PC PlayStation Previews Summer Game Fest

Phantom Blade Zero Hands-On Preview – The Deadly Assassin

Phantom Blade Zero was first announced during a PlayStation showcase live stream back in May 2023. Self-described as an ambitious action RPG set within a gritty steampunk-inspired world, Phantom Blade Zero wowed fans and left many wondering when they might finally get their hands on the finished product.

During Summer Game Fest Play Days earlier this month, I finally got to play the first demo for Phantom Blade Zero and I can confidentially say that I fully understand the hype now. Here are more details on the game’s origin and why the demo sold me on this world and its characters.

A Kung Fu Punk Stylized Universe

Developed by S-GAME, Phantom Blade Zero is part of an ever-growing franchise created by Soulframe Liang titled Rainblood: Town of Death. Released in 2010, Town of Death was created with RPG Maker and grew in popularity to over 20 million fans across several mobile game entry releases in China. Phantom Blade Zero is the rebirth of Rainblood created entirely in Unreal Engine 5 and set to drop on PlayStation 5 and PC in the not-too-distant future.

The story revolves around Soul, a skilled assassin who is framed for murder and gravely wounded after being hunted down by several adversaries. A mystic healer offers him a temporary cure allowing him 66 days to find out who framed him. The demo was split into 4 parts and picked up sometime after these key story events.

Stylish And Immersive Combat

The demo opened with a quick tutorial that allowed me to go through a level in real time. Once I arrived in an open field area, I was greeted by an enemy and saw prompts on executing various primary weapon attacks like basic combos, and Sha-Chi combos. I also learned how to use secondary weapons like the Bow and Tiger Cannon which can be fully charged before being fired at adversaries. Like Stellar Blade, you can focus on your target by pressing down on the right joystick to be the most effective. Using the directional pad also allows you to switch weapons swiftly, something you’ll need to do often as combat intensifies.

After reviewing all the offensive maneuvers, the focus shifted toward defense and covered blocking and dodging while using backstep and sidestep tactics. Lastly, I completed an advanced tutorials section that dived into parrying, evading killer moves, and countering with power surge attacks. One thing I love about these mechanics is how straightforward blocking and dodging are. While perfectly timed parrying is a key component in most action-based sword combat games these days, it feels like you can neutralize targets in various ways which is something many will appreciate if they don’t always want to only rely on parrying. The tutorial concluded with me using everything I learned to defeat the mini-boss.

A Mysteriously Intoxicating Setting

The second part of the demo threw me headfirst into another game level where I explored more of the world and eliminated a slew of enemies before reaching one of the bosses. This was an interesting experience because it represented the full creative vision behind this world and made me curious to learn more about its origin. As mentioned above, Soul is an assassin who can sneak up on certain enemies and eliminate them without being detected.

The key pillars of this game include using traversal, combat mechanics, and defensive maneuvers to survive any and everything thrown your way. These factors make the game incredibly fun to play as you feel yourself becoming a master the more you play. The exciting boss battle I had at the end of this level felt like the perfect culmination of everything I learned beforehand in the tutorials. This straightforward approach to getting players comfortable with the game is smart and could lead to more people wanting to check it out.

Epic Boss Encounters

The final two portions of the demo consisted of two very different boss battle encounters. The first battle was against a larger-sized enemy named Commander Cleave and this fight was again within an open-field environment. Like Rise of the Ronin and Stellar Blade, studying the attack pattern for bosses can offer clues on defeating them.

While it didn’t take long for me to dispose of Commander Cleave, this was an entirely different story when it came to fighting against Huangxing. This menacing boss had a mechanical stylized spiked weapon attached to his arm which he used to behead my character multiple times. This battle also took place indoors and I had to hide behind pillars to avoid some of his attacks. On the flip side, I learned how to use the pillars to my advantage by launching myself off them for a sweep attack. While it did take a while to defeat him, it felt rewarding when I did which also aligned with the end of my hands-on session.

While my time with Phantom Blade Zero was short, I walked away very impressed and can’t wait to spend more time with the game. The studio is currently working on a public demo that you all will have access to in the future. In the meantime, keep this game on your radar if you’re in the market for a new action RPG experience.

Phantom Blade Zero is currently in development for PlayStation 5 and PC. Stay tuned for more details on the game and let us know if you plan to check it out in the comments section below.

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