Phantom Blade Zero had the honor of being the final game at The Summer Game Fest earlier this month. The Soulslike gameplay of this supernatural sword fighting game was great.

I played it hands-on and found it to be an accessible game, designed to enable even inept players like me to fight in a skilled manner against the extremely fast attacks of enemies in the game. But it can also require a lot of skill in parts that can satisfy hardcore sword fighters. It is reminiscent of the Chinese martial art “Wuxia”, where people move at superhuman speeds.

The title is the dream of Beijing-based Soulframe Liang and his team of 50 game developers at S-Game. Liang said in an interview that he thinks of the game’s setting as “kung fu punk,” a combination of traditional Chinese aesthetics and cyberpunk. We talked about the origins of the game and what it takes to play Phantom Blade Zero. Liang believes that the game is very similar to a cross between the Ninja Gaiden and Souls games.

I was surprised that I didn’t die constantly in this game, but I also found that I had to overcome and eliminate large groups of enemies in the correct order, starting with the archer first. Then I can take out the weaker fighters and then go after the boss-like character. When I got to the actual bosses, it was really satisfying to deal damage, and almost stay alive.

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Soulframe Liang is the president of S-Game, the maker of Phantom Blade Zero.
Soulframe Liang is the president of S-Game, the maker of Phantom Blade Zero.

Here is an edited transcript of our interview.

GamesBeat: Where are you based?

Solfrem Liang: We are in Beijing.

GamesBeat: How long have you been working on Phantom Blade Zero? Can you tell me some of the history?

Liang: We’ve been officially working on it for about two years. Before that we were mainly making mobile games. We have been developing mobile games in Chinese market for more than 10 years. Our game is not what we specifically call a Souls or “Soulslike” game. It’s dark. It has some emotions that might make people come back to that style, but we’re not a Souls game.

Our game is more like an old-fashioned, combo-based action game. It’s a 3D map like a Souls game, but more like a Ninja Gaiden combat mode in a Souls map. It’s a new formula. We wanted to create something new with this combination.

The Phantom Blade Zero has an easy-to-access action.

GamesBeat: Do you think it’s easier than this style of game?

Liang: It’s much easier. It is within reach of most players. But it still has depth for professional players. For casual players, they can enjoy the story and exploration without too much stress in combat. But for hardcore players, there are some very in-depth opportunities to explore combos, a parry system, and a perfect dodging system. There are a lot of challenges for professional players.

GamesBeat: I’ve noticed that it’s a little more difficult when there are several different types of enemies. I had to remember how to handle each type. Maybe get rid of the archer first.

Liang: Yes, there are multiple ways to do this. The level you just experienced, there is actually a simple way to pass it. You can assassinate the archer by using your bow to knock him down from the other side. Then you can use the cannon to blast enemies around the fire. Then you’ll get into combat with less than half the number of enemies. You have multiple ways of dealing with the situations you face. This is another way to adjust the difficulty. Players can try different ways to gain access.

Phantom Blade Zero features sword fights for beginners and experts as well.

Naturally, some players will pass through the front door and go straight into combat with all the enemies. This is definitely one way you can play with it.

GamesBeat: I noticed a difference between the first and second boss. The first boss, I can block him every time. The second boss, I felt like I needed perfect timing.

Liang: The blocking system is very simple. You just need to press the button. If you’re not trying to block the attack perfectly, just press the same button. However, it will consume the yellow meter at the bottom of your HP meter. If you see blue eye attacks and red eye attacks, blue eye attacks are something you cannot prevent naturally. Those that need a parry. Red eye attacks are something you cannot avoid. You should avoid those.

GamesBeat: With the second boss, if you hit one R1, his ranged attack will still hit you.

Phantom Blade Zero pits swordfighters against a variety of enemies.
Phantom Blade Zero pits swordfighters against a variety of enemies.

Liang: If you time your dodge correctly, this won’t happen. The wave may pass through your body, but you won’t lose any HP. The main differences between the bosses are the different rhythms of blue-eye and red-eye attacks. This is the key to defeating enemies. You have to learn the pace and rhythm of the boss’s attacks. Then you just have to avoid blue eyes and avoid red eyes. The difference is only the rhythm.

GamesBeat: There are a lot of sword fighting games out there now. Is there anything you can compare this to that is closer to your level? Sekiro was very difficult for me. Ghost of Tsushima, much easier.

Liang: I wouldn’t compare it to anything in particular. We are doing something new. But I would say our game’s difficulty is much easier than the average Souls game, which is entry difficulty. We have difficult choices.

GamesBeat: You don’t have to beat everyone over and over again, right?

Liang: No, don’t do that. As for the main story, it revolves around a 20 or 30 hour campaign. But there are also a lot of side quests, collectibles, and challenges that could take another 20 or 30 hours.

GamesBeat: How big is your team?

Liang: We have 50 people in Beijing, and we are trying to expand. But we don’t want to reach 100 people. It’s still a relatively young team. We don’t have a release window yet, but development is going smoothly.

GamesBeat: Were you happy with the reaction at Summer Game Fest?

You can use fire or counter fire attacks in Phantom Blade Zero.

Liang: Yes, of course. We’ve been overwhelmed by all the trends and positive feedback. It’s very encouraging. It’s also a challenge for us. We have to make something better next time, and for the final product. Everyone’s expectations rise to a high level. Many people are anticipating our game. We don’t want to let them down. It’s encouraging, but it’s a lot of pressure. We will try to do better and better.

GamesBeat: You’ve had a good spot on the show, and you’ll continue on eventually.

Liang: We had the same experience last year. When we first revealed the game at the PlayStation Showcase, people complained that the movements were too smooth. They said it was too good to be true. They thought we were only showing movies. That’s why we made the demo we did this year, to show that everything is playable. We’ve made some adjustments to the camera angles, but beyond that, it’s all about gameplay. That’s what we wanted to tell everyone this year through the demo. Later we will be showing more level designs and more of the story.

GamesBeat: What can you say about the story and lore so far?

Liang: I don’t want to spoil too much. But we can talk about the world we create. It’s based on an indie game I made about 15 years ago, when I was still a student. It was called Rainblood, something I made myself in RPG Maker. A basic 2D turn-based game. But I felt like I created something special there, a combination of the traditional Chinese aesthetic with contemporary Steampunk and Cyberpunk, modified humans, and things like that. We called it “Kung Fu Punk.” It’s a mix of something traditional and something new. We hope you feel unique.

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