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Phantom Blade Zero Hands-On Preview at Summer Game Fest

Gloomy ambiance and architecture in Phantom Blade Zero.

With impressive trailers that spotlight the game’s eye-catching combat, sick-looking combos, and ruthless action, Phantom Blade Zero piqued my interest in experiencing how the game actually feels to play. Does the gameplay hold up to the intensity of its visuals? After checking out a demo at Summer Game Fest, I can happily report that the combat does feel pretty darn cool and responsive.

The demo began with a quick tutorial on the game’s various combat mechanics, including weapon characteristics and sets of good-to-know attack combos that are 3-5 button inputs long. During this demo build, I experimented with two primary weapons (a swift longsword and a slower two-handed sword) and two Phantom Edges (a bow and a nifty flamethrower). Players can even switch between their two equipped weapons and set of Phantom Edges on the fly as a means of extending combos in battle. The full game promises to have dozens of primary weapon varieties and over thirty Phantom Edges. 

The importance of parrying became apparent during this introduction, with well-timed parries of certain Brutal Moves allowing players to stage a surprise attack on enemies. Likewise, Killer Moves cannot be blocked or parried, but if you dodge right before they land, it can lead to a sneaky surprise attack. Distinctive flashes indicate Brutal Moves and Killer Moves from enemies —Brutal Moves produce white flashes and Killer Moves produce red flashes. The window for these parries and dodges felt pretty tight, making that feeling of satisfaction all the greater when successful. Parrying would prove integral in the fights to come.

A screenshot of combat in Phantom Blade Zero.

Direct combat isn’t the only way to bring down baddies either, with stealth offering a viable alternative in certain situations. Players can crouch and sneak toward enemies for a swift kill if they remain undetected. For players like me who aren’t the most graceful at stealth sequences, the section of the demo introducing this mechanic also allowed me to run in and kill everything. So that works sometimes, too. 

The bulk of the demo consisted of three increasingly difficult boss battles. These were not instances where I could charge in and button mash to victory; parrying, dodging, and following up on these openings were my main options for inflicting damage on those bosses and making it out alive. 

A screenshot of a grotesque enemy in Phantom Blade Zero.

The last boss of the demo in particular was not playing around, opening with a one-hit KO attack that players must immediately prepare to dodge. On my first try, I did not dodge this and met with a grisly fate. But afterward, this moment turned into a demonstration of how the player could interact with the environment to gain the advantage in combat. 

For this opening attack, it was possible to parkour up one of the room’s various pillars at the right time to dodge. Furthermore, by parkouring up the pillar closest to the boss during this opening attack, you can stun the boss and land some opening blows to kick off the fight in style. This trick was cool to discover and has me intrigued to see different environmental interactions in future fights. 

Beyond the combat, the game’s aesthetic also stood out to me during my time. The game world looks intriguing and historied: ambient and moody in a way that has me curious to learn more about it. The developers are aiming for a distinctive fusion of Wuxia stories, cyberpunk, and dark fantasy. With such heavy atmosphere and tone, I look forward to seeing what its story cooks up! Phantom Blade Zero seems to be shaping up to be something unique and special in the action RPG genre. 

A screenshot of the environment in Phantom Blade Zero.

Phantom Blade Zero is in development for PlayStation 5 and PC. Thank you to S-Game and Summer Game Fest for the opportunity to play the demo! 

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Mario Garcia

Mario Garcia

Mario joined the Social Media team at RPGFan to help spread his love for RPGs. When he's not hopping between a bunch of games and growing his ever-expanding backlog, he's running, traveling, and spending time with his loved ones in true power of friendship fashion.

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