Sony broadcasted a PlayStation Showcase yesterday, notable because these days very little they show is actually exclusive to PlayStation. Spider-Man 2 looks amazing, sure, but given the original and Miles Morales are already on PC it's only a matter of time before that hits Steam. Metal Gear Solid Delta: Snake Eater? We got that too. The only game I wasn't sure about was my personal highlight of the night, an OTT hack-and-slash game called Phantom Blade: Zero.
It seemed like this might be a PlayStation exclusive but the developers subsequently posted the trailer to YouTube, and there were two very important logo additions at the end: the Epic Games Store and Steam. Now, the most obvious thing to say about this trailer is that it seems to be a mix of pre-rendered action sequences and what looks like genuine clips of the combat system, though given the absence of any HUD or other indicators it's hard to say. But if this combat system looks anything like it does here, and feels good in the hands, then this could be a winner.
Phantom Blade: Zero is also a continuation of a series with humble beginnings. Soulframe Liang, the founder & CEO of S-Game, says it began with an indie game they made in RPG Maker in 2010, called Rainblood: Town of Death. Liang was studying at the time but, when he returned to China, founded S-Game and Rainblood became a mobile series in China: Liang says it has "a fan base of over 20 million".
Phantom Blade Zero is apparently a "spiritual rebirth" of the original Rainblood, with similar elements like "Chinese Kungfu, intricate machines reminiscent of steampunk, arts of the occult, and intriguing stuff that doesn’t quite fit into any of these categories". The player is cast as Soul, a warrior who's got 66 days to live, in a semi-open world filled with skilled adversaries and big monsters.
"We are aware that 'open world' is the buzz word in these days," said Liang, "but with limited resources, we would rather present you multiple maps of reasonable size, and handcrafted and populated with diverse activities, instead of one huge continuity full of repurposed/reused assets".
The game sounds like it has light RPG elements, including customising and levelling your character, as well as a whole lot of loot including weapons, armour, artifacts, and new skills. Liang says they're big fans of the hack-n-slash genre even if they recognise that today the mainstream audience prefers "strategic action" such as the systems in the Souls games and Monster Hunter. "But that approach doesn’t convey the kind of action fest we have in mind," says Liang, "namely, the sleek, breathtaking moves in Kungfu movies back in the 1990s".
Liang reckons they have a simplified input system that will let players pull off large and elaborate chains of moves without being overly demanding on the button-pressing, though doesn't go into detail. He also points out that the game's animations will not be mo-capped, though S-Game's artists will use camera references in preparing their handcrafted Kung Fu kicks.
That's as much as we're probably going to get on Phantom Blade: Zero for a while, because I doubt this thing is due anytime soon: And it will be very interesting indeed to see how gameplay footage stacks up against that trailer. Still, if FromSoft won't make the crazy-ass Sekiro sequel of my dreams, then I guess someone has to.