Stellar Blade review for PS5

Platform: PS5
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Shift Up
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No

There was a specific reason why Stellar Blade was so high on my radar when this title was announced and sorry to say it does have to do with the “male gaze”. I’ve been a fan of Shift Up’s CEO Hyunh Tae Kim work as far back during the PlayStation 2 era when he served as character designer on Magna Carta: Tears of Blood. There’s a certain idealized aesthetic to his character designs where both men and females were well toned and the women had plenty of curves. Kim eventually struck out on his own to for Shift Up, which notably created 2 mobile games that reached US shores, the poorly SEO’d Destiny Child and Goddess of Victory: NIKKE (Which is about to celebrate its 1.5 year anniversary..don’t ask me why they celebrate anniversaries in half increments, I’m not going to say no to free stuff in gacha games). So hell or high water I would get my hands on this title.

In the world of Stellar Blade, humanity has been forced off the surface of the Earth by the Naytibas, a techno-organic species of unknown origins. Mother Sphere, a sentient AI which has been a steward of the last of humanity has constantly sought to reclaim the species’ rightful home and would gradually send troops to confront the Naytibas threat from orbital colonies. Eve is part of the 7th effort to liberate Earth and as with this one would not start off on the right foot. Attacked by a new type of Naytiba, Eve’s colleague is slain and Eve would have shared her fate if not for the quick actions of Adam, a scavenger and one of the few humans who still inhabit the planet. After regaining her bearings, the two strike up an uneasy alliance to aid Xion, the last human colony on Earth, so that its ruler will aid with finding and eliminating the Alpha Naytiba.

Unlike the studio’s previous offerings which were more passive affairs, Stellar Blade is an action title where success required pattern recognition and immaculate timing. Once within range, enemies will amble towards Eve and aggressively accost her until she is dead. They will not sit around and fight honorably. Thankfully Eve is equipped with preternatural skills that can turn these aggressors into a pile of rubbish. The game’s combat mantra seems to be “defense is the best offense” as parrying and dodging will likely be your best bet to surviving encounters. Parrying will help you garner “Beta Energy” which can be used to initiate “Beta Attacks”, which can be used to strike hard at a single enemy, do some crowd control with a wide reaching slash and even break through enemy defenses. Enemies also have their own “balance” meter which in a very Sekiro way will render the enemy dazed when the bar has been depleted. One of the things that made my journey easier is to not be precious about using your Beta Energy (It does make me chuckle that I WANT to accrue Beta Energy). Dodging requires less stringent timing, but a perfectly timed dodge can put you behind an enemy that will give you an opportunity to deal additional damage.

The game does let you lock on, but it lacks a “recenter” option with the camera. In a multi-enemy skirmish I find myself having to manually have to face the locked on foe, which can lead to some free hits from the enemies. Otherwise enemy attacks never feel unfair, there are always visual tells and with stronger attacks a glowing aura that will tell you know the options you need to take to ensure you remain unscathed.

Given the game’s combat and systems mirror a lot of the things you would find in souls-like. The game isn’t souls-like in how forgiving it was. There are no penalties for death, short of only being returned to the last checkpoint you reached, so you will not need to fight your way back to retrieve anything.

The environment that the game takes you while ruined, feels lived in. A majority of humanity might be gone, but clearly the species built great things before their exile into space. Each area has plenty to discover and your drone’s ping ability will help you pinpoint where you need to search. The completionist in me would try to ensure everything has been collected before moving on…which meant I would overstay as some things can only be obtained in a subsequent trip. The only qualms I have with the non-combat aspects of the game would be some of the light platforming the game will occasionally make you do. Something about Eve’s jump always results in my overshooting my target. Like combat, the penalty is never harsh, but there were certainly platforming sections that held up my progress.

In an odd, but humorous collect-a-thon subquest, Eve will be incentivized to collect canned drinks, where hitting certain milestones would unlock equipment stock improvements and completion will garner an in-game costume. Another oddball in-game excursion would be fishing…because I guess most open world action titles need a fishing game right?

Xion is the last bastion of humanity and as a player hub. As you collect power cores, it starts to get repopulated. Some of the denizens will seek you out and ask you for assistance. Doing these tasks will reap monetary and material rewards as well as experience, something you’ll want to accrue to further unlock Eve’s abilities. Some NPCs even have plot threads when completed will give you access to more items to buy, and knowledge regarding the game world. So while it is not as bustling as other spaces from other games…there’s a quaintness to Xion. It also helps that the song that plays while you’re in the city is quite the earworm…

In regards to Eve, who has been much derided by a certain population. She’s not just this character to attract the male gaze. During the game, she’s portrayed as stoic and focused on completing her mission. Her relationship with Adam is cordial and one of mutual understanding. Adam is aware of her higher stature as a human from the colony and is more than ready to support her in combat via the drone. Yes, you can dress Eve up in the various outfits that can be titillating, but not interacting with this mechanic will not adversely affect your experience (In fact the only outfit that will affect you is unequipping your suit, which removes your ability to have a shield). I believe once the title is out in the wild, sentiments regarding Eve will shift and she will likely be celebrated for years to come.

For a first console development effort, Shift Up knocked it out of the park with Stellar Blade. They crafted a fascinating world, combat system that felt so good to the point where I would seek it out encounters less I was running low on health items. As stated in the previous statement, players will be surprised by Eve’s characterization and she will probably find her footing amongst other female protagonists such Samus Aran, 2B and Bayonetta. Much like Round8’s Lies of P helped put a spotlight on the South Korean Games Development scene, Shift Up’s effort will just make that light brighter. Shift Up certainly stepped up!

Note: Sony Interactive Entertainment provided us with a Stellar Blade code for review purposes.

Score: 9