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Analysis | Stellar Blade is a competent and fun action game
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Stellar Blade is a mix of influences from recent games such as, mainly, but not only, NieR Automata, FromSoftware's Souls, Resident Evil and character-focused action games, such as Devil May Cry. This exaggerated mix of genres seems to have everything to go wrong, especially given the much less exuberant budget than most of those mentioned, but it surprises and entertains. Eve, the protagonist who is almost always in provocative clothes while tearing apart monsters in search of the truth, is expected to captivate thousands of fans with her debut on PS5.

World of deserts, monsters and robots

Stellar Blade's planet Earth has gone through wars and destruction in droves and is now taken over by monsters called Naytiba, while humans have fled into space. What once was society as we know it remains only wreckage and small communities trying to survive as the space colony sends combat units, known as angels, to try to retake their home.

The protagonist of the journey is Eve, at first glance a mix of android and human, who has a clear mission announced in the first minutes of the game: eliminate the Elder Naytiba and restore the planet. The girl is extremely lethal with her sword and also sensual with her clothes, depending on the look chosen throughout the story.

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If this premise reminds you a lot of NieR Automata, it's no coincidence, Yoko Taro's game is the biggest influence here on practically all fronts. Just like the protagonist of NieR, 2B, Eve is extremely faithful to her command and innocent about the truth that she is behind the events that led to the planet's apocalypse. Its development takes place after each revelation of what actually occurred and its relationship with existential questions and what it means to be human.

But Stellar Blade doesn't always manage to get out of the shadow of its inspiration and Shift Up lacks depth when approaching the most complex themes. During several moments the narrative becomes very expository and takes away a lot of the player's interpretation, especially in the final moments when there are the most bombastic revelations, which are actually more predictable than the game thinks they are. The structure as a whole is also much more rigid and traditional, even though it also has several endings. This in itself is not a problem, after all it is Stellar Blade and not NieR, but there are pacing problems here and there that lengthen the campaign too much and are largely due to this choice having the same final objective.

The secondary characters are strong points and several of them have interesting and even emotional stories. An android who was built to sing but who lost almost her entire body and has a passionate bodyguard who will do anything to return her parts. A young saleswoman who is running a store while her sister is missing in the desert. And several others, including smaller ones, provide good dynamics for those looking to go beyond the main path.

As there is even dubbing in our language, it is easy to immerse yourself in the proposed universe and the details of the narrative here, a huge strength for a Korean game that is a new franchise and would otherwise have difficulty reaching an audience in Brazil.

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The world is also a protagonist of Stellar Blade. Between destroyed cities and giant deserts, there is a cool variety of scenarios to visit. In addition to being very cool looking, they are very rewarding for exploration. Every corner hides a secret that could be a piece of lore text, new clothes for EVE, powerful equipment or even an unexpected character or mission.

The design of these areas varies a lot, at times linear and without much backtrack, at others almost open worlds full of hidden locations. There's a lot of verticality to explore too, so there's always a little hidden secret that you find when you return to the region after completing a mission. Over time, secondary activities increase and there is even fishing included in the package, with more than twenty different fish to find in hidden lakes.

On the downside, there are the parts of the platform that are not responsive at all. There is no assistance for Eve's landing and any touch on the analog stick makes her walk too far, which makes jumping through some of them a real pain, even after releasing the double jump. It's even surprising that such a weak point in the game is used so much in different moments of both the campaign and exploration.

Combat is fun until you lose gas

Stellar Blade's combat is where Shift Up's biggest signature is. Although influenced by classic Souls and Hack'n Slash, it achieves a very unique mix, to the point of being uncomfortable at first until you get used to the dynamics.

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Eve can perform several combos right at the beginning of the game. Mixing weak and strong attacks at different intervals, she can hit and distance herself in different ways and cadences, allowing her to control some combats without even using dodge or defense. Both she and the enemy have a life bar and a less traditional shield bar, which, when exhausted, allows damage to occur in greater quantities and with a greater impact on posture. There is also an indicator with dots that breaks the opponent's defense once and for all. It is only reduced by perfectly parrying an attack or using specific skills.

What can be improved by the player over time are special abilities that attack these most basic points. There are skills called BETA that can destroy shields or attack the opponent's posture bar, for example. There are also skills in the tree that make it easier to parry or dodge attacks, or improve more secondary skills like shooting with your robot.

At the beginning, combat is much slower than expected for a game of this type, with enemies that last a long time and the need to be calmer about being aggressive, waiting to dodge or defend before attacking. Over time, improvements to the character make everything more dynamic and faster. However, this ends up making combat less interesting at the end of the game, when it becomes more repetitive.

Anyone who does the secondary content will end up buying all the skills shortly after halfway through the journey and improving most of their attributes, which makes everything very easy. The areas are very populated with enemies and the combos are tiring, especially because the variety of enemies is not enough at times. The bosses are visual spectacles and some are mechanically interesting too. Most of them are giant and have beautiful attack animations, which makes several battles very memorable, at least until the game becomes too easy due to Eve's attributes.

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A good solution that works for the game is the moments of invading the Eidos laboratories, which take place at two points in the journey. At these moments, Eve can only shoot and is prohibited from using swords. The corridors are tighter and the enemies are more humanoid, reminiscent of zombies. The darkness contrasting with the light of the lantern creates a horror movie atmosphere and even the bosses here can only be defeated with ranged attacks. It's a really cool variation of gameplay and helps a lot to stay engaged in the game.

Conclusion

Stellar Blade is fun and a very competent action game. Sometimes it's derivative and slips into excessive narrative exposition, but it has personality most of the time, good secondary characters, really cool maps to explore and interesting potential for sequels

Pros

  • Excellent graphics and performance on PS5
  • Unique and fun combat
  • Good secondary content
  • Interesting and good maps to explore

Cons

  • Platform sessions are imprecise and tiring
  • Character progression is unbalanced and makes the game very easy
  • Expository and derivative narrative

Grade: 8.0/10.0

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Analysis | Stellar Blade is a competent and fun action game

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Analysis | Stellar Blade is a competent and fun action game

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