When I'm struggling with a game, I start to second guess myself: Is it actually hard, or am I just doing it wrong? I played through an early copy of Sifu, so I had to figure out its fighting system and bosses on my own without anyone to compare myself to. If it turns out that Sifu is actually super easy and you're breezing through it, then, uh, me too! Read something else!
The truth is that I had a hard time beating Sifu, and I suspect I won't be the only one (it's not very polite). If you're also struggling to get through its brawls and boss battles, or just want to avoid a few beginner's mistakes, this Sifu guide contains the most important things I learned on my way to defeating the final boss.
Notes on terminology
Avoid: When I say this, I'm referring to holding block and avoiding blows by flicking the analog stick up or down (or hitting W or S, if you're playing with a keyboard).
Dodge/Dash: I use these terms interchangeably to refer to the dash move (RT or Shift) which can be used to back away or sidestep, or be held down to run.
Block: Holding down block (LB or Space) and absorbing blows.
Deflect/Parry: Deflecting is hitting the block button just before being hit, and deflecting certain attacks will parry them, stunning enemies and making them vulnerable to throws. (That's the way I've understood the terminology, at least.)
PSA: Some of the in-game messages are confusing. Despite what some of Sifu's warning dialogs tell you, all of your progress will not be lost if you quit the game. You can restart any level so long as you've finished the level before it, and you'll start at whatever age you were at that point. So, if you beat the first level, and then quit the game and come back, you can jump right into the second level. You'll lose any skills that haven't been permanently unlocked, but stat upgrades acquired from shrines will be preserved in these restarts, another thing some of the tooltip text seems to get wrong.
I assume there's a special reward for beating Sifu in one continuous run, without ever restarting a level after the first one, but I haven't done it, so I can't say. Beating it without dying probably has a special result, too.
Don't hoard XP! Skills unlocked with XP are not preserved between runs, but any progress you make toward permanently unlocking a skill is. For example, if you unlock a skill for 500 XP and then put another 500 XP toward permanently unlocking it, that second deposit won't go away if you hit a game over. When a skill is permanently unlocked, you never have to worry about unlocking it again, unless you start a completely new save file.
With that in mind, if you're not going to use accrued XP for a shrine bonus, put it toward permanently unlocking a skill you like. It'll just be wasted if you don't use it before aging out of the run, or manually restarting a level. You can quickly accrue a lot of permanent unlocks through the regular repetition you're going to be doing as you get used to the combat and work on the first two bosses.
Here are some of the skills I personally relied on:
- Snap Kick: It's nice to have a simple attack with forward movement.
- Charged Backfist: My favorite attack, mainly because it looks badass to hit someone with it without turning around to look at them. With a bat, it's a super useful trip attack. With a blade, it can be used to one-hit-kill certain enemies.
- Duck Strike: Another attack with forward movement, and it dodges a high attack on the way in.
- Pushback Cancel: Can save you from a lot of damage or death if you've been shoved toward a ledge or wall.
- Ground Counter: You're going to screw up and fail to dodge or block trips sometimes. It's nice to have a counter that makes it feel like less of a loss.
- Environmental Mastery: The ability to fling weapons and objects at enemies without picking them up helped me get through some tough fights (look for conspicuously placed bricks) and just makes the game more fun. (See gif above.)
These skills also seem great, but I haven't experiment with much yet:
- Crooked Foot: I'm bad at parrying, but if you do it often, this gives you an easy knockdown.
- Slide Kick: I wish I'd unlocked this earlier, just because it's fun.
Don't neglect the default special attacks!
Down, up, heavy attack: A sweeping kick that trips enemies. When they're down, you can hold B to kneel and punch them, which avoids other attacks for a moment. This disarms enemies, too.
Down, up, light attack: A palm strike that pushes enemies away, or a kick if you're holding a weapon. This does a lot of damage if they hit a wall or fall down stairs (as you'll learn when it happens to you), and also disarms.
The timing on these inputs is slower than you may expect if you've played games like Street Fighter. It's down, up, give it a beat, and then heavy or light attack. Use them, because their crowd control effects will save your ass now and then.
Keep going forward
Sifu's second level is weirdly hard. I really struggled with The Club and its boss, Sean, and after limping away as a middle aged kung fu fighter, I felt I had better go back and master the level rather than even try the next one. I should have just kept going forward, though. I didn't find the museum nearly as difficult, and it contains a shortcut that goes directly to its boss, which helped me figure her out more quickly than I figured out Sean.
Eventually, I did have to go back and do a better job on the dancefloor, but working on the subsequent levels and bosses and returning later was a lot more enjoyable than just banging my head against 'The Burning.'
