Sifu Review (PS5)
Knock knock, a ghost from your past is here to kill you.
Available on: PS4/PS5
Genre: Action Beat ’em Up
Ever watched a martial arts movie or a cool movie where the protagonist kicks some ass and wished you were as masterful or strong as them? Well, now you can with a game called Sifu.
Sifu starts out eight years before the main game where you get to see where your character’s motivation started. Except you don’t play your character, but a man you soon learn is named Yang. On a dark and stormy night, he and his four followers entered a martial arts school and proceeds to kill every student they come across. Until they get to the sifu and Yang takes him on himself. Yang, and technically you too, ends up successfully killing him. As he walks back inside, he senses and coaxes a little kid out of their hiding place. This kid, who you end up playing as, is the sifu’s kid and after some consideration, Yang orders one of his followers to kill you. Leaving with everyone dead and no one knowing what happened on that night.
Well, that’s how it should have been. The little kid Yang ordered to kill wakes up sometime after they left with an ancient, glowing talisman under her hand. She doesn’t even get the chance to puzzle over how she’s alive after having her throat slit before she finds her father dead. For the next eight years, she trains and gathers information on the five that killed her and her father so she can go after them for revenge for what they did to her.
Sifu naturally contains five levels, each level being where Yang and his followers are located at. You first go after the one who killed you, Fajar The Botanist, who resides in The Squats. The others could have been in any order, but you end up going after Sean The Fighter next at his Club, then Kuroki The Artist at her Museum, and Jinfend The CEO at her Tower (which acts as her company’s headquarters). And Yang? He is left last. Not only will he be the hardest one to defeat, but he gets to watch as you not only take down his followers (and the followers they managed to gather under them) but his at his Sanctuary.
Of course, you won’t be able to just walk up to the bosses right away. They are resided in the deepest part of their locations and they have their own lackeys below them that are willing to attack you and prevent you from going any further. There are a couple enemy types you’ll come across that’ll determine how you’ll proceed. Gangsters are the basic enemies you’ll come across the most; Juggarnauts are the fat enemies that will often grab you, hit stronger, and can take more hits; Flashkicks who are agile women that excels at kicking a lot; as well as some enemies that only show up on certain levels like Sean’s Disciples and Bodyguards. All of these come as either their basic version or their advance and miniboss version which are of course harder to deal with due to being faster, having more health, and having guardbreaking attacks. You’ll have to defeat all of the enemies in the room you’re in to continue on. But how do you defend yourself and take down these enemies?
Throughout the eight years of training, your character has become quite skilled in Kung Fu and she uses this to defeat her enemies. Though, she still has much to learn. Starting out you have the basic light and heavy attacks which you can combo, a dodge/sprint which you can quickly get away from an enemy if needed, and you can deflect attacks and even parry them if your timing is right. There are even weapons you (and the enemies) can pick up which will change how your attacks are executed. Of course, you have to pay attention to what the enemy (or enemies) are doing and keep in mind of their attack patterns so you don’t find yourself being slammed into the ground. You can just defeat them by depleting their health, but each enemy has Structure, which is impacted when a land hits or deflecting/parrying, which you can break and then do a takedown to defeat them. However, some of them do get a second wind making them stronger than before (which you can end up reliably guessing who will get it after a while of observing). Of course, you also have Structure which can spell disaster if it breaks on you and an enemy uses the oppurtunity to strike. There is also the Focus mechanic, which is a gauge that builds up as you attack enemies and once full can do Focus Attacks to do more damage, stun them for a couple seconds, or even throw them on the ground.
You won’t stick with the basics for long unless you want to. You gain EXP for every enemy you defeat and you can put this into your Skill Tree. You can spend EXP on a ton of other skills, like more Focus Attacks, more attack types, and more combos. These are very useful as you can have more ways to attack under your belt as well as being able to do more moves like being able to catch thrown items or counters. However, these aren’t permanent right away. If you have to restart a level, you regress to what you had before that, which means you won’t have that skill anymore. Well, unless you put more EXP in it to permanently unlock it, which is very much worth it and can help you getting out of levels younger. This was actually an aspect I wasn’t too sure about, but I came to tolerate and like it even. It is weird having to remember you don’t have the skill anymore when going back to previous levels though.
In addition, there are the Shrines which you can find across the levels. Some are hidden well, but you will at least cross one (most likely before you get to the boss) which presents you with nine upgrades split into three sets based on the requirements: your current age (which you have to be on or under to gain it), your Score, and current EXP (as it will take it away in exchange for the upgrade). You can only choose one per Shrine, and while you’re there you can go into your Skill Tree, but once you exit out of the screen you won’t be able to access it afterward.
Of course, there is the most important mechanic of Sifu, the aging mechanic. This is where most of the difficulty comes from. Every time you die, the talisman can revive you with the cost of you aging. At first you’ll only age once, but this will increase to whatever your death counter is at. Aging up will reduce your health, but increase your damage. The only way to bring your death counter down is by defeating tough enemies or through a shrine reward. You start at age 20 and die at age 80. You can go back to previous levels to bring down your age, as you’ll start at the state you were in when you first entered (meaning goodbye temporary skills and Shrine rewards that came after). This is worth doing if you find yourself too old to beat the level you’re at, though I do recommend going through the levels until you can’t. That way, you can put EXP into getting your skills to become permanent.
