Stellar Blade – Game Review


Stellar Blade

(available on PlayStation 5 only)

I don’t know why but it really felt like we were waiting for Stellar Blade for way longer than we actually were. The game was first announced during a PlayStation Showcase in September 2021 where it carried the title Project EVE, getting renamed to Stellar Blade the next year. The game was originally meant to come out in 2023, though ended up having to be delayed into the next year. This is a pretty big deal for the developer Shift Up, as this is the first major console game they’ve ever developed; their previous works include two mobile games and a dating sim based on the South Korean web novel The Reason Why Raeliana Ended up at the Duke’s Mansion. So, we ask the question, how did their first attempt at a major AAA game go? Stellar Blade was released on 24th April 2024 as a PlayStation 5 exclusive. 

Story

A war between humanity and a mysterious race called the Naytiba has ravaged Earth, a war in which humanity is the losing side, either evacuating the planet or having fled to the city of Xion, the last bastion of the dying race. The 7th Airborne Squad, in which your character Eve is a member, and is sent to Earth by the Colony to aid in the fight against the Naytiba. Immediately after landing disaster strikes, the squad ends up decimated with only Eve and her friend Tachy surviving the initial onslaught, though the latter also ends up falling in battle after the duo are attacked by an Alpha Naytiba, with Eve only surviving because a scavenger named Adam rescues her from impending doom. After the rescue the two make a deal, Eve helps Adam to find a Hyper Cell to give power to Xion and he will lead her to an Alpha Naytiba, whose cores are essential to reaching and killing their Elder. The two of them, along with a member of the 5th Airborne Squadron named Lily, set off to bring hope back to humanity and to erase the Naytiba for one and for all. 

As you can tell, this is very generic “strange creatures are killing mankind and an organisation is tasked with erasing them” kind of story, similar to what you’d get in a number of games like the previously reviewed Scarlet Nexus along with countless anime, and while this is one of the better told versions of said story, I’d probably say it’s just good at best. The game does a pretty good job at world building and the plot is told very well. There are a couple of twists (which is standard for these kinds of stories), which are a bit mixed, most of them were quite good, catching me off guard and, while not built up, didn’t conflict with the overall story, though there was one or two that, while not offensively bad, still left me thinking “Wait… seriously? That’s where we’re going with this?”. 

Presentation

This game looks really good. Character models and environments are as crisp as can be and are filled with detail. The world really looks like it’s been through a rough time, being filled with scrap and trash, even the more pristine locations look on the verge of collapse, having evidence of ruin and destruction everywhere. My one problem with the locations is that for most of the game there’s a heavy lack of variety. Most open locations are just some form of desert, nothing but sand for as far as the eye can see, meanwhile the most linear segments are things like underground tunnels or abandoned human facilities. Obviously, they’re not all clones of one another, and this is more of a nitpick than anything else, but it does start to feel quite samey after a while. 

Now character designs on the other hand I absolutely love. Eve’s design was heavily based on South Korean model Shin Jae-eun, though her face is entirely original. The designers especially put emphasis on the… allure of Eve, putting her in the same pantheon of sexy action game protagonists as Bayonetta or 2B from Nier Automata, and yeah, they did a good job making her as attractive as they could (don’t judge me okay, I can say that a video game character looks good without seeming like a creep… right?). It’s not just her though, nor is it the other two in her trio, every named character that you’ll be interacting with regularly all look unique to one another and goddamn did the designers do a good job with them. I’m especially going to give praise to whoever designed the Naytibas. These creatures look super menacing, incredibly distinct from one another while managing to look like they’re all the same species, and, just simply, metal as hell. 

The voice acting is good, but not amazing. I’m absolutely not going to say that these actors are giving bland or monotonous performances, as it does certainly sound like they are trying, but I do have the feeling that they could do a little better. Again though, not bad at all. 

