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Sekiro bosses ranked worst to best

It will not come as a surprise to Dark Souls fans that FromSoftware's latest title is one difficult beast to master. Each battle demands its own strategy, and the bosses in particular seem designed to keep you on your toes, relentlessly punishing players who rely too much on a single approach. Some scenarios favor a strong defense, while others force you to fight aggressively to avoid certain death.

Story elements also play a big role in the design of these encounters, with many of the larger conflicts offering a pleasing combination of style, substance, and player agency. With that aim in mind, we've ranked the main bosses for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice according to the perceived quality of their narrative impact, mechanics, and overall challenge level. This is a subjective rating, as experiences and priorities often differ from player to player. The following list also contains significant spoilers for the game.

Get those katanas ready. Here are the Sekiro bosses ranked worst to best.

The Great Serpent

To echo the famous line from Indiana Jones: "Why did it have to be snakes?" The Great Serpent, as the name suggests, is a massive snake encountered multiple times throughout the game. Two of these encounters are required to progress through the story, while the third in the Sunken Valley is optional. Though you do eventually kill the oversized reptile, it's a non-traditional boss, centered on positioning and stealth rather than outright combat. To avoid becoming snake food, you must maneuver through multiple areas without drawing your foe's attention. After some careful crouching and wall-hugging, you can one-shot the serpent from the right vantage point. 

While the combat isn't difficult, its unique design makes it memorable, offering a nice break from the frantic, high-stakes battles that fill the rest of the game. Even so, one look at the behemoth's fangs is sure to get your blood pumping.

Folding Screen Monkeys

Another non-traditional boss, the Folding Screen Monkeys function more like a puzzle than a life-threatening combat. Inspired by the Four Wise Monkeys ("see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and do no evil"), you must hunt down and kill four monkeys sharing the same health bar. Their tactics and abilities differ based on the part of the adage they represent. For example, the "Hear No Evil" monkey has excellent hearing but poor vision while the "Speak No Evil" monkey will cry out to its companions when it sees you, causing them to flee.

Adding a little extra challenge, the "Do No Evil" monkey is invisible, with a trail of glowing footprints serving as the main clue to its location. As you search for the other monkeys, it unleashes Terror-inflicting apparitions upon you. Though it doesn't offer much of a challenge, the encounter follows a unique premise, making it a refreshing addition to the game.

Genichiro, Way of Tomoe

While it's satisfying to eliminate the man who cuts off your arm and steals your ward at the start of the game, Genichiro's final form is easier and less interesting than previous encounters with him and most of the other bosses. He uses similar tactics to those you've already seen, so as long as you draw upon these experiences, he poses little threat. Depending on the ending you receive, you may battle Genichiro in this form twice. Way of Tomoe serves as his second phase in the Ashina Castle battle. You will then face him again on the Silvergrass Field before going toe to toe with the Sword Saint.

Though it may seem odd that your final conflict with one of the game's main antagonists offers the least challenge, the choice makes some sense. Having fought him twice before, Sekiro would have a greater understanding of his enemy. With Way of Tomoe acting as the opening act for the Sword Saint, one of the hardest fights in the game, FromSoftware may have designed it to act as an easier victory before the final boss shows up to wreck your day.

Gyobou Oniwa

A large, armored figure astride a towering warhorse, Gyobou Oniwa is an intimidating foe who means business. Between his giant spear, special moves, and maneuverability, he can quickly overwhelm you, especially with Sekiro's inferior range. He's difficult to take down without a Shinobi Firecracker, which you can use to stun Gyobou's mount, letting you get a few key hits in during the first phase of the fight. Unfortunately, the Shinobi Firecracker is easy to miss during your first playthrough so you may wind up facing him without it.

Like the formidable warrior he is, Gyobou catches on to your tricks in the second phase of the fight, gaining increased stun resistance. This makes the Shinobi Firecracker less useful, forcing you to adapt your own techniques. An early boss, he poses less of a threat than those you'll encounter later. Still, he and his faithful mount are certain to leave an impression.

