Geek Preview: ‘Stellar Blade’ Surprises With Stellar Music And ‘Sekiro’ X ‘NieR: Automata’-Sprinkled Combat

Every once in a while, a stray video game catches the attention of the masses. Most times, it’s a combination of striking visuals and dynamic gameplay; other instances, the presentation and premise tease a refreshing departure from the norm. Other times though, it’s a combination of everything, plus another ingredient that stirs interest, and in a different way – fanservice.

Geek Preview: Stellar Blade

It’s how Stellar Blade, hailing from South Korean game studio Shift Up, quickly became the talk of the town. Skin-tight suits, body-fitting curves, and oodles of well, jiggle physics take the spotlight in released footage, inheriting the team’s speciality in human anatomy from its gacha mobile title, Nikke (which naturally features plenty of women, provocative designs, and bouncy animation). 

But a sub-one-hour demo has shown that there’s more to the upcoming action-adventure than just a tantalising exterior. Teasing a surprise punch of slick, dynamic gameplay and beautiful graphics, it bears sprinklings of the Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and NieR: Automata flair, and tops things off with a stellar soundtrack. 

The preview serves as a tutorial sequence, with players assuming the role of Eve, who’s rescued from a pod by her captain, Tachy. After introducing the basics of combat, it dials up the dramatic factor and activates a boss fight, culminating into a defeat at the hands of alien invaders called Naytiba. Eve, saved by a survivor named Adam, continues her mission to save mankind and reclaim Earth, and the build offers a taste of one such undertaking.  

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Stepping into the world of Stellar Blade, the futuristic sci-fi setting reeks of both life and desolation. Hostile creatures roam the land, which can be traversed on foot, climbing walls, or swinging on ropes and hanging poles; the vertical maneuvering feels smooth enough, if a little stiff without the momentum needed to fling one off a handhold. There’s also fall damage, so be careful where you step or land.

As the map isn’t fully open world, there are areas sealed off from exploration. However, usual adventuring pursuits like opening chests and interacting with objects are widely available – in fact, a fair bit of attention to detail goes into the latter action. Interacting with a bookshelf, for instance, will see Eve running her finger down the spine of a book or across the collection before pulling one out, bringing a nice subtle touch that livens up the character.

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Between linear pathways to the objective and the ability to scan surroundings, navigation proves to be straightforward, even for the directionally challenged. Along the way, players will come across rest stops that, like in Final Fantasy VII Remake and FFVII Rebirth, restore HP, shields, and consumables when seated on the chair. Similarly, there are machines to purchase items from, or to deposit skill points into various branches of the skill tree. 

The other form of respite is supply camps. Unlike the usual checkpoints, these offer more upgrades and resources through drone upgrades, Nano suit crafting, and fast travel. Here’s the catch, though – doing so will cause all Naytibas to respawn, reminiscent of the Mediation Circles in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Such signs of inspiration extend to combat as well. Stellar Blade takes after the flashy, stylish execution of NieR: Automata, Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, and other hack and slash contemporaries, with a heavy focus on grasping the attacking patterns of enemies and countering with precise timing. In between these sequences, the occasional quick time event (QTE) will rear its head, prompting players to press the corresponding key within a time frame. 

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It’s familiar territory for veterans, but don’t underestimate the game’s commitment to making lives difficult. Having been kissed by the Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice influence, it can be surprisingly challenging, requiring players to take a while to pull off perfect parries, perfect blocks, and fluid attack combos. At its most challenging, combat can indeed be frustrating and tense, especially when juggling the different, occasionally counterintuitive button combinations. 

But everything is hard before it’s easy. The thrill of the battle proves to be largely delightful, engaging, and gratifying once individuals get into the groove of things, with several elements bringing more depth into gameplay. Apart from the usual attacking mechanics, Stellar Blade also features a Burst Gauge – filled through successive parries and combos – that can be used to activate buffs or powerful attacks, and a Beta Gauge, which is spent on skills like piercing powerful armour and interrupting an enemy’s combo. 

Together, these features allow combat to be fast-paced, dynamic, and strategic, despite some niggling issues with the lock-on camera, input delay, and mid-air interruption. The experience is elevated by the haptic feedback on the PlayStation 5 DualSense wireless controller, where a satisfying clink sound and strong vibration follows each perfect block. 

More notably, the soundtrack leaves Stellar Blade with extra brownie points. From the dilapidated outdoors to epic boss fights, the game’s music oozes a sense of grandeur and sweeping instrumentals that perfectly convey the respective mood. The cutscenes, as expected from a PS5 exclusive, also play out smoothly with crisp animation in tow.

While brief, the 30-minute-or-so jaunt with Eve surpassed initial expectations and represents a strong, optimistic start into highly-anticipated waters. The visuals are a sight to behold, but the combat flair and music score add a lot more charm into the mix. Completing the demo portion unlocks a separate boss fight that puts Eve into an open-cut, red-checkered top and skin-tight leggings, setting the stage for a prominent show of jiggle physics.

Once the action kicks in, however, it’s easy to look past the assets and unearth what seems to be dormant potential beneath, which hopefully, will translate into actual promise when the game officially releases.

Stellar Blade launches 26 April on the PS5, with an open demo slated for 29 March.