I’m going to get right into it, I love this game’s music. The soundtrack consists mostly of heavy techno and Devil May Cry style metal, and some songs sound like they were taken straight out of one of the Nier games, with ambient sounds accompanied by soft piano. There are a surprising number of songs with vocals, I swear most songs have some form of singing in them. A lot of these songs really are earworms, I’ve had tracks like the one for Eidos 7 and a few of the boss songs stuck in my head a couple of times. This is honestly one of my favourite OSTs so far this year, even if you’re not interested in this game (I question why you’re here if you aren’t), I’d highly suggest at least giving the music a listen. 

World Design

Stellar Blade’s world is made up of a couple of open areas mixed with more linear dungeons. There are only two open sections in this game, and you’ll likely be returning to them often if you’re completing side quests. These areas are surprisingly big, if you don’t have any waypoints activated it could take you a good while to get from one map point to another. Luckily however, these maps are fairly easy to navigate, there may be a couple of times where you try to reach a quest marker only to find it up a unscalable cliff, causing you to have to find another route, but those occurrences will likely only really happen in the early game and will likely be avoided the more you learn about the map. 

Most of the sections you’ll be exploring are very linear. These will often be places where people would have congregated but are now abandoned, like ruined cities or underground facilities and labs. I say these are linear but that’s more in the sense that there is one path to continue forward, there are not only a number of branching paths and extra rooms to go through, but there are also a number of smaller open sections, often having you reactivate power or find some form of key to continue forward. Of course, these paths and open areas are the perfect places to hide collectables and extra upgrade materials, a lot of these are very well hidden as well so thorough searches are recommended. 

Found spread throughout each area are the camps. Each of these will have a few facilities that you can use when you rest up; each will have a vending machine so you can stock up on supplies, you can unlock new skills with the skill points you’ve accumulated, and there’s a deck chair that you can rest on to fully heal yourself and refill all your healing equipment… okay yes this is just another version of the bonfire from Dark Souls. Though, on occasion you will run into a camp that has other facilities that you can use, mostly a Repair Console that you can use to upgrade your weapon and buffs and can create new exosuits, and there’s a phonebooth that can be used to wrap to another camp or back to Xion if you want. 

Speaking of Xion, this is the general hub area that Eve will return to whenever she completes a mission. Here is where you’ll find the majority of side quests, and where all the non-essential characters will be at all times. Of course, there are a number of facilities that you can access and can only be found here, mostly shops for you to buy unique items, some really useful and others to help world build, though there is also the hair salon for if you get tired of Eve’s current look. Some of these places will require unique currency to purchase from them so keep that in mind. 

Combat

Stellar Blade is a hack n’ slash with multiple soulsborne elements mixed into it. Eve plays a lot like she would in a Spectacle Fighter like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, where you lace together light and heavy attacks to make a large collection of different combos. Though the difference is that there’s no point accumulation nor do you get a rank at the end of the mission, so as far as I’m aware the different combos are more for variety and specific situations rather than anything else. Personally, I found myself doing different combos seemingly at random, I never really thought about what attack pattern I wanted to use, instead going into a strange autopilot, and it worked fine enough. The different combos don’t serve as much of a purpose as they do in those games, but that is absolutely not a complaint; executing combos was still super satisfying and served to make the combat more engaging. They’re super easy to memorise as well, and you’ll find yourself learning them instantly through simple experimentation. 

As said, this game takes heavy inspiration from soulslikes, meaning that you attacking the enemy isn’t even half of what a battle entails. A large chunk of it will of course be you avoiding enemy attacks and combos. One big upside that a lot of people will appreciate is the lack of stamina, so you won’t have to balance attacking with dodging as much, now you can attack and dodge to your heart’s content (so long as you don’t get hit too much). You’ve seen this in a lot of the games I’ve been reviewing lately no doubt, and  it’s no different here; this game is yet another that takes inspiration from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, where if you block just as your opponent’s attack is about to land, you can deflect their attack if they’re at the end of their combo. Actually, Stellar Blade does this slightly different compared to other Sekiro copiers, you’ll notice a series of squares around the enemy’s health bar, these act as their balance, when you parry, you’ll take away one of those squares, completely reduce their balance and you can perform an attack that will either kill the opponent outright or at least deal some devastating damage. It’s not just parrying either, if you dodge at the perfect time you’ll perform a perfect dodge, what do you get for doing that? We’ll get to that in a bit. 