Luckily, you can and will unlock shortcuts when going through each level, so when you return you don’t have to go through the whole level if you don’t want to. Of course, this can work against you as you won’t get as much EXP and you won’t be able to get as many shrine rewards (nor will you have enough Score to get the Score rewards).
At the end of each level are the bosses which helped Yang in killing your father. Each of these are hard to defeat as they boast their own attack style and will require you to go through two phases where they bring in a whole new arena and attack patterns. Having you try to learn their patterns to avoid being hit hard while also taking advantage of openings before they go to attack again. I absolutely love these bosses, despite how throughly they kicked by butt the first time around. It’s easier said than done, but all you have to do is deplete their health or do a takedown to advance to the next phase and then do it again to defeat them.
Also my favorite boss is Kuroki.
I just wish we got to know their backstories a bit more and maybe even how Yang ended up recruiting them and why they joined (DLC idea maybe?). You do get bits of it in their Detective Board collectibles and at through the environment (which The Museum excels at for Kuroki’s backstory).
As you’re going through each level, you will also notice some interaction points which can be keys for shortcuts, papers, or something that your character can take a picture of. These are the game’s collectibles and they are put on the Detective Board where you can look at them more and get some more background on the bosses you’re going up against. A lot of these can be found when you’re going through the first time, but a good amount are found in alternate routes (some which are shortcuts) that can only be done on your second visit or requires you to find a key or item in a different level.
There are also two endings that you can achieve. One is achieved by getting your revenge and killing all five of them and the other is by sparing all of them. Luckily, you don’t have to spare all of them in one go as it will count as long as you do it the first time. To spare a boss, you have to break their structure twice on their second phase, but don’t press the buttons for takedown and don’t let their health go down. The spare option starts showing up when their structure breaks the second time and only when you’re in range. This is actually quite difficult and it’s not because the bosses are hard (okay well that’s part of it). You get so in the habit of pressing circle + triangle when it shows up that you most likely will press it without thinking when doing a spare everyone run. I know I certainly did (I killed Fajar five times before I was able to fight that habit). Though, it is also hard trying to not kill them by depleting their health bar too. I was able to spare Sean the first try, but he had a sliver of health left.
The only annoyance I came across was the camera working against me a couple of times and Yang’s third phase is so annoying (as you can’t sprint/dodge and Yang’s structure restores way too fast), though some others might not like how the skill unlock system is and replaying levels to try and get their age down in the next levels (though, they do become easier and you can get to the boss without dying if you don’t try to rush through too fast). I also only came across one glitch where after the credits scene (which I let play out so I could go to the bathroom) neither the game nor the PS5 registered my controller.
With the release of Sifu’s physical release, an update came in adding in two difficult modes: Student (easy) and Master (hard). The difficulty Sifu had at launch now being normal difficulty and named as Disciple. Student difficulty is not for those that already beaten Sifu, and not for those that specifically excel at these types of games. However, if you’ve been struggling or not that great at games that are in the similar vein as Sifu, this would be perfect for you. This basically has less aggressive and weaker enemies, the aging mechanic is more forgiving as you’ll only age by one each time you die, and it does seem the game will heal you up when starting a boss fight and getting into the next phase. Meanwhile, Master difficulty will make enemies more aggressive and stronger, and bosses will now have new attack patterns.
I know this is a sin to those game difficulty gatekeepers out there, but I actually started Sifu on easy mode (or “Student” as the game calls it). I did this half because I suspected I would be bad at this game and I wanted to have fun. I don’t want to be hitting a wall most days okay. Despite what people that hate the fact it was included, Student is still difficult. You still need to learn Sifu’s mechanics, you still need to try to avoid or block attacks, you still need to learn an enemy’s or boss’ attack patterns, and you still need to keep an eye on your character’s age. It lets you learn the mechanics and attack patterns enemies can have without feeling like the game is too punishing or unforgiving.
Though I do agree that the aging goes up too slow and maybe they could have it to where the amount of years you age raises after you surpass a certain number on your death counter (like every five deaths counted for example). Or at least have an option where you can decide how you want the aging mechanic to be for Student and Disciple.
If you want to play on Student difficulty, don’t let others deter you.
I also can’t leave without mentioning how much a liked the art direction and how great the music and sound effects are. Sifu also got Chinese voice acting and honestly, I prefer it. The English voice acting is okay, but I really loved the Chinese voice acting and I’m glad I started the game with it.
I didn’t expect this, but I really ended up loving Sifu. The combat is challenging but fun, the skills and Shrine rewards are all helpful, I love the art style and music, and the bosses were handled really well. I didn’t find myself minding how you need to put more EXP to get skills to be permanent and the Aging mechanic, as Sifu was still so fun despite that. I also really appreciated that more difficulty modes were added in, which I do feel helped me enjoy and appreciate Sifu more.
I liked Sifu so much that I went to try to get my age as low as I can, find all of the collectibles for the Detective Board, and getting all achievements. And you know when I like a game when I want to get 100% rather than feeling like I had to.
If you feel like you’d like Sifu, and won’t mind the skill and aging mechanic here, I fully recommend picking up Sifu.