Emma and Isshin Ashina are the 'bad' ending bosses in Sekiro, found in the game's Ashina Castle area, following on from Guardian Ape in our walkthrough of the game's bosses and mini-bosses.

Whether or not you fight Emma and Isshin Ashina depends on your end-game choices, which we'll explain below, but the main thing to know is that they're found in the same place as the Great Shinobi Owl: on top of Ashina Castle after you've beaten all of the mid-game bosses to get the items Lord Kuro asked you for.

Below, we'll cover how to beat Sekiro's Emma and Isshin Ashina, including any particularly strong methods or weaknesses they might have and any handy things to bear in mind.

For more guides and pages like this, meanwhile, cycle back to our main Sekiro walkthrough and boss guide hub.

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Sekiro Emma and Isshin Ashina - how to find and fight Emma and Isshin Ashina

We cover the in-depth details in our Sekiro ending steps guide, but here are the key, spoiler-minimised things to bear in mind if you want to know how to find and fight Emma and Isshin Ashina:

  • You have to collect all the key story items that Lord Kuro asked you to get first - the ones you get for beating the Folding Screen Monkeys, the Corrupted Monk and the Guardian Ape.
  • Ashina Castle's Sculptor's Idols will then all be locked off from fast travel, apart from the Abandoned Dungeon Entrance. When you're ready for a fight, go there and work your way back to the top of Ashina Castle like you did for Genichiro Ashina before.
  • At the top, you'll be faced with a choice. One option, "Obey the Iron Code" leads to the 'bad' ending, which is this one, where you fight and Emma and Isshin Ashina. The other, "Break the Iron Code", leads to a different fight with Great Shinobi Owl - that one also keeps all three 'good' Sekiro endings live, too.

So, having chosen to obey the Iron Code and your father's wishes, it's time for the Emma and Isshin Ashina fight.

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How to beat Emma the Gentle Blade in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

This is a pretty tought, three-stage fight, starting with one round against Emma, the Gentle Blade, before you go on to two phases with Isshin Ashina. Be sure to equip the Whirlwind Strike combat art and the Firecracker Prosthetic for both phases, as they're both going to be essential.

Emma is the easiest phase by some way, working out like a simpler version of Genichiro Ashina - or even more like an Ashina Elite - who you fought the last time you were up here atop Ashina Castle.

In brief, you want to be very aggressive, sticking close to Emma and landing hits until she parries (the golden-orange flash when you cross swords), then deflecting a few of her attacks in a flurry, then getting aggressive again.

There's a bit more to it than that though. There are the standard things to mind out for - she has four perilous attacks - and also an 'Ashina Cross' attack, which is a lot like the Ashina Elite's main attack - a flash of the sword as she draws it, a rapid dart forwards, and two slashes - one horizontal and one vertical - which do major damage if they hit and are near impossible to fully parry.

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Counter her main flurry, signalled by a long pause where she holds her sword up high and to the side before striking, by parrying everything, ideally - beware that it has a strange ending that'll occasionally remove your 'locked on' focus from her, if you get the timing wrong.

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Counter her grab Perilous Attack, signalled by her putting her sword away and making a sign with her hands, by running away (beware its surprising range) and getting a Whirlwind strike on her on the back or side.

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She has two Perilous lunge attacks - one in melee range, signalled in the ususal sword-drawn-back-ready-to-poke way like anyone else; and one as a long-range gap-closer like Genichiro had in his final phase, if you remember it - with a Mikiri Counter or perfect deflection.

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Counter her sweep Perilous Attack by double jumping on her head, which never gets old, for some heavy posture damage.

And finally, counter her Ashina Cross attack - the one that's like the Ashina Elite's - by sprinting around her in a circle at mid-distance, just like you did with the Ashina Elite. You need to be continuously sprinting for it to work, but it's very easy to replicate once you have a feel for it, and then you can immediately sprint up to her and land a Whirlwind Strike combat art on her side / back for decent Vitality damage.

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That's the most important skill to master here, really, because you'll need to use it against Isshin Ashina right after, too. Save all of your Spirit Emblems and counter her attacks as we described above, and you'll get used to her pretty quickly. The real fight is what follows.

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Looking for more Sekiro pages like this? First up, the first main Sekiro patch notes for update 1.03 are live. Otherwise, our Sekiro boss guide, boss list and walkthrough hub has everything in one place, including pages on Lady Butterfly, Genichiro Ashina Way of Tomoe, Folding Screen Monkeys, Corrupted Monk, Guardian Ape, Great Shinobi Owl, Emma and Isshin Ashina, True Corrupted Monk, and Divine Dragon. We also have in-depth pages like Sekiro tips and tricks to get you started, Sekiro Skills, skill tree and Esoteric Text locations explained, our deep dive on the Sekiro combat system, Posture, and Perilous Attacks, or details on all Sekiro Prosthetic Tool locations, how to cure Dragonrot and Rot Essence in Sekiro, Gourd Seed locations, a Divine Confetti farm route method, all Treasure Carp Scale locations, all, Prayer Beads locations and all Snap Seed locations, too. And when you're ready - the how to beat Isshin Sword Saint and an Isshin Sword Saint cheese, plus the many Sekiro endings.


