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Stellar Blade Review: What You See Is What You Get

Stellar Blade's riveting gameplay and eye-candy protagonist unwaveringly carry its insincere 30-hour story to its undeniable conclusion.
Stellar Blade Review: What You See Is What You Get
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Stellar Blade is a game that knows its strengths and weaknesses and plays by it. Its story borrows the skeleton but not the soul of its biggest muse, Nier Automata. However, Stellar Blade's riveting gameplay and eye-candy of a protagonist unwaveringly carries its 30-hour adventure to its undeniable conclusion. 

Is Stellar Blade's Eve a good protagonist?

One of the reasons why Stellar Blade has garnered so much attention is due to its provocative protagonist, Eve. In an era where most western AAA games have transitioned to depicting more realistic facial and body proportions of its main characters, Stellar Blade takes a more orthodox approach, portraying a more idealistic-looking character who can, in otaku terminology, be called a "waifu."

Stellar Blade puts too much effort into making Eve pretty but not prominent in her own story. (Picture: Shift Up)

Naturally, Eve's idealistic appearance has been heavily criticized since the game's reveal, and rightly so, but as someone who has never been offended by the appearance of a video game character, I went into Stellar Blade with a neutral mindset. That said, I also wasn't expecting Eve to be a multi-layered character that I could empathize with, and that remains true even after spending more than 30 hours by her side exploring the desolate wastelands of Stellar Blade. 

Eve isn't human, which is an indolent way of saying she has no personality. But non-human characters can also have unique identities, as evident from games like Nier Automata with 2B and her numerous stoic justifications and Persona 3 with Aigis and her endearing nature.

Sadly, Eve has none of that. It's not like the game doesn't try to establish Eve as a lively character. It just fails to. There's one moment early on in the game when Eve visits a hair salon, and the barber imprudently calls her hairstyle dull. It's there where you sense a hint of insecurity in Eve's voice, and after you have completed a side quest for the barber, which unlocks the option to change Eve's hairstyle, she asks him firmly to style her hair and make sure it isn't dull anymore. Moments like these are rare, which is a shame because they would have added much more color to Eve's personality. 

For better or worse, tweaking Eve's appearance is one of the highlights of Stellar Blade. (Picture: Shreyansh/Shift Up)

Instead, Stellar Blade presents Eve solely as an eye candy "angel," who you play dress up with. There are several gorgeous hairstyles you can choose from and multiple endearing outfits (except a few fan-servicey ones), and accessories that let you glam up your objectively pretty version of Eve.

For better or worse, tweaking Eve's appearance is the highlight of Stellar Blade, aside from the game's combat, which I'll get to in a moment. 

Suffice it to say, most of Eve's outfits and accessories are intricately designed, and I had fun finding blueprints for every one of them and farming resources to craft them. 

It's absurd how many outfits Shift Up has designed for Eve in this game. If Stellar Blade was a live-service title, these outfits could have cost $20 each, and no one would have batted an eye (well, maybe). As such, it's commendable that Shift Up put so much time and effort into designing so many unique and pretty-looking outfits for Eve, which you can unlock for free. I just wish the studio had put a similar amount of effort into making Eve not just pretty, but prominent in her own story. 

How Nier-esque is Stellar Blade's story?

Stellar Blade borrows the most obvious bits of Nier Automata's story but without its emotional depth. (Picture: Shift Up)

It's no surprise that Yoko Taro's Nier Automata has been a big inspiration for Stellar Blade. In fact, it's probably why this game exists in the first place, as suggested by the game's director, Kim Hyung-tae, in an interview with IGN Japan. But how much does Stellar Blade borrow from Nier Automata's dystopian worldbuilding and its profound storytelling? I would say pretty much everything except its sheer emotional depth. 

Stellar Blade kicks off in an anti-climatic fashion as Eve and her squad members fend off against Naytibas, a deadly alien faction that has taken over the Earth. Similar to Nier Automata's opening, where 2B and her Yorha squad members quickly find themselves overpowered by the Machines, Eve and her companion Tachy end up being the last remaining members of the 7th Airborne squad, with Tachy too falling just after attempting to save Eve from a gigantic Naytiba. 

