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Phantom Blade Zero delivers the action I wanted from Stellar Blade

The main character in Phantom Blade Zero
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

I liked Stellar Blade for the PlayStation 5 when it launched in April, but I’ll admit its gameplay was a bit slower than I had hoped. Shift Up’s game leaned more into its Dark Souls influence rather than Nier: Automata‘s roots during combat. I’ve been looking for a new character-action game that makes me feel powerful with flashy animations, big combos, and a fast pace. After going hands-on with a demo of Phantom Blade Zero at Summer Game Fest, I think it’s the game I was looking for all along.

I was actually a bit skeptical heading into my appointment for Phantom Blade Zero. Its reveal trailers were so flashy that I had my doubts that they were showing actual gameplay. While the camera work in those trailers is definitely a bit different than what’s in-game, Phantom Blade Zero‘s fights are just as exhilarating to play as they are to watch. If you’re attending any of the shows where a demo for it will be available this year, you have to give it a shot.

Phantom Blade Zero - "The Blade is Drawn" Gameplay Trailer | PS5 Games

My demo began with a tutorial that eased me into Phantom Blade Zero‘s combat system. While the look of levels and lock-on camera are straight out of a Souls game, it becomes abundantly clear that Phantom Blade Zero is not a Soulslike as soon as blades start swinging. For one, its attacks are mapped to face buttons on the controller (a personal preference of mine), and players are encouraged to input different button combinations to pull off various combos.

Even within this simple tutorial, I had fun workshopping a few different strings of attacks to mow down enemies with. Plus, there are more Power Surge and Phantom Edge weapon attacks that players can use if they want to deal a particularly powerful blow. Whenever I was fighting an enemy, Phantom Blade Zero was one of the most entertaining things I played on the Summer Game Fest show floor.

A warrior faces down an enemy in Phantom Blade Zero.

I could stay on the offensive too because I could sidestep quickly with the press of the right bumper and block pretty indiscriminately by holding down the left bumper. That does technically drain a “Sha-Chi” meter, though, so the occasional parry is highly encouraged.

I was immediately impressed with the game’s character animations, which are a step above its peers. The visual flourish when it came to blocking attacks or using a sidestep at the right time to ghoststep behind an enemy gave me a greater appreciation of developer S-Game’s attention to detail. When a game makes what players are doing look cool, players will feel cool. Phantom Blade Zero is a triumph when it comes to that.

That momentum carries forward into boss fights, which I’m happy to see. First, I faced off against Tie Sha the Frenzy, a mid-boss wielding a giant axe. It was an engaging but not too challenging first test of my quaint mastery of Phantom Blade Zero‘s mechanics. Things ramped up against the next two bosses: the aggressively aptly cleave-wielding Commander Cleave and the ball-and-chain-wielding Huangxing, the Sunken Pillar of Kunlun.

A boss fight in Phantom Blade Zero.

These bosses had the depth of the ones found in Dark Souls games, but I could fight them like I was playing a Devil May Cry game. Huangxing’s fight is particularly memorable because I can run up the columns in his arena to dodge attacks and get the upper hand. Phantom Blade Zero still seems like a fairly difficult game, but I’m looking forward to feeling a rush every time I take one of these bosses down.

I don’t like to be reductive when comparing games, so I’m not saying that Phantom Blade Zero is going to be a better game than Stellar Blade. They’re ultimately different beats. After going hands-on with Phantom Blade Zero, though, I can definitely see that its faster-paced action is much more my speed (literally). If it can keep up the frenetic momentum of this gameplay slice I tried, then S-Game has something very special on its hands.

Phantom Blade Zero is in development for PC and PS5.

Tomas Franzese
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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