Both you and your opponents have a shield metre. When either of you are hit, you’ll notice said metre will deplete, once fully depleted you’ll end up taking more damage until it starts filling up again. Though when your opponent’s shield is reduced to nothing, they will stagger for a second, giving you a chance to get some quick damage in. Opponents’ and bosses’ shields won’t refill once depleted, at least unless they have a second phase, in which case they will be fully restored. Personally, I don’t really see the point of the shields, it’s not like there’s a specific technique or skill to reduce them (well there are ones that will reduce them faster but…) you just have to keep wailing attacks, you’re guaranteed to destroy your adversary’s shield in every match.

You have two types of skills that can be used, Beta and Burst. You have four of each and each is incredibly useful, some are better used in certain encounters or situations but are very effective in just about any. From power AoE attacks, hard hitting moves that will damage your opponent’s balance, an attack that can also work as a ranged, a skill that temporarily increases your combo speed, etc. Both skill types have different bars that need to be filled to use them and each are done so via different means; the Beta metre is filled by simply attacking and parrying your opponents, meanwhile Burst requires you to execute perfect dodges (told you we’d get back to this). These skills are super fun, I found myself using them constantly during tougher encounters because of how powerful they can be. Though they’re also not overpowered, meaning that they down hamper the difficulty of this game. 

You’re not the only one with special attacks as well. A large number of enemies are also able to enact powerful attacks that you’ll have to approach differently. You’ll know when these attacks are about to be performed by a ring surrounding your opponent whilst they’re charging up. These attacks cannot simply be blocked or parried, and you will be forced to dodge. Depending on the colour of the ring, you’ll have to dodge in a very specific direction and your timing has to be very precise, otherwise you’re really going to suffer. These attacks really make these fights more fun; you really have to be prepared for these attacks and it ensures that you won’t be relying too much on the parry system. 

Now enough with the swordplay, let’s talk about guns. Your friend Adam has a drone that he uses to follow Eve and guide her along. Part way through the game, Lily transforms the drone into a turret that Eve can attach to her arm. This gun fires a variety of bullets, from fully automatic slug shots to a series of missiles, and even a damn energy cannon. Enemies drop bullets all the time and chests will often contain an abundance of them so unless you’re really going gung-ho or are just a really bad shot, you’re not at a massive risk of running out. There are a couple of sections where Eve is unable to draw her sword, meaning that you’re relying exclusively on your gun. Though aside from these sections, you likely won’t find yourself using this turret very often. Even with the multiple bullet types and the upgrades you can get as you play, the gun doesn’t deal an insane amount of damage, the only reason you’ll really deal a lot at times is by finding something on the enemies that explodes. It’s fun to use at times, but not insanely useful. 

One thing that surprised me is the amount of different healing items you can gather. Of course, you have one main healing source that replenishes every time you rest at a camp, with the rest you have to buy from the vending machines. There’s even a revive pack that brings you back to life if you die, though you can only use it once per death as you’ll be sent straight to the last camp should a second death occur, and you can only buy a certain amount of these at each vending machine, ensuring it’s not insanely overpowered. If you’re worried that you’ll be unkillable because you could probably just by like fifty of a certain healing source, don’t worry, you can only carry a certain amount of each healing item with you; you can buy more than you can carry but they’ll just go to storage until your next camp visit. 

Just quickly, you also have a number of grenades that will damage or at the very least hinder an opponent, though in my experience, these really aren’t that useful. For starters you don’t throw them, you just drop them, and their effect happens around you – unless it’s one of the mines – greatly limiting the usage of them, and even when they do hit the enemy the effect is minimal. Honestly there’s really not a lot of point in using them. 

