupted Monk is actually a great fight all in all, and I definitely won’t be getting her cackle out of my head anytime soon.
It is actually possible to perform two Stealth Deathblows back to back on her from the tree above where she spawns in. Doing this can be somewhat difficult but is worth getting down for future runs because you skip straight to phase three.
Overall Difficulty: 9 out of 10
4. Guardian Ape
By this point in the game, even with the appearance of a building sized snake, Sekiro had successfully lured me into the trap of believing that this game was grounded in more reality than normal and wouldn’t have any outlandish boss fights like the other games in this niche’ genre. And then I ran into this guy.
The Guardian Ape doesn’t really waste any time in telling you exactly what he thinks about you being in his neck of the woods. He seems to literally embody the word erratic as he dances around and wildly swings and slams his arms and occasionally his rear at you.
Speaking of his rear, I never thought I would actually fight against a boss that uses his own poop as a weapon against you. I mean, I know that he is a primate and all, but I could have done without that amount of realism in my life.
It is probably not much of a spoiler at this point in the list, but let’s just say that you want to save a few gourd uses toward the end of this fight, you know, in case of emergencies… or reanimations. PS. If you manage to stun him in his second phase, try using the Spiral Spear upgrade on him, you may just end up having a better time.
Overall Difficulty: 9 out of 10
3. Owl, Father
When I was younger my dad used to play basketball against me but I always knew that he was taking it easy because I wasn’t ready physically to actually compete with him. Then came the day that I noticed He was no longer fooling around, knocking me down on his way to the rim and not letting me have a second to think before stealing the ball from me. It wasn’t because he was being mean, it was because he knew I was learning and growing and that losing would soon be a possibility.
This is the best analogy that I can put to this fight. Owl holds nothing back from you this time around and requires frame perfect dodging and counters to come out on top. His old tricks are still there, waiting for you to remember how they went and adapt to them, but he also has a spirit form this time and a bevy of new attacks to go with it.
There are several attacks to watch for because he will be left wide open for attack when he is done. Even with this knowledge, get ready to lose a few lives and a little dignity to your old man.
Overall Difficulty: 9.5 out of 10
2. Demon of Hatred
Even though this fight took quite a bit out of me to learn and I had to play through the story twice to finally piece together all the lore behind him, the Demon of Hatred is my personal favorite boss of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
He has three very difficult phases and he increasingly punishes you for staying near him for too long, forcing you to be on the move for most of the fight. (Prepare for a sore right thumb.) His left arm has incredible reach so even while you are running you will sometimes have to double back or run in a tighter circle to avoid his slams and sweeps.
Without spoiling any of his story or who he is, I will say that a certain Prosthetic Tool has a great use in this fight, especially if you can wait until phase three to use it.
This boss is tough as nails and you should feel proud to have even been able to find him on your own, let alone satiate his incredible amount of hatred with your sword.
That being said, the last boss on this list makes that accomplishment seem somewhat easy…
Overall Difficulty: 10 out of 10
1. Isshin Ashina, the Sword Saint
It’s official. Ladies and gentleman we have a new “hardest final boss” in the series. (Yes I know, Sekiro is not actually a part of the Soulsborne series but come on now, it is.) Tips for him include getting good and playing with the goodness you have gotten.
If you try continually strafing him, he will shoot you with his pistol. If you try waiting for one particular move that you can counter, he will throw you a curve ball and one shot you. If you spend many lives and the price of many controllers learning his every move perfectly to the point that you know what he will do next before From Software’s software does, then yeah, maybe that might work.
Very seldom do I come across a boss in one of these games that isn’t drastically easier the second time around but I recently finished my third playthrough of Sekiro and the Sword Saint “aint” lettin’ up anytime soon.
A scream of victory is not even optional for conquering a boss such as this for the first time, it is mandatory.
Overall Difficulty: FREE UP YOUR WEEKEND out of 10
Sekiro is a game that follows in the footsteps pf its predecessors and in a lot of ways supersedes them. Its combat system is deep and addictive, its lore is a bit easier to follow but fleshed out just the same and its bosses stand toe to toe with many of the legendary opponents that From Software has dreamed and created over the years.
I have truly had a blast playing Sekiro and learning all its new mechanics and I recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed Miyazaki’s previous work. I look forward to seeing what kind of challenge his next project will bring us and I hope that he will continue to lead and produce his games with the same passion that has been so evident over the years.
To the conquerors of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice: If you are one of the chosen few who can survive the tedious feeling of repetition, refocus your efforts upon failing, and overcome the pits of despair upon failing yet again, then I lift my gourd full of Monkey Booze to you fellow shinobi! (Just don’t let the Sculptor have any of that stuff, he can be a real monster when he gets drunk…)