If there’s anything to be said about Soulsborne games, it is that they have memorable boss fights. Maybe not all of them, but they have certainly been stepping up their game since we first met Vanguard in Demon’s Souls. And Sekiro is not an exception.
Set in the Sengoku period, with a healthy helping of folklore and magical mysteries, Sekiro is perhaps the narratively most open of From Software games. The lore is not as hidden and there are many people to talk to. The world feels more alive, so to speak, and perhaps not as bleak and hopeless as in some of their previous endeavors (which is probably a good sign for the upcoming Elden Ring).
What this means is that the bosses are mostly people (although larger than life), figures that have a vested interest in the story of which they might openly talk to you about.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a healthy menagerie of beasts to encounter as well. From Software knows how to break up even a semblance of monotony in their games, and the sudden drops into unknown depths of medieval Japan will pit you against some of the most hideous enemies yet.
Just an obligatory spoiler warning before we delve further in – we will cover the main bosses, talking about their motives, place in the story, and a potential strategy to use against them. If you do not want any of this spoiled for you – you have been warned.
#1 Gyoubu Masataka Oniwa
Better known by the players of Sekiro as the annoying horse guy and the first real obstacle in the game, Gyoubu is one of Genichiro’s most trusted retainers. He used to be a powerful bandit leader, but once their paths crossed and he was defeated by Isshin, head of the Ashina family, he became part of their army.
The spear he wields can be seen in the opening cutscene, where Isshin is the one who beats the huge samurai, gifting his spear he gifts to Gyoubu, after his own horn-spear broke in battle. He is believed to be based on several real historical figures from the Japanese Sengoku period.
When it comes to fighting him, remember that animals do not like Shinobi Firecracker, so you can use that on his horse, appropriately named the “Demon-like Bay Horse” in Japanese. Make sure to stay close to him and deflect, but do not approach from the back, as the horse will kick you. Occasionally, when Gyobu is far away you will be able to grapple close to him and land a powerful hit.
#2 Lady Butterfly
Lady Butterfly was a mentor of Sekiro’s at some point in the past, as we find out when she greets the player with “It has been some time, son of Owl”. Little is known about her, but she does have a unique fighting style, which is reminiscent of the lone shadows, special enemies in the game, while at the same time she uses shinobi techniques, such as shurikens.
The player can get his own version of her special shuriken, the Phantom Kunai, by purchasing it from Anayama the Peddler and using it as one of the upgrades for the Loaded Shuriken. It is possible Anayama actually gets the upgrade material from the dead body of the Lady Butterfly herself, as this event is actually in the past.
Lady Butterfly is not that difficult, though she can be overwhelming when you first meet her but remember to deflect and also to dodge and hit. It is important to use shuriken every time she is in the air to bring her down and score a hit or two. In the second phase, make sure to bring some snap seeds to dispel the illusion, otherwise, you’d have to kill them. Rinse and repeat the way you fought in the first part and you should be fine.
#3 Genichiro Ashina
Genichiro, the man who cuts off your arm at the very beginning of the game, is probably the last hope of the Ashina clan – even though he was merely adopted into it after the death of his mother, who was a peasant woman. He became one of the best swordsmen in the clan and eventually one of the most powerful people in it.
He is also the only known student of Tomoe, a mysterious person (or a clan) that seems to have harnessed the power of lightning and passed it onto their only known student. The location of their training was probably somewhere in the vicinity of the Fountainhead Palace, the celestial place where the fish-like Palace Nobles abide.
This fight has two phases. In the first phase, sidestep if he comes at you firing arrows and attack immediately. If you try to heal, he will send arrows at you, so beware. Stay close to him when he is down to one health bar to avoid the barrage of arrows. In the second phase, he will try to use the lightning on you, but if you press attack in the air when he sends it at you, you will send it back for some satisfyingly large damage.
#4 Folding Screen Monkeys
The four monkeys are based on the Buddhist or Confucian idea of Three Wise Monkeys, which can be seen often represented as covering their eyes (see no evil), ears (hear no evil), and mouth (speak no evil). The fourth one is also sometimes added (do no evil).
The monkeys that appear in the Hall of Illusions are there to stop you from gaining access to Inner Sanctum and finding the Divine Child. They are not really a boss as such, it is more of a game of hide & seek between them and you.
The best way to go about it is by being stealthy and using Shinobi Firecracker once close to them. Get the invisible monkey first (he’s right behind you as you start the fight) and you should be fine. If the monkeys manage to disappear, you can either hang around in cover waiting for them to come back or return to the initial area with the folding screens and reset their positions (those you killed already will stay dead).