Genichiro Ashina

The second encounter with Genichiro Ashina at the top of Ashina Castle is an epic and punishing fight that forces you to take a more aggressive approach. In this combat, the wrong move at the wrong time can lead to sudden death. Part of what makes Genichiro such a threat is his use of a bow and arrow, preventing you from being able to to back off and heal, an effective if frustrating feature that may leave you wanting to throw your controller at the TV screen. 

Though his attacks patterns are simpler to learn than other bosses, the pressure of knowing you'll have to repeat the entire encounter if you die can break your composure. This is especially true when he starts throwing lightning around in the final stage. Though dangerous, if timed properly, you can deflect his lightning attacks back at him. There's little as satisfying as using an enemy's own weapon against him.

Divine Dragon

Divine Dragon is one of those special bosses certain to stick with you after finishing the game, even if the mechanics don't quite hit the mark. The first stage, composed of some low-stakes root-whacking, makes the encounter easier than other bosses. However, its gorgeous design pushes it further up the list. 

Things get harrier once the dragon assumes its true form, forcing you to dodge and leap over the mighty blows from its gargantuan sword. Rather than hitting the dragon directly, you strike it with spears of lightning gathered from energized trees, all while soaring through the air and avoiding shockwaves amidst violent gusts of wind. The combat plays a key role in three of Sekiro's four endings, rewarding you with Divine Dragon's Tears. It's the right mix of aesthetics and combat, even if the opening round is a bit of a letdown.

Emma, The Gentle Blade

Emma acts a physician through most of the game, helping Sekiro upgrade his healing gourd, an item crucial to his success and survivability. If you choose to forsake Kuro at the end, she's one of the bosses you're forced to fight. She quickly goes from healer to punisher, attacking you in a swift, erratic pattern that's difficult to learn. This aggressive style makes a startling counterpoint to her title. While she only has one health bar, her far-reaching attacks and unblockable moves make her a formidable opponent. 

From a story perspective, this is one of the more evocative fights, pitting you against the person who has helped keep you alive the entire game. The intensity increases when you realize Emma serves as a warmup for your multi-step battle with her master and that the game forces you to repeat both encounters should you fall at any point in either.

Lady Butterfly

Though an optional fight, Lady Butterfly is one of the first major bosses you can encounter and boy does she mean business. You fight her in a burning temple, the environment offering one of the more striking visual experiences. Her speed, combinations attacks, and swift posture recovery force you to master your use of parries and dodges. Balancing on invisible wires, she'll pepper you with throwing knives and aerial attacks, highlighting her diverse and elegant combat style. Things get even more interesting in phase two when she starts summoning illusions and exploding balls of light. 

The fight is frustrating and you're likely to die, making victory more satisfying if painstaking. It also embodies the general essence of the game, providing an early glimpse of what to expect as your progress through the narrative. If you can overcome this opponent, you can take anything Sekiro throws at you.

Guardian Ape / Headless Ape & Bride

Terrifying, devastating, and at times ridiculous, the Guardian Ape evokes FromSoftware's clear love of mammoth beasts. Between his grapple attacks, poisonous feces, and the toxic gas he emits when you smack him in the rear, he's one of those baddies you can't wait to kill. The real sucker punch comes when you cut off his head and, instead of dying, he starts wielding the sword you dislodged, coming at you even harder. 

A gift that keeps giving, the Headless Ape reappears later in the game. This encounter features all the horror of the second phase of the first battle but in a much smaller space, with his Guardian Ape bride thrown in for good measure. Spacing is key here, as is a good measure of patience. It's the kind of triple whammy responsible for the love-hate relationship many players have with FromSoftware games

Corrupted Monk / True Corrupted Monk

This imposing enemy is complemented by an array of unique abilities. It's easy to get overwhelmed if you don't enter the fight with the right equipment, as even one mistake can prove deadly. Sekiro is nice enough to ease you into this fight, having you face a weaker, illusory version earlier in the game with only one health bar.