How to beat Isshin Ashina in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

On the face of it, Isshin might seem like a pretty similar boss to Emma: he has a single sword, does the same Ashina Cross attack like the Ashina Elite, and looks a bit flimsy in nothing but a robe - but you actually need to completely reverse your thinking.

You beat Isshin Ashina by being defensive, rather than offensive, parrying and dodging specific attacks and then countering at very specific moments - if you go aggressive and start hammering R1/RB, he'll dodge and counter you perfectly, and deal huge damage on the counter to you.

How to beat Isshin Ashina's first phase

The first stage is relatively simple. You need to defend, dodge and counter everything whilst waiting for him to do two specific attacks.

The first is a vertical slam of his sword, where he holds it up high above his head for a long pause, before slamming it down one, two, or three times for massive, defense-breaking damage.

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When you seem him raise his sword above his head and pause, wait a moment - about one full second - and then dodge towards him and left, at about 10 or 11 o'clock, or north-west to north-north-west, if you prefer thinking of it like that. Dodge two or three times, not just once, or you'll get caught in his follow up.

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Immediately after dodging through his big attack, turn to him and land a free Whirlwind Strike, then get back to dodging and deflecting.

The second attack you want to bait him into is a similar one to Emma's, the Ashina Cross, where he puts away his sword, then you see the hilt flash silver and he'll dart forward very quickly for a verticle and horizontal slash. You tackle this the same way you did with Emma, by sprinting sidways around him when you see him put his sword away.

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That should get you round the back of him after he's done that attack. Quickly hit him with another Whirlwind Strike, back away, and repeat.

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He also has a grab, sweep and lunge attack just like Emma - counter those in the same ways, as you always would - and you should do well. You can also land exactly one free Vitality hit on him after each successful counter, parry or dodge of his Perilous Attacks. Don't go for a second.

It's fairly slow work, but there's absolutely no point going on the offensive here. Try to get through him with three or four Gourd uses and, ideally, a resurrection still live for the final, third phase of this fight (Isshin's second phase).

How to beat Isshin Ashina's second phase

In this phase, you have to keep as close as you possibly can to Isshin, at all times, or risk being torn apart by one of his new attacks.

His standard attacks are all largely the same, but he gets three new fiery attacks that will cause you serious trouble if you don't counter them properly.

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The first is a reworking of the slow vertical slash. This now has two parts, and works a lot like the Ashina Cross, only it reaches much further behind him on its second, horizontal swipe, making the usual run-around-him-in-circles method pretty unusuable.

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Instead, you need to dodge once (we preferred forwards and right instead of left this time), and then jump behind him. You can then land a safe Whirlwind Strike on his back like before.

He then has a Perilous swipe attack that uses flames, too, that he uses when you're in close range. He'll stamp the ground, then swipe across in front of him, sending out an arc of flames around in a C-shape in front of him.

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You can counter this by jumping on his head or by dodging well away, forwards and to the side, and then hitting him from behind.

He has a long-range fiery attack, where he'll stamp the ground and then send out a long, narrow burst of flame towards you that runs the entire length of the arena. Dodge or run sideways continuously to avoid that fairly easily - don't jump though, or you'll get caught in it.

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Finally, he has an all-arena fiery attack. This is when he crouches down and starts doing a sort of 'charging up' sound, with his sword put away.

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You need to close the gap with him immediately and use the Shinobi Firecracker Prosthetic on him. This is the only way to get him out of completing the attack, which is a nightmare to avoid if he manages to pull it off.

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If you land the Firecracker before he gets his attack off, you can get two hits on him then carry on as usual. If not, then this attack will send pillars of flame up from the floor of the arena in random places. It's fairly well telegraphed and there are safe spots on the ground - but he also follows it up with a huge, only half-blockable flurry attack.

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If you get caught in a flame pillar you'll be stunned, as well as set on fire, and then likely caught in his massive flurry follow up as well, and die. So basically, never let him get this attack off or be prepared to very intricately avoid the flames and then hammer the block button to parry as much of his big flurry as you can.

It's a tough fight, but it's doable, and each of his attacks still have their counters, as we outlined above. Be patient, follow that advice, and we promise you'll get there!

That's all you'll hopefully need for tackling this encounter. Next up in our guide is True Corrupted Monk, or you can cycle back to our main Sekiro walkthrough and boss guide hub for much more explainers and advice.

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Chris Tapsell

Chris Tapsell

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Chris Tapsell is Eurogamer's Staff Writer, its newest Chris, and a keen explorer of the dark arts of gaming, from League of Legends to the murky world of competitive Pokémon.