Sifu casts you as a young kung fu student, out to avenge your father's death. However, seeking retribution is no easy task, and Sifu’s punishing difficulty is already earning the game a tough-as-nails reputation.
Even the smallest victories in Sifu require serious focus and mastery of the game’s complex combat system. Beating the game’s hardest fights requires almost as much dedication as learning a real martial art. There’s no shortcut to success in Sifu (although, there is a new Student mode that lowers the difficulty). If you want to see this quest through to its conclusion, you’re going to need to put in the work.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can't tip the odds in your favor. There are a few strategies and tricks that can shift the balance, and help you beat the game’s relentlessly challenging campaign. Here are nine Sifu tips to follow as you become a master of kung fu.
Learn to defend first
In Sifu, avoiding enemy attacks is just as important as dealing out punishment yourself. Even when your character is at full health, a couple of well-connected strikes from a basic enemy will send you to the floor.
Thankfully, you have a guard ability to absorb some punishment without taking damage. However, merely blocking attacks isn’t enough. While guarding, if you flick the left analog stick just before an enemy strikes, you will shift your body to avoid the blow. You can then follow up with a rapid counterattack.
Once you’ve got the timing down, this will become an important move in your arsenal, and is particularly important during boss fights. Unfortunately, you can't avoid every attack this way. When an enemy unleashes an attack with a glowing red body part, you’ll need to leap out of the way to avoid taking damage.
Practice makes perfect
This might seem like an obvious one, but in Sifu, you really do need to practice as if you were a real student of kung fu. Don’t think you can just step into a showdown with half-a-dozen burly thugs and emerge victorious without being prepared.
In your Wuguan base, there is a small wooden training post in the corner. This transports you to a mystical red room where you can train indefinitely against an AI opponent. It’s well worth visiting, even before attempting the first level. Here, you can memorize a few combos and become comfortable with the timing for avoiding attacks.
You can even set your sparring partner to be either passive or aggressive. The former allows you to practice specific combos without having to worry about being interrupted during the process. It’s particularly handy when you’ve just unlocked a new move and want to get a feel for it.
Focus on permanent unlocks
Speaking of unlocks, Sifu handles upgrades a little bit differently from other roguelike games. In order to permanently unlock an upgrade, you need to buy it five times from the skill tree.
Because of this, you should pick your preferred upgrades right from the start, then focus on unlocking them permanently. Don’t spread your XP around buying a half-dozen different abilities, as you’ll just lose them all when you inevitably reach age 70 and die.
Even as you progress further into the game, it's worth keeping this tip in mind. You should always be funneling your XP into upgrades that you want permanently, rather than wasting it on new moves that you’ll use only for a single run.
Try to isolate foes
In Sifu, the odds are often stacked against you. Even the first level throws you into a warehouse to face off against a dozen thugs at once. Trying to take on multiple foes at the same time is usually a recipe for disaster. After all, enemies in Sifu don’t stand around, waiting for their turn to attack.
Ideally, you want to face each opponent one-on-one. The best way to do this is to constantly move around the arenas in which you brawl. Vault over obstacles to put distance between you and your enemies. Get in a few jabs against the combatant who reaches you first, then retreat again.
This strategy doesn’t always make for the most cinematic fights, and you won’t feel like a martial arts expert while performing it. But it’ll keep you alive longer, which is the most important thing.
Always have a weapon (when possible)
While fighting with your bare hands in Sifu feels fantastic, clubbing enemies into a pulp with a wooden staff feels even better. Whenever you get the chance to wield a weapon, take it.
Most larger spaces contain weapons, so keep your eyes peeled. Furthermore, make sure to always deal with enemies who wield blunt instruments first. They can do a lot of damage if left standing, and once they’ve fallen, you can pinch their weapon as well.
After polishing off a whole room full of enemies, make sure to search it for any weapons you didn’t spot the first time around. This can give you a pretty sizeable advantage going into your next fight, especially if it’s a boss encounter.
Even the odds against Fajar
Here’s a handy tip if you’re struggling to beat the game’s first boss, or want to get through the fight quickly in order to preserve your young age for later stages.
In his second phase, Fajar gains a sharp knife that can deal monstrous amounts of damage in seconds. However, you can even the odds by getting hold of a weapon yourself. You’ll find a couple of wooden bats in the back corner of the area. Smacking Fajar with a melee weapon takes huge chunks off of his health bar. The best time to grab a weapon is when he’s hiding in the bamboo, preparing to strike.
Replay levels to get your age down
Replaying levels is practically a requirement in Sifu. This is due to the game’s unique aging mechanics. Every time you die, your character gets a little older. Once you reach your 70s, your next death will mean lights out.
You’ll start new levels at the age you completed the previous one, but you can actually replay older levels to get your age back down. Because of this, replaying older levels can be highly beneficial.
For example, the first time I completed level one, I was in my mid-60s. This meant I had to start the second level from that age. However, after a couple more attempts with a better understanding of the game’s combat, I managed to complete the first level at the age of 25. This allowed me to jump into the game’s second stage in much better shape.
Unless you’re a Sifu master right out of the gate, replaying levels is extremely important to get your age down and stand a fighting chance of seeing the game through to the end.
Search thoroughly for secrets and shortcuts
Thankfully, replaying the same content over and over again is significantly less tedious than it could be. You can unlock shortcuts that let you bypass significant portions of completed levels.
For example, after you defeat The Skull Brothers in the first level, you’ll gain a set of keys. On subsequent replays, this lets you unlock the Avenue Door near the start of the level. This alternative route leads straight to the warehouse, so you can reach the boss after just one significant fight. There are unlockable shortcuts like this in every level.
Make sure to explore every area thoroughly to find other secret items like this. However, bypassing sizable chunks of a level does mean you'll earn less XP and unlock fewer upgrades, which is something to consider.
The leg sweep is extremely effective
I’ll leave you with one final tip: master the leg sweep. It’s extremely effective at both crowd control and dealing significant damage.
When you’ve got an enemy on the floor, you can strike them twice from the ground before pulling them up and starting a new combo. This move is so effective that some players are already declaring it overpowered. If you’re in a tight spot, the leg sweep is your best friend.
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Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.