To defeat the True Corrupted Monk, you must endure a grueling, three-phase matchup. The first phase is like the original battle, letting you draw on the tactics you learned during that encounter. In phase two, she summons illusions, creating mirror images of herself designed to distract and disorient you. In the third phase, a millipede sprouts from her neck, and she gains an unblockable attack that deals Terror. A potent mix of impressive visuals and unique mechanics, the Corrupted Monk is one of the most memorable combatants you face in the game.

Great Shinobi - Owl

This fight is triggered by choosing a specific ending. He's a big guy who comes at you with you a range of debilitating traps, attacks, poison, and curses, including a charm that removes your ability to use healing items for 30 seconds each time you're effected. His use of attack variants makes it almost impossible to learn his fighting patterns, forcing you to into a reactionary playstyle. The sheer variety and brutality of Owl's attacks can easily overwhelm you, sending you into a blind panic as you desperately try to hit the right buttons.

Beyond claiming a spot as one of the hardest and most heart-pumping encounters, the story elements that lead to this deadly conflict heighten the experience. There is something both familiar and terrible about being forced to choose between the person who raised you and your own principles and Sekiro does a great job of selling the struggle.

Lord Isshin Ashina

Who could forget Emma's mentor? Though he looks like a graying old man, Lord Isshin has the skills of a master swordsman. You are thrown into combat with him right after defeating the Gentle Blade if you choose to uphold the Iron Code near the end of the game. In the first phase, he plays like a faster, more brutal version of Emma, granting you no quarter in which to catch your breath or heal. In the second phase, he unleashes devastating fire attacks, some of which can one shot you. One of these maneuvers sets the floor ablaze, sending you scrambling for a safe space to stand only to have him hit you with a crippling double slash. 

Sekiro's battles with Emma and Lord Isshin symbolize his fall to the dark side, making their deaths even more poignant as he is overcome by Shura's corrupting influence.

Demon of Hatred

It's easy to miss this hidden boss, only reachable by making specific choices in the endgame. From a combat perspective, the battle against the Demon of Hatred is one of the most difficult encounters Sekiro has to offer. It is also the most reminiscent of the bosses found in the Dark Souls series. With three health bars to burn through, the fight is a mess of slams, grapples, and fire-based attacks that get bigger and harder to avoid. Many of the demon's abilities can eliminate you in one hit, making a single wrong move a potentially fatal error. 

More than another tough battle, the Demon of Hatred is the tragic end of the Sculptor, the man who rescues Sekiro and gives him the Prosthetic Arm. The Sculptor's fate is one of the great tragedies of the game and, in many ways, acts as a mirror for Sekiro's own path.

Owl (Father)

As part of one of the possible endings, you have the option to defeat Owl twice. This battle, which takes place in the same location as the Lady Butterfly encounter, shares elements of the Great Shinobi fight, yet manages to be even more brutal. In the first phase, Owl hits you with a devastating array of posture-breaking moves and combos. His techniques push you to the limit, forcing you to call upon every skill you've developed until that point.

In the second phase, he summons his owl, allowing him to turn invisible and then appear out of nowhere to skewer you. The owl itself flies around, unleashing area-of-effect explosions. Between these bursts, Father will throw the owl, unleashing a line of fire he follows up with a lethal thrust attack. To survive this encounter, you have to pay close attention and take advantage of every damage counter window the game gives you.

Isshin, the Sword Saint

Reachable through three of the four possible endings, Isshin is the hardest fight in the game. After bursting out of his grandson following the second Genichiro, Way Of Tomoe fight, Isshin pursues you through three phases that allow no margin for error. Filled with swift combos and energized slashes, the first phase forces you to fight aggressively or risk falling victim to Isshin's unreal closing speed. In phase two he wields a spear and a sword, becoming more erratic and dangerous. The increased range of the polearm, coupled with the punishing blows from his blade can quickly break your composure. In the third phase he adds lightning to his attacks, raising the already high stakes. A single mistake spells failure and the fear of having to start the encounter all over again makes it easier to panic.

Though Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice offers many challenging bosses, Isshin, the Sword Saint, is the whole package. His skillset forces you to be at the top of your game, as you are always one misstep away from obliteration. His status as the final boss in three of the endings adds its own punch of drama, further heightening the experience and pushing the Sword Saint into the number one spot.