Preview: Phantom Blade Zero Slashes Through Soulslike Tropes for Pure Action Bliss 1

Action games in the mould of Devil May Cry are becoming rarer in this age of the Soulslike, but developer S-GAME is bringing them back with real style. Phantom Blade Zero is one of our favourite games we played during Summer Game Fest Play Days, and that's thanks to its refreshingly expressive battles — despite what it looks like when it's standing still.

From our 20 minutes of hands-on time, we went through a handful of different combat scenarios cherry-picked to show off combat against both regular enemies and bosses. Its bleak aesthetic may mean it looks like a Souls-esque affair, but its presentation belies a much faster experience. For a simple comparison, it sort of sits somewhere between Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and flashier action titles like Bayonetta, and it kinda rules.

You can take two primary weapons into battle — these changed up between each of the demo's scenarios, but in general terms we had access to a balanced katana, faster dual blades, and larger, heavier swords. Each of them obviously has a slightly different feel, but all of them have the capacity for exciting combos. Despite how insane some of the swordplay looks, performing them is as simple as a few presses of Square and Triangle for light and heavy attacks, making it immediately easy to get into.

However, that doesn't mean there's zero challenge. Battles are over quickly, and that's a two-way street; death comes quickly if you let enemies get on top of you. Fortunately you can dodge out of the way, block attacks, and parry them with a relatively generous window, so there are plenty of defensive options at your disposal.

The game is geared towards aggressive play, though. You need to pressure enemies to reduce their stance meter and open them up, then turn them to paste with follow-up attacks. Perfect parries and perfect dodges will automatically see you perform counters that deal a lot of stagger damage. In addition to your regular weapons, you'll also have access to a pair of special weapon attacks and two Phantom Edges — equipment that gives your move set a little more variety. We used a bow and arrows for some ranged attacks, a chargeable cannon blast, and a flamethrower to control crowds. You're encouraged to use all these offensive options and stay on top of your foes, and it's a lot of fun.

The boss we fought attacked with a giant spinning blade on a chain, and the enclosed space in which you fight them make it a pretty intense battle. In contrast to the open, outdoors areas seen elsewhere in our demo, this was inside an ornate temple, and it was a good example of how you're able to use the environment to your advantage. You can approach pillars in each corner of the room and interact with them to run up and launch at the boss, interrupting his next attack.

When you use everything in your arsenal and get into a good flow, chaining together parries, utilising different combos, and keeping on the pressure with Phantom Edges, it all looks and feels fantastic. There are some rough edges to the visuals, but with steady performance and such expressive animation, we barely noticed them in full motion. Any fan of fast-paced action games will definitely want to keep this on their radar — especially if you're a little weary of the endless supply of Soulslikes these days.

Phantom Blade Zero doesn't yet have a date, but it's heading to PS5 sometime soon. Are you looking forward to this slick action title? Hack and slash in the comments section below.