You don't have to fight fair. If you hit an enemy who isn't expecting an attack, you can instantly perform a finishing move on them. In the warehouse in the first level, it's possible to take out four or so enemies by walking up behind them and whacking them in the back of the head before they can react, particularly on the scaffolding. Have a bit of stealth with your kung fu, why not?
I suspect that beating the game without using a takedown gets you a special result, but I'm only speculating—you might notice that when you don't use takedowns, enemies writhe around on the floor a little. On the other had, takedowns seem to be, well, murders.
One hit kills
Here's the ultimate cheese: If you use Charged Backfist while wielding a bladed weapon, and completely charge it before letting it go, your character will run the blade through their target's gut, sacrificing the weapon for an instant kill (unless they block it). You can even stand next to an elite enemy who's talking at you, charge the attack, and kill them before the fight properly begins. To do that, you have to get close enough to them that the attack will hit, but not so close that they stop monologuing and turn aggressive while you're charging it.
If you don't mind how cheaty it feels, this trick is helpful in the last two stages. Near the end of the tower level, in the caves, there are two elite enemies who can be taken out this way. In the final level, the final elite enemy you fight before the boss can also be killed this way.
I've never been able to land the one-hit-kill attack on a boss, and maybe you can't, but I'd like to believe it's possible.
If you're struggling with a boss or elite enemy, there probably isn't any cheesy trick to beating them—at least, I haven't found any. The only way I've succeeded is by getting the avoid timing for every attack pattern down, and occasionally parrying where I've found it to work.
Aside from memorizing the timing of each boss's combos, you've also got to learn which motions indicate that they're about to use a low attack, because if you attempt to avoid it by pressing down instead of up, it'll trip you. That's the hardest thing to do. (If you do get tripped, use Ground Counter to make it sting less.)
Don't forget that aside from avoiding, you can also dash. Sifu never explains this as far as I can tell, but dodging actually evades a lot of attacks.
If you're really struggling with bosses, one way to make them easier is to unlock more focus bars and faster focus generation at shrines, since focus attacks always hit. However, you should be aware of an important warning about focus attacks: The final boss is immune to them, so you may be in for a bad time if you rely on your focus meter too heavily up to that point. I did use focus attacks frequently on my way to the end of Sifu, so don't feel like you have to shun the system altogether—just don't spend all your shrine upgrades on it.
I haven't found any surprising tricks that make the bosses easier, but if it helps to hear how I beat them, this is what I did:
Stage 1: Avoid Fajar's attacks and strike back when he pauses. (I'm afraid that this is most of my boss advice. You just have to not get hit.) He'll throw a few trips in during this stage, but won't punish you if you go down.
Stage 2: It's more of the same, except his blade comes out, which just means new combos for you to learn how to avoid. It's pretty easy to avoid the leaping attack he uses after he hides in the brush, so get used to punishing him while he's recovering from the miss.
Stage 1: The rhythm of Sean's staff attacks threw me off for a long time, but once you get the hang of the patterns, you can stand still and avoid everything he does. I just throw three heavy attacks back at him every time he pauses after a combo. Keeping it simple prevents me from getting flustered and missing an avoid.
Stage 2: I once again regret to inform you that you've just got to keep avoiding his attacks. He'll sometimes come in with a sweeping trip which you have to learn to spot, and now and then he'll dash away, which can make it difficult to catch him with attacks. Adding in dashes of your own can help, but patience was my primary weapon here.
Stage 1: Along with the usual strings of avoids, dodges will help you here. They protect you from more than you may realize.
Stage 2: Kuroki's second stage is actually easier than her first, in my opinion. When she creates distance, dodge her thrown daggers by dashing sideways, and then dodge out of the way when she zooms in to attack, which is telegraphed visually and audibly. She may then throw a combo at you, but it's not a super hard sequence to use avoids on, after which you can get some hits in.
Stage 1: Jinfeng is similar to Kuroki. Use a mix of avoids and dodges to get close enough to attack. She'll stand around for longer than you may expect after a combo, so you do have time to dash in and hit her. Notice the pose she strikes before going for low attacks so that you're prepared to hop over them.
Stage 2: It's more of the same, with some new sweeping attacks to avoid. She's tricky, but it mercifully doesn't take a lot of damage to bring her down.
Stage 1: Focus attacks don't work on Yang, and I didn't find weapons to be very effective against him, but bring one anyway and throw it at him to start the fight—if nothing else it'll give you a little confidence boost to see him get bonked in the head. Unlike the other bosses, Yang behaves somewhat like a normal enemy, or like you. Still, the key is simply to learn how to avoid or parry his combos. It's hard, but you can chip away at him.
Stage 2: You may want to dash around more here and wait for him to throw combos that are easier to avoid. There could be a special strategy to this that I haven't figured out, but that's how I beat him—just regular old perseverance.