Sekiro combat guide: 17 tips for mastering the blade and minimizing losses

Sekiro will get the macho gamers riled up. It impresses as a near-impossible gauntlet, a series of increasingly difficult sword fights reserved for the most stalwart, aggressive gamepad samurais. But like all FromSoftware games, a little patience and a sharp eye will get you further than any brash ego. If you're having trouble with the punishing early hours, read through our Sekiro tips and then return to that troubling miniboss. Sekiro doesn't guide players through the subtleties of its combat system, and we don't blame you for not catching on. With some newfound vital knowledge in mind, you might be surprised how easily you breeze by old sticking points. 

We assure you: You can do this. 

Understand the relationship between health and posture 

The lower an enemy's health bar, the slower posture will regenerate—the same rule also applies to you. Sekiro does a great job teaching you the parry system, but simply memorizing attack patterns and parrying them all isn't the most efficient strategy in some cases. Posture tends to regenerate quickly, especially on mini-bosses, so if you're going for a death blow exclusively through parries, you're going to get frustrated. Any lull in the action will give them time to regain posture, effectively starting the fight from scratch. 

Instead, chip away at an enemy's health by dodging some attacks and getting a few slashes on their soft body in. Once their health is low enough to significantly slow posture regeneration, you'll just need to block a few hits to get a death blow in.

Take advantage of combat momentum 

There’s a subtle initiative system at work in Sekiro fights. As you combo into an enemy’s guard they will often be forced to block or take hits until they parry you. You can recognise an enemy parry because there’s a loud ‘clang’ sound and Sekiro’s blade bounces back over his head. When that happens the enemy has the initiative and you need to prepare to parry, block, or dodge their counterattack.

Use this to your advantage. Basic enemies have predictable counterattacks that you can bait out with one or two hits. That allows you to set up a parry that will destroy their posture. The round-hatted soldiers early in the game are good practice. One hit to their guard will bait out a predictable and easily parried counterattack.

Counter special attacks 

There are three types of special enemy attacks, flagged by a flashing red Kanji character. Effectively countering some of these special attacks requires ability upgrades you'll need to spend XP on, like the Mikiri Counter. Get them as soon as possible. 

Thrusting attacks: Ideally you should counter these with the Mikiri counter. Press the dodge key (B on an Xbox controller, O on a PS4 controller) to step on your enemy’s weapon for massive posture damage. This will give you a deathblow for most basic spear enemies. You can also dodge around thrusts at the last split second. Be careful though, thrusts tend to track your position until late in the attack.

Slashing special attacks: A horizontal swipe. Jump over the slashing weapon towards your enemy’s head and press jump again to kick off them and deal maximum posture damage. A booming noise and a shockwave will tell you you’ve performed the counter correctly. Perform Sekiro’s mid-air double slash as you descend for even more posture damage.

Grab special attacks: Avoid these as best you can with dodges or jumps. The angle of attack from a grab varies based on the enemy. The red-eyed ogre early in the game has horrible long-distance grabs, for example, but most are short range and easily dodged.

Watch the enemy’s wind-up to try and predict the special attack they are about to throw at you. It takes practice to spot the cues, but enemies tend to strike a wind-up pose for a split second before launching the attack. If the weapon is tucked close to the body, it’s likely a thrust attack. If the weapon is held wide or away from the body, it’s probably a slash wind-up. You will also learn when enemies like to deploy a special attack through practice and familiarity with their patterns.

Train with Hanbei the Undying

Practice, practice, practice. 

Early on you'll meet Hanbei, a friendly dude that can't die who let's you casually murder him over and over for practice. Work through his tutorials: you can learn some of the more confusing timings, like the Mikiri (thrust) counter, in a relaxed, consequence-free environment. Plus, you'll unlock some more challenging tutorials and dialogue along the way. Might as well get to know your punching bag. 

You probably missed an item that will trivialize certain fights 

Sekiro isn't a Souls game, but it still hides away helpful tools in every corner of the world, and by design. Talk to everyone, make use of your climbing skills, and you'll probably get the hint regarding the whereabouts of a certain prosthetic that might make whatever foe you're up against less of a threat. Prayer beads, gourd seeds, and more surprising, helpful stuff is squirreled away all over. Go find it. 