Bosses

I just have to mention the bosses quickly. The bosses are exactly what I’d expect from this game, insanely difficult and an absolute joy to fight. Obviously, there are a couple of duds here and there, but when these bosses are good, holy hell they are amazing. They have much more complex move sets than your average enemy that will take some time to master, though once you’re done with them, you’ll know when to block, when to dodge, and what combo will work best. These bosses are the highlight of this game for me, and I rarely found myself getting angry from the constant dying just because of how much fun they are. 

Side Content and Collectibles

As mentioned, the citizens of Xion and even some people out in the world will ask Eve to help them with whatever quest they need her to do. These quests will often just involve you hunting down something for them, whether it’s a precious item that they’ve lost or an ally that turns up dead (trust me, happens every time); sometimes these will even lead to a fairly rough encounter or even a full-on mini boss. Some of these are just random nobodies who you won’t interact with again, while others are regular faces that Eve will interact with every now and again. On top of the people who will ask you directly for assistance, you’ll find a number of requests from the bulletin boards. Here people will submit smaller and often easier requests, for a much meagre reward. These side quests can get monotonous at times and can take a while for you to figure out where to go to find what’s being asked, but luckily, they won’t take up too much of your time, and can even lead you to sections of that map you likely wouldn’t have explored otherwise. 

One of the things you’ll find pretty often are human corpses. Some of these will just be there as a part of the background but others will be holding something that could be of value. Most will have documents that will help to build up more of the world and history, or just their last memoirs, some will have items and material that can be of help, but the most valuable ones will be carrying cores that will increase your health and Beta metre if you collect three of them – these ones are especially tough to find, so be observant. 

One thing you’ll be getting a lot of is clothing. There are a total of 30 different outfits for Eve to try on, some are cute and cosy, some are ridiculous, and some are downright scandalous. You can gather these in a variety of ways, some you can just buy or simply unlock as you play through the story, some you’ll have to find yourself, others you can get by completing quests. These outfits don’t serve any purpose outside of cosmetics, you don’t get any buffs or benefits from trying them on, and honestly, I don’t mind that. This is the kind of game where you’ll want to see Eve dressed up however you want, and things like stats increases will get in the way of having fun playing dress up. 

Another big collectible, cans, yes you heard me cans, mostly drink cans. These are spread throughout each location and will take a while, and very likely a guide, to find. What I wasn’t expecting was that you’d be rewarded for gathering these up. The more you gather the more benefits you’ll get. It’s only an increase to the number of healing items and grenades you can carry with you, but still, it’s a pretty good reward none the less. 

Instakills

There’s only one flaw to this game that I can really think of, but it’s one that I still feel needs addressing. There are way too many instances where you can get killed instantly and they can be very difficult to avoid. I will spoil for you now, there are bosses that have instakill attacks, however they don’t appear until the very late game, and they are very easy to deal with. I’m talking about environmental ones, of which there is an abundance. Of course you get killed instantly if you fall from a great height or into a bottomless pit, there is quicksand in one section that is very difficult to see and by the time I notice I’m sinking it’s way too late, there are even turrets in certain story missions that can and will one shot you (yes there are plenty of turrets in this game, no not all of them instakill). It does get very annoying very fast, especially since these deaths can very easily happen by accident.

“But Elliot, you dishevelled rat, you mentioned before that you have a revival pack that can revive you once per death, surely that would help!” you’re probably screaming into your PC/phone/smart fridge. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help, in fact that probably makes things worse. Why? The revival packs will only revive you if you die during combat. This choice completely baffles me, I kind of understand not having it revive you for the bottomless pits and quicksand, but when I’m falling onto a section I can still walk upon or just get shot by an instakill turret, I don’t see why I shouldn’t get the revive. 

Stellar Blade was a game that I was really looking forward to, you already know that I’m a sucker for hard as nails action games, and this game truly delivered. I had an absolute blast with this game, the combat couldn’t have been better, the bosses were exquisite, and I cannot state enough how much fun I had with this game. If you’re a fan of hack n’ slash games, then I urge you to give this game a go. It’s probably not the best game I’ve played all year, but it is easily one of the most exhilarating. 

9.3/10

Elliot Chapman
Anime Amigo and Nerd Consultant

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The Next Axia21st August 2024
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