#5 Corrupted Monk Illusion/Corrupted Monk
The first time you meet the Corrupted Monk at the end of Mibu Village, it will be just an illusion, trying to stop you from entering the Wedding Cave Door. Be aware – illusions can kill just as well.
For this first meeting, which requires only one Deathblow, be sure to learn the patterns first. They are quite slow and deliberate, but also deadly. The five-spin Whirlwind attack is probably the most difficult, as you won’t be able to deflect it all the way. The key is to disrupt her patterns with Shinobi Firecracker. Perhaps add some Divine Confetti for good measure, as this is an apparition type enemy.
The second time you meet this boss it will be the real-deal, three-course-Deathblow. In the first phase build-up posture by deflecting, keeping an eye out for perilous attacks. The second phase is still a posture building battle, but there will be shadow versions of the Monk – best way to deal with them is to ignore them and swing around until the physical form makes its return.
The third phase mixes things up completely. Along with the attacks that might be familiar, there will be new things that include the Terror Spew – which you need to avoid or the fight will be made fairly short. However, having paid attention to the repertoire earlier, you should be able to bring this fight to the end without much trouble.
#6 Guardian Ape
The Great Guardian Ape can be found in Bodhisattva Valley, jealously guarding the entrance to Lotus of the Palace, a rare flower that the ape was hoping would attract another mate (you can find the skeleton of the ape’s previous mate in one of the caves nearby). Unfortunately for both of you, you also require the flower.
After defeating the ape, one of the items received is the Slender Finger, which you can use to upgrade your shinobi tools. The Sculptor will tell you about who the finger belonged to, his fellow Shinobi called Kingfisher. They trained together in the Sunken Valley a long time ago and the mystery remains regarding how her finger ended up inside the ape’s belly.
As far as your strategy is concerned, this boss can be very tricky. In the first phase, you can keep close, but beware of the grab and body slam as these are unblockable. You can also keep running circles around the ape, hitting him when an opening appears. Shinobi Firecracker and Flame Vent are your friends as well.
In the second phase, the ape becomes an apparition-type enemy so use Divine Confetti. His swords attacks should be parried, while the scream is easily defended against with any Loaded Umbrella type, giving you an opening to deal damage.
#7 Great Shinobi Owl/Owl (Father)
The man who found Sekiro as a kid in the middle of the battlefield and taught him everything about being a shinobi, the Great Shinobi Owl, is a boss that can be avoided (read more about it in our Sekiro endings guide). However, it is a tough-as-nails boss that will make short work of you until you have mastered the moveset.
The fight in the Ashina Castle that happens if you remain loyal to Kuro will see the Owl using all manner of shinobi techniques. Your best bet in the first phase is to bait him into attacking and get in your hits where possible. Mortal Blade is your friend here. In the second phase, getting him into a corner and being very aggressive and ready to parry and dodge the green smoke seems like the best strategy.
The other situation where you can fight him is optional and happens after you defeat him the first time (and obtain the Father’s Bell Charm following that). You get the chance to fight the Owl in his prime, back in time in the Hirata Estate. He is an even more accomplished fighter here, faster and stronger, however, he doesn’t use the poison and health block attacks as in the other fight. Cornering him usually still helps to wear him down.
In the second phase run when he’s invisible, use Mikiri against his Shadowrush and you should be fine as he’s mostly defensive here.
#8 Emma, The Gentle Blade
If you have chosen the path of betraying Kuro, instead of fighting the Great Shinobi Owl, you get to fight Emma. She has been taught by Isshin Ashina in the way of Ashina Arts and is a formidable opponent, though not as strong as some others. At one point, if you had offered her sake, she would have told you that she learned the sword so she would fight demons, not humans.
Perhaps turning against Kuro paints you a demon in her eyes.
The best way to go about fighting her is to not be impatient. Her combos are long and you should wait until they are finished so you can get a hit in. She will try to grab you often, so beware. Be careful when her blade is gleaming – this is your chance to run away from her to avoid the hit and then go back to get one of your own in.
You can still use the Shinobi Firecracker before or after her combos to get a few hits in. With a bit of patience, this boss fight should be well within your grasp. The one that follows right after will be much more of a hassle.
