There were plenty of announcements during Sony’s Playstation Showcase last night, but the one that stood out most to me was Phantom Blade Zero. This quickfire action RPG looks brilliant and oh so slick. It blends Chinese martial arts and punk together, to create a new direction its developer has dubbed “Kungfupunk”.
In Phantom Blade Zero, you take on the role of Soul. According to Soulframe Liang, founder of the game’s developer S-Game, Soul is “an elite assassin serving an elusive but powerful organisation known simply as ‘The Order’.” Soul was framed for the murder of this organisation’s patriarch, and was then wounded in the “manhunt that ensued”. Thankfully, he was saved from death by a “mystic healer”.
This all sounds enticing enough already, in my opinion, but there is more. While Soul may have been saved by this healer, there is a catch – the cure only lasts for 66 days, and Soul needs to find out who framed him for killing The Order’s patriarch before time runs out. Of course, this will not be an easy job, and Soul will have to fight against “powerful foes and inhuman monstrosities” on his journey. You can see how it all looks in the trailer below.
In a blogpost accompanying last night’s reveal trailer, Liang shared more about Phantom Blade Zero’s inspirations. These range from the wuxia stories of author Louis Cha, Michelle Yoeh’s Oscar winning performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once, Donnie Yen in John Wick: Chapter 4 and the films of Bruce Lee.
“Kungfu in pop culture is constantly evolving, but always awesome! With Phantom Blade Zero, we are adding a new twist to the formula, a heavy dose of punk spirit, alongside with stylish visuals,” Liang wrote. “We call this overall art direction ‘Kungfupunk’.”
Liang continued: “We are huge fans of the hack and slash genre. Stellar titles like Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden are insanely exhilarating with their huge arsenal of moves and lightning-fast pace. However, they are not for everyone.
“What’s more popular today is ‘strategic action game’, such as Soulslikes and Monster Hunter. They choose to slow things down a notch or two, giving players more time for strategic thinking. But that approach doesn’t convey the kind of action fest we have in mind, namely, the sleek, breathtaking moves in Kungfu movies back in the 1990s.”
It sounds like a lot of care and attention has gone into creating Phantom Blade Zero’s moveset, with stunt coordinator and director Kenji Tanigaki working with the developer as its action director.
“Kenji-san is responsible for many mesmerising fighting scenes in classic Kungfu movies. In fact, many of our ideas are inspired by his early works,” Liang shared. “In Phantom Blade Zero, his role is to demonstrate each designed move, which is then captured with a camera matrix, for the reference of our animation artists.
“You’re reading it right. Combat moves in Phantom Blade Zero have to be made with handcrafted animation, because motion capturing can’t do it justice.”
Meanwhile, the game will take place in “a semi-open world”. This will see players presented with “multiple maps of reasonable size”, each of which has been “handcrafted and populated with diverse activities”, which all sounds very promising.
As you can see, I am quite excited about this one. We still don’t have a release date for Phantom Blade Zero, but it will be heading to PlayStation 5 whenever it is ready. We will keep you posted when we know more.