For some, just getting to the fight is an accomplishment itself. Sekiro doles out a grueling 80-hour single player campaign with mini bosses that easily qualify as top-tier bosses in other games. But setting foot in that wide field as you approach Sword Saint Isshin is one of the most exciting and nerve wracking moments in the entire game. So memorable in fact that it propelled the game to getting a Game of the Year nomination at this year’s Game Awards.
You know you’re about to endure a perilous dance of will and survival but you don’t know how it will play out. Isshin literally crawls out of Genichiro’s neck assuring you that things are about to get real. Like most bosses in Sekiro, the Isshin fight is divided into multiple phases. The brilliance of the fight is that you don’t know how these different phases will affect your strategy or playstyle yet; you are completely vulnerable and in a state of utter panic as Isshin unveils his bag of tricks.
The first phase of the fight is tough because Isshin has quite a number of heavy-damage dealing attacks. One attack in particular can one-shot you instantly. The trick to the first phase is to dodge as efficiently and often as you can while also depleting his posture. If you can limit the use of your healing gourds to 1 or less during this initial phase, you are in good shape.
In a way, the first phase of the fight is one of my favorite fights because it truly encourages you to play Sekiro at its most distilled form. You are required to be aggressive but smartly aggressive. Don’t be too greedy and substitute parries with dodges when appropriate and you’ll end up with a deathblow in no time. Once you get it going, the first phase looks like you’re in an Akira Kurosawa film. It is a fast and furious dance of blades but as calculated and meticulous as a game of chess.
The second phase is where Isshin shows you he’s not messing around. He’s done with your little cute parries and dodges. He’s here to make you nervously cycle through your items. He’s here to cause you to burn a healing gourd at the wrong time. He’s here to make you his you-know-what. The second phase has Isshin whipping out a gigantic spear that has tremendous range. Pulling off a Mikiri Counter when he lunges at you with his spear is a heart-attack inducing maneuver and you better pull it off consistently if you have a prayer in winning this fight. This phase is arguably the most difficult of his three phases. That spear changes the game, definitively. It’s the point in the game where I had to take several breaks before attempting again.
Isshin likes using his gun in this fight so you also have to be careful in straying too far. Although this portion of the fight is cheese-able, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice in not experiencing the fight in its purest form. Also by using the exploit method, you’ll be extending the fight longer than it should be as you’ll be whittling down his health rather than his posture. At that point, why not just play Dark Souls again? The second phase is admittedly hard as nails and that moment of bliss when you finally trigger the deathblow is a short-lived breath of bliss as you are then greeted by his third form.
There’s no time for celebration here. Isshin has one more trick up his sleeve and it’s the Genichiro lightning attack, only he mixes it in with his previous lethal attacks. Although the start of the third phase is terrifying because of how much Isshin is throwing at you, it’s actually the easiest of the three phases. The third phase is basically a greatest hits of Isshin so barring any camera miscues or misreads, the fight should be painless especially if you land the lightning counters as they come.
Sword Saint Isshin is a fitting end for Sekiro because you absolutely have to put forth everything you’ve learned up to this point. It is a finals exam handed to you after hours upon hours of studying and acing it is one of the most satisfying moments in gaming. The fight is a test of wits and endurance. It is as hard as you make it and the same can be said for many of Sekiro’s challenging encounters. Isshin is not here to teach you anything but to test your might and see how much you’ve been really paying attention.
What did you think of the Sword Saint Ishin boss fight? Was it a daunting task or a breeze? Leave your comments below and discuss, just don’t mention that Guardian Ape fight because I’m still recovering from that second phase reveal.