Test – Stellar Blade, 2B or not 2B – Sony Computer Entertainment, PS5, Shift Up

Dubbed by his peers, Hyung-Tae Kim is living his best life. This name may not mean anything to you, but his illustrations may have been on your Windows XP wallpapers for months in the early 2000s. But yes, remember, it’s his that we owe the heroines to the ultra-polished costumes and typical silhouettes of the PlayStation 2 RPG Magna Carta. After this relative flop, the guy worked at NCSoft before creating his own company, Shift Up Corporation. From there will be born a first mobile game, Child of Destiny. In 2019, the young team puffed out its chest and announced that it was working on two projects, including a AAA console. Five years, a change of generation and a second studio later, Stellar Blade is finally hitting the shelves. And for this fan of Yoko Taro from the start, it’s not nothing, because he wants his baby as a spiritual successor to a certain Nier: Automata.

And indeed, on paper, the two games seem to have a lot in common. A sexualized heroine with stylized outfits and accompanied by a drone, a nervous and violent combat system facing ruthless enemies, and an Earth ravaged in ruins, in which humans are almost no longer present. We don’t even draw a parallel for the sake of comparison, because the creative director doesn’t hide it, he wanted to make his own little Nier. Ok, but first of all, Deny is a scenario. And on that side, he still has work to catch up with the sensei. In the distant future, Earth is invaded by the Naytibas, bloodthirsty creatures who prey on inhabitants who were unable to escape to the space colony. The last defense against these abominations, the airborne squadrons deployed by the Matri-Arche fight tirelessly against the invaders.

It’s not Taro who wants

The game’s story begins when a new assault is launched. Emergency ejected, the heroine EVE’s pod crashes onto Earth and after a brief introduction and the death of her colleague in the face of a Naytiba Alpha, she finds herself catapulted into a ravaged city, in the company of Adam, a survivor who pilots a drone alongside him.

From there, she sets off in search of Naytiba Alpha and in doing so, she will come to the aid of a handful of humans hidden in the last human city Xion. Do you feel the shot-shot scenario coming? The title does not in fact shine in what it tells, nor in its never surprising main plot, nor in its lore distilled here and there in side quests and journals recovered from the corpses which litter the levels. EVE remains quite passive in the face of events during the adventure and even if by drawing a little, we could justify this by certain elements of the story, we have difficulty getting into the character. The secondary characters aren’t very interesting either. Only Lily, the mechanic we meet at the end of the first level, plays the role of the game’s emotional quota and doesn’t do so badly. This disinterest aroused by the NPCs is reinforced by a rather insipid character design (unlike those of the successful Naytibas), most of the time close to that of the second knives of Destiny, that is to say.

Fortunately for him, Stellar Blade does not rely entirely on its script and the sexualization of EVE. Because Bayonetta or 2B have something to tell! Already, he offers a level design overall quite good, especially for a “first game”. The title alternates indoor and/or straight line sequences in urban environments (devastated city, sewers, disused subway, etc.) and semi-open areas, with passages required by Xion to validate a main objective or recover items. secondary. And the whole thing works pretty well. The design of the linear levels is interesting, with alternative paths to unlock to facilitate future back and forth, a little verticality, some climbing. It’s a good start. Later, the game offers the possibility of discovering the wastelands, a vast semi-open world in which we will do a good two thirds of the side quests.

Oh Naytibas, Naytibas, she dances and makes you fall

Again, it’s surprisingly good. The different areas to explore are easily recognizable and unique, the world building is consistent and above all, the exploration is rewarding, because there is always a chest to find or a small environmental puzzle to solve in a corner of the map. The completion of quests is also very fluid, in fact, we can completely take a lot of them in town and go and do them quietly in one go before returning to Xion to collect our rewards. The game even allows itself more daring sequences, like a level while sliding in a tubular Maglev with a boss on the butt, or these two levels like survival horror in which you can only fight using the drone, with enemies designed to evolve in confined environments. A renewal in the gameplay that we didn’t expect and which feels good mid-game.