On that note: Don't worry about a certain butterfly early on 

A tough fight! Better leave that branch and come back with better tools in tow (and when you know what the hell you're doing). 

Read all item and skill descriptions 

From Software does a lot of its world building in item descriptions so it’s a good idea to read as much as you can to absorb all that narrative detail. There are practical benefits to reading item and ability descriptions too. Certain key phrases will give you clues that will help you to complete NPC sidequests.

Bank your money with coin purses 

If you die and you don't get lucky with Unseen Aid, you'll lose half of your earned XP towards the next level, and more painfully, half of your money. It's easy to get into the groove and fail to notice that you're Scrooge McDuckin' only to die to a big chicken. Coin purses are essentially tiny banks you keep in your inventory that keep your money safe. So, if you're venturing into unknown territory and sitting on a pile of gold, stop by a vendor and scoop up some purses to protect your investment first.

You don't have to kill everyone (right away) 

Feel free to stick to the trees. It's possible and often beneficial to go through an entire area like a true ninja: invisibly. You might find a prayer totem at the back of the arena, allowing for easier stealth kills and more manageable combat overall. 

Try to separate smaller enemies wherever possible 

Any foe can be devastating in large groups. Sneak up on any single opponent and if possible use your rope to get to cover once you’re surrounded until things calm down. It always helps to get an overview of an area and the number of enemies from up above before going in, especially enemies with long-range weapons. They should be the first to go.

If you're stuck on a tough enemy, review footage and memorize attack rhythms 

Yeah, you gotta study the blade. Most of Sekiro's challenge arises from trying to get a grip on your enemy while they're shoving a sword through your chest. Multitasking ain't easy. Use Shadowplay or another recording program to capture footage of a tricky enemy to more easily internalize tells and attack patterns. Tap out the most troubling combos on your thigh. Say it out loud. One, two, three, four—pause—one-two-three-four-five—pause—one. Some of you might recognize that particular pattern already. Freaky bastard.

If you really have to, you can look up specific boss guides, but we strongly encourage trying to learn everything yourself. Sure, it'll make Sekiro much more challenging, but I don't think real ninjas use YouTube.

Look for stealth deathblow opportunities against bosses and minibosses 

If you’re stuck against a tough opponent, have a thorough look at the environment. Many bosses and minibosses are positioned in a way that will allow you to sneak up on them from behind or above for a free deathblow.

Run-jumping can be a good defence against large enemies 

Hold the dodge button to make Sekiro run. Pressing jump while running will give you a longer jump. If you’re fighting something with huge swiping weapons or area-of-effect attacks the run-jump can be quicker and safer than a chain of dodges. Running while locked on to an enemy can also help you flank them nice and quickly and it’s a useful way to dodge arrows and bullets.

There are 'invisible' walls 

The Souls tradition continues in Sekrio, though your sword won't help you find them. I advise getting as close as you can to any suspicious, drafty walls. 

Kill it with fire, my god, kill it with fire 

In the Hirata Estates level, shortly after the first checkpoint, you'll find a locked gate that forces you to head right through rows of huts. Eventually, you'll see a group of enemies huddled around a bonfire, with the Flame Barrel Shinobi Prosthetic sitting on top. Grab this weapon—it'll be your savior in so many fights. Combined with oil (easily farmed from enemies further in Hirata Estates—just before the Juzou the Drunkard mini boss), the Flame Barrel sets enemies alight and does damage over time to their vitality. 

Against a lot of bosses (especially slow moving ones), this extra damage is invaluable. Not only it will often create an opening to strike once or twice when they're first set alight, but if you can consistently keep them burning the fire will do a significant amount of the work for you.

Upgraded prosthetics need to be equipped 

I (James) poured thousands of coins and upgrade materials into my shuriken and axe upgrades before realizing I didn't even have them equipped. Maybe I should've caught on when I couldn't pull off their additional moves, but, hey, there's a lot going on in Sekiro. It could happen to anyone, right? So yeah, head into your inventory and equip your upgraded prosthetics once you buy them. It's not clear why they show up as different items, but they do. 

Try out some mods

OK, so they won't necessarily help you, but Sekiro already has some mods that unlock the framerate, add PS4 button prompts, and unlock widescreen resolution support. Sure, it would've been nice to have in there in the first place, but PC gamers will always find a way.