#9 Isshin Ashina
You will be facing Isshin right after Emma if you have chosen to betray Kuro. Since Isshin is dedicated to destroying all Shura, the shinobi who have killed too many and are close to becoming the Demon of Hatred, he wants to stop you as well. Plus, you have killed Emma and are working actively on getting to Kuro – that’s not something the old man is willing to let slide.
Be ready for the man who practically developed the Ashina style of combat. He will give you a lesson on using Ichimonji and Ichimonji double, which you will need to deflect if you want to counter him – or run away. When you see his sword gleam, be ready for the Ashina Cross – you can use the end of the attack to counter him.
In the second phase, he will engulf the entire room in fire, with a few safe spots here and there. Use Shinobi Firecrackers to try and prevent the attack. Mist Raven is a good choice for escaping some of his attacks and getting a few hits in. Other than that – good luck!
# 10 Divine Dragon
The Divine Dragon is a foreign element which arrived to Ashina from “the West”, which might be a real location (China? Europe?) or a metaphysical one. His earthly representation is the Sakura tree – and just like the dragon, it is of foreign origin, and has taken roots in Japan. And just like the tree is missing the stolen branch, the dragon is missing an arm.
As far as the fight is concerned, you might consider this one of the easier bosses in Sekiro. The first phase is all about fighting the Old Dragons of the Tree.
They are small, compared to the Divine Dragon, and will attack you with their flutes, by vomiting poison and by using the tree attack coming down from the clouds. Just keep moving and be aggressive and you should be fine. Oh, and brown dragons that appear near the end of the fight do not count toward the health bar.
The second part, when you fight the actual Divine Dragon, is more about dodging his attacks (jumping over the horizontal slashes, running to the side of the vertical ones) and using lightning from the tree stumps to actually hurt the boss. Once you get him about a quarter health, he will go berserk for a little while, hitting you with everything. Just dodge through this and keep going until the end.
#11 Genichiro, Way of Tomoe
When you meet Genichiro for the 2nd time, it will be just an introduction to a bigger and tougher fight. It is by no means easy, but it is easier than what is coming and there is no break between the two fights – so don’t spend your spirit emblems just yet.
Genichiro is without his armor this time, but he’s packing a Mortal Blade, just like you. And he will start the fight with the Mortal Draw, so be ready to dodge it, as it will take a lot of your health even if you parry it. Later in the fight, he will occasionally go for the Mortal Blade – when you see him winding up the attack, growling, with black energy around the sword, make sure you are ready to dodge to the right.
Of course, Genichiro has a few more tricks up his sleeve. His leap attack should be easy to counter with Mikiri, his sweeping attack can be interrupted as he runs to your right and his thrust attack should also see you using Mikiri on him. Beware of his grab attack as well, which will happen if you miss the counter on his leaping attack. Keep bashing at him when you can and you will soon be reaching what is probably the hardest boss in the game.
#12 Isshin, The Sword Saint
The version of Isshin you fight here is the young Isshin, from his glory days and he is one tough cookie. Genichiro sacrifices himself and binds Isshin to his wish – that war needs to be won, blood of the Heir obtained, Ashina Clan brought ultimate glory.
This is why this younger version of Isshin cannot refuse to fight you, pulled back as he is from the underworld through the power of the Mortal Blade.
Isshin will be using a large list of moves at his disposal. One of his Perilous Attacks, where he takes three steps to the right, will be a thrust move which you can counter with the Mikiri. His Dash Slash can be easily blocked, while the two swings he occasionally makes can be interrupted and sometimes even turned into a loop that will help you gain a bunch of Posture damage.
His Ichimonji and Double Ichimonji require dodging, preferably positioning you behind him for a couple of hits. Sheathed Ashina Cross should be dodged in the same manner.
The perilous sweep he does occasionally should just see you run away, by jumping most likely. The Wind Spiral attack can be interrupted by a Shinobi Firecracker, getting you time to get hits in. Deflect what you can and firecracker his deadly attacks and – after a lot of attempts – you should be fine.
Mini-Bosses, Optional Bosses and Hidden Bosses
Perhaps more than any other From Software game, Sekiro is rife with all manner of “slightly stronger than normal” enemies. If we take into consideration the Seven Ashina Spears, all of the Headless, Ashina Elites, Lone Shadows, Snake Eyes, and Centipedes, there is quite enough of them to make for another compendium on who they are and how to fight them.
Rest assured that they are just as much fun and equally difficult (if not more) than some of the bosses that are required in order to finish the game itself. And who knows – perhaps we will soon be writing about them in detail as well.