the Devil May Cry Kung-Fu Punk that comes from China is exploded

There were a lot of games at Geoff Keighley's Summer Games Fest this weekend, but there was one that particularly caught my eye. This is Phantom Blade Zero, an Action-RPG developed by the Chinese studio S-Game, based in Beijing and founded since 2011. Since its announcement and its first trailers, the game has impressed and many are skeptical about the veracity of the images that we see in videos. After building up the hype, the developers of S-Game are ready to reveal the gameplay and let the public play it and not only is everything we saw true, but what's more, the game is not a Souls-like as we thought, but more of a Kungfupunk game, a mix between Devil May Cry and Wu Xia Pian.

Like many Chinese studios, S-Game served as an asset farm for Western studios, that is to say doing the menial tasks in the development of a video game while the lead studios built the game design, the level design and gameplay. But S-Game also developed a lot of mobile games before deciding to go on the offensive with Phantom Blade Zero, a game that was announced a year ago during a PlayStation Showcase. Moreover, if the game exists today, it is thanks to PlayStation which has supported the game from the start. Soulframe Liang, the game's creator, explained that he started his career with an independent game he created with RPG Maker in 2010, called Rainblood Town of Death. But the game was renamed Phantom Blade with a desire to become a title dedicated to the mobile games market for China, with a community of nearly 20 million players. But Soulframe Liang wanted something bigger and it was PlayStation that allowed him to make Phantom Blade Zero the spiritual rebirth of the original Rainblood. The game is only planned for PS5 and PC and it will arrive in 2025 if all goes well. But this year, the developers are going around the world to present the game and make it playable at several trade shows such as Chinajoy, gamescom and the Tokyo Game Show.

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WHEN CHINA WAKES UP

Before dissecting the gameplay, know that Phantom Blade Zero is a game developed under Unreal Engine 5, taking place in Phantom World, a universe where many types of powers converge. There's Chinese kung fu, intricate steampunk machinery, occult arts, and intriguing things that don't fit into any of those categories. The player takes on the role of Soul, an elite assassin serving an invisible but powerful organization known simply as “The Order”. Our main character is accused of the murder of the patriarch of the Order and seriously injured in the ensuing manhunt. A mystical healer managed to save him from death, and now he must find the truth behind this charade.
To describe his game, Soulframe Liang does not hesitate to cite the films of Wu Xia Pian, Bruce Lee, Michelle Yeoh, or even Donnie Yen. For him, kung fu continues to evolve in pop culture and he hopes that with Phantom Blade Zero, he can inject a punk spirit that has not yet been seen elsewhere, hence the name “Kungfupunk “. The idea is in fact to divert the classics of the Chinese genre to make them a separate genre, like steampunk in the West. Otherwise, Phantom Blade Zero is built on the basis of a semi-open world, not open world, because it was too ambitious for him and his team, he preferred to be reasonable by offering several maps which nevertheless have a nice surface area. He also explains that the very dark visual style is an artistic desire, allowing the characters to stand out with a heart of gold.

Phantom Blade Zero

Soulframe Liang is aware that the fashion is for Souls-like and Monster Hunter like, but he admits to being a big fan of games such as Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden, but that the latter are unfortunately too difficult for the general public. His expertise in mobile games allowed him to simplify things in favor of touchscreens, giving players a way to execute elaborate chains of movements with minimal commands. And for him, this method is applicable on classic controllers and it is on this basis that Phantom Blade Zero has built its gameplay. Moreover, he called on Kenji Tanigaki to handle the entire action part of the game, he who is known for being a fight choreographer on numerous kung fu films. A guarantee of quality which translates on screen into stylized and spectacular choreography.

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Phantom Blade Zero

BETWEEN DMC AND STELLAR BLADE

This is the first time that the game is playable during this Summer Game Fest and this demo is there to prove that the trailers were not tricked, that it is indeed real gameplay. The Chinese studio has therefore developed a demo offering several combat phases, with different types of enemies, basic as bosses, three in total in this demo. Phantom Blade Zero is often wrongly referred to as being a Souls-like, this is both true and false, because it is more complex. The game is a combination of several things, several inspirations. In the construction of the map (in semi open world therefore) yes it is a Souls-like, but in the gameplay no, since Phantom Blade Zero is based on combos, a bit old-fashioned, very Devil May Cry in the mind, with fast, hyper-aggressive and very choreographed attacks, inspired by Wu Xia Pian, which is a very acrobatic and very spectacular art. And like Devil May Cry, Phantom Blade Zero will give pride of place to combos and this way of juggling with the weapons that are made available to the player. There were only 4 weapons in the demo, but there will be 30 in the final game, ranging from the classic katana to the heavy sword that is carried with two hands, including double blades and spears. To this we can add the Phantom Edges which are additional gadgets or firearms like this cannon grafted to the arm, the famous tiger hand cannon, which can be used in full combo to blast a group of individuals. There is also a bow that allows you to eliminate enemies from a distance and other weapons that have not been revealed yet.

Phantom Blade Zero

VIVID, TECHNICAL & SPECTACULAR

Each weapon has an ultimate attack, accessible when the purple flame appears on the icon. Simply chain attacks to charge this flame and as soon as it appears, it offers a big attack or a specific combo. Phantom Blade Zero also has a very stylized iconography with ideograms which appear in onomatopoeia to finish an execution. It's really classy. The combat system is built on this ability to create long sequences by combining blades but also different gadgets, knowing that the game also offers a parry mechanic based on an endurance meter, the Sha-Chi Meter. Every time we go to block an attack with L1, we call on this gauge and once it is empty, we get broken, the guard is broken. Enemies also have both bars, health and stamina, which appear above their heads, so we start on the same level. There is also a mechanic called “Ghost Step” which consists of blocking heavy attacks from enemies, those highlighted in blue, offering the ability to circle around the opponent just after the counter, go behind their back and offer an opening to slash it or chain combos.

Phantom Blade Zero

ASSASSIN GHOST

On the other hand, the ultimate red attacks cannot be blocked, you must dodge them, but if you dodge with the perfect timing, then it will be possible to benefit from a ghost step and thus gain the advantage. It is this combination of all these mechanics that you will have to master to advance in the game and successfully beat the tough bosses. There were 3 in the demo, there will be many more in the final game, but know that you can interact with the scenery, like running along a wall to jump on the boss and attack it from the tunes. It was these kinds of mechanics in the first trailers that some people thought were fake or just cinematic, when no, it's part of the gameplay. Moreover, Phantom Blade Zero has many contextual movements to give more naturalness to the character's movements, but they can be canceled to move as quickly as possible.
Otherwise, the game also offers infiltration phases with enemies that you can one-shot in the back and it is also the case that you attack them via the skies like Assassin's Creed. Classic.

Phantom Blade Zero

Otherwise, Soulframe Liang, the creator of the game, specified that Phantom Blade Zero will also offer an exploration aspect, with treasures and chests to discover. The idea is to explore the map a little, to enjoy the cool graphics, especially since the game often offers several possible paths, several ways to advance in the map. No release date yet for Phantom Blade Zero, we just know that it will arrive in 2025, but know that the studio will take the time it takes to refine it, and that is the prerogative of Chinese studios. For what ? Because they are often considered fake when their trailers are revealed and to prove to the whole world that their work is anything but mito, they will go all the way. They will take the time it takes, like Black Myth Wu Kong which many also said was oversold, but in the end, the game is there, playable at the Summer Game Fest and it arrives in 2 months, to hopefully close a few mouths.

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