Phantom Blade Zero is slicing up a great first showing

One of the best feelings is when you play a game you had no real expectations for, and walked away impressed - Phantom Blade: Zero is the latest game I'm happy to report you should be keeping an eye on. We had the chance to get hands-on with S-Game's upcoming Action RPG during Summer Game Fest, and while we only had a short demo that didn't directly deal with the game's RPG elements, the combat feels like it nailed all the fundamentals.

Our quick 15 minute demo had us complete a combat tutorial, go through a short section of a level before fighting a boss at the end. After getting our grips, the demo threw us at 2 more boss fights with different weapon loadouts. Regular and heavy attacks can be chained together; enemy attacks can be deflected by simply holding down L1, but players can also attempt to parry blows by blocking at just the right moment, depleting the enemy's guard. Certain attacks require you to parry them, opening up the enemy to a counterattack - while others require you to dodge at the perfect moment. One enemy threw a stick of TNT at the main character, and dodging for the perfect evade had us throw the explosive right back.

Players can equip two main weapons and two secondary weapons, both of which can be weaved together during combos. Notably, while you might drain your stamina from using heavy attacks, switching weapons will immediately replenish your stamina alongside a flourish. This is based off a cooldown, so players of course can't just spam the weapon swapping. 

In practice, Phantom Blade's combat strikes a good balance between being simple enough for newer players to pick up while still feeling like it offers enough options for players to express themselves. For example - when I reviewed Wo-Long: Fallen Dynasty, I found the game's combat loop feeling a bit lacking, since the only real response to any enemy's actions was to parry; not only is the general combat flow more interesting in Phantom Blade, there's a real feel that you're being rewarded for being both proactive and reactive in equal measure. It's not "just" a Soulslike, but rather far more of a general action game.

There's still a lot we don't know; general level design is by and large a mystery. We had a brief encounter with a few weak enemies right after the tutorial, but the broad strokes of the demo were a completely linear affair, with us being thrown in front of 3 bosses from separate parts of the game in sequence. RPG progression, similarly was completely absent - though we had the chance to confirm that the full game will have weapon upgrades and a full leveling system, with stat point allocaton. That along with level design would be the two crucial missing pieces of the puzzle left for us to see, but the core basics already inspire confidence.

S-Game's succeeded at the crucial first step - and we can't wait to learn and play more of Phantom Blade Zero in the future. We still don't know exactly when the game is releasing - not even a release window - but apparently the team has plans to reveal it soon. Whenever that is, we'll certainly be taking a closer look when it launches for PlayStation 5 and PC. Stay tuned for our further coverage.