On the other hand, we are quite disappointed with the last third of the exploration in a new open world that is much less inspired. The design is weaker in what it does, there is much less verticality, a greater density of enemies, and we feel the shoehorned integration to justify a longer lifespan. The same goes for an optional urbanized zone, but not really missable towards the end of the game, a little more open than the previous ones and in which we must shoot down enemy ground-air batteries. We look for our way too often and make unnecessary trips back and forth.

In general, the gameplay does well and diversifies over time (running against walls, jumping from rope to rope), but can be frustrating when it requires precision, because it was created above all for Fast, full-motion actions. The same goes for each contextual interaction in the game which requires being right in front of the object and requires frequent attempts several times. Despite these youthful mistakes, we really have to applaud the work done by the developers overall. THE crossing is satisfactory, we never run after this or that resource, we never go hunting for XP and this fairly organic division of levels means that we enjoy doing all the additional activities.

Where Fire-Project EVE puts everyone in agreement is what will occupy you the majority of the time, namely its interlocking combat mechanics. The game is also surprisingly generous for a first draft. It relies quite a bit on a bladed weapon parry system which allows, after having performed several parries with perfect timing, to unbalance an enemy, now vulnerable to a very powerful attack. On the other hand, like other actions, the parry allows you to recharge a Beta skill bar. The associated powers allow you to trigger one of four special moves to unlock and increase via a dedicated skill tree. Dodging will allow you to charge another gauge, that of Spontaneous skills. Here too, four powers used to destabilize the opponent, for example a shield breaker. Later, it will be possible to follow up with a counterattack directly after a perfect action, or to carry out executions from behind or from the air.

Is there a Soul in there?

Add to that the possibility of playing weak moves, strong moves, mixing everything to create combos or the total absence of an endurance bar, plus a few other subtleties that we’ll let you discover for yourself, and you get a complete combat system which does not dictate a way to play, but offers you a range of possibilities. It quickly becomes obvious that the developers took a lot of pleasure in the design of the fights and their choreographic aspect, and this is reflected in the pleasure of the game. We really have fun with the different parry or dodge windows in depending on the enemy or boss encountered, and we naturally come to rely on the strike animation of an enemy rather than other visual stimuli. In short, there are signs that are unmistakable.

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Labeled Souls-like by many after revealing its first minutes of gameplay, the game ultimately moves away quite a bit. What’s more, it has different accessibility options that make its fights accessible to everyone. You can even make life easier by investing directly in skills allowing a double dodge, and facilitating perfect parries and dodges at the start of the game. We haven’t mentioned it, but Stellar Blade also offers the ability to fight from a distance using the drone or one of the Beta skills. To tell the truth, apart from a real lack of verticality, we are really facing the best of the two, of the three… of the four worlds (Sekiro, Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, Nier).

And how can you not fall for its sound part either? Already, the game has a very good Korean dubbing which contrasts with the Western versions which read their text a little too much. But above all, Shift Up has offered itself the services of the MONACA studio, no more and no less than the composers of the Nier: Automata soundtrack. We find the arranger Oliver Good composing a good part of the most beautiful pieces of the game. Even if a lot of titles were written internally by Hyunmin Cho and Youngjee Lee, plus a few external collaborations, always in the land of the morning calm. What comes out is an absolutely incredible soundtrack that is in our top of the last 10 years. So good that its developers give it time to reveal itself and gain momentum by deliberately breaking the rhythm at certain moments of the game to let the pianos and the voices of the singers speak. Great art. The audio design is not to be outdone with impactful sounds whether in combat or during cutscenes.

Moreover, as soon as we go into cinematics with the game engine, Stellar Blade is super elegant, whether in its camerawork, the general staging or in the gymnastics of the fights presented. Technically, the game is impeccable, offering 3 presets graphics, the classic performance/resolution and a balanced mode which is a good compromise between fluidity and quality, because it very rarely drops below 60 frames per second.

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