One thing leads to another, and Eve bumps into Adam, a mysterious human from Xion, the last remaining city on Earth, who is just as chirpy as Nier's 9S and follows Eve in drone form, just like 2B's pod. 

The rest of the Stellar Blade's story plays out in a straightforward and awfully predictable fashion, with the most important bits being an obvious throwback to Nier Automata. The English voice acting is monotonous and lacks sincerity. The only upside of the game's many cutscenes is their presentation with high production values that are very AAA-esque. 

Is Stellar Blade's gameplay any good?

Stellar Blade's combat is both stylish and substantial. (Picture: Shift Up)

So far, Stellar Blade may seem like a game that favors style over substance, and at least in terms of characters and storytelling, it's true. However, there's much substance to its gameplay, both in terms of combat and exploration. 

Stellar Blade's combat is stylish and substantial. It's intricate. It's snappy and responsive. I enjoyed it more than Nier Automata's. I found Stellar Blade's combat somewhat as cinematic as Ghost of Tsushima but also something that has the depth of Sekiro's combat.

All of this is evident by how Eve swings and thrusts her sword, how elegantly she dodges attacks, and how swiftly she parries them. It feels polished with some stellar animations. However, Stellar Blade's combat isn't just methodical like Soulslike or hack-n-slash like Bayonetta; it's an inexplicably satisfying unification of both that feels fresh and unique. 

It doesn't mean it's flawless, and there are frustrating bits, but overall, I found myself consistently enthralled by the intricacies of the game's combat.

You start off with a bunch of attack combos and special Beta skills. These are special abilities that you can only activate after gathering enough Beta energy by inflicting basic and combo attacks. 

Thankfully, each Beta skill feels vastly different and is effective in varying scenarios. Each has a sub-skill tree associated with it, which allows you to make them more effective and powerful. 

This opens up a ton of buildcrafting potential. You can empower a particular skill or balance it out by upgrading them all simultaneously. There's no restriction on how you improve Eve's combat efficiency. 

Stellar Blade continuously introduces new combat mechanics and ways to fight Naytibas throughout the game's campaign. (Picture: Shreyansh/Shift Up)

Unlike most melee-based action games, Stellar Blade's combat isn't floaty. Instead, every swing is weighty, and you can feel Eve's sword piercing or slashing a Naytiba's flesh, even more precisely, thanks to DualSense controller's immaculate haptic feedback. 

The attack combos are varied and there's just enough variety to keep things fresh for the majority of the game's campaign. However, since they are available from the get-go, getting used to everything could be slightly overwhelming. 

The tricky part is balancing combo attacks and parrying, something I also found frustrating in Rise of the Ronin. All attack combo requires at least three attacks, which takes just enough time for an enemy to swing an attack of its ownThis makes it hard to pull off these combos, especially since your attacks don't delay the enemy's. It's not impossible to pull off four or five attack combos, but it demands diligence and swiftness.

Once you get used to it, landing attack combos and deflecting the enemy's attack becomes relatively easy, though it's still a challenging feat.

Unsurprisingly, parrying is incredibly satisfying, with every clash of flesh and steel feeling immensely cathartic. However, Eve's sword isn't the only way to kill Naytibas. Upon reaching Xion, Lily, one of Eve's companions, customizes her drone into a ranged weapon. There's even a set of missions where you explore underground facilities, in which Stellar Blade goes full Resident Evil, with Eve's gun being the only combat tool available to use

And that's not it. Stellar Blade continuously introduces new combat mechanics and ways to fight Naytibas throughout the game's campaign. Without spoiling anything, early on, if you go to the skill menu, you may notice two additional tabs for skills. These are unlocked pretty late in the game and further amplifies the game's combat. 

While the basics are relatively easy to master, some maneuvers are far more tricky to get rightThese are counterattacks, which you can only land when an enemy attempts a fatal attack. There are two types of fatal attacks, denoted by blue and pink flashes during combat. These counter maneuvers aren't just satisfying to execute. They are incredibly flashy and are satisfying to look at and add more depth to the overall combat experience. 

The best thing about Stellar Blade's combat is that it doesn't force you to follow specific playstyles. If you don't want to be a button-mashing combo-executing god, you don't have to. You can get by simply using basic or counterattacks and parrying. Stealth is also greatly encouraged, and while its potential is limited, you can take out most enemies in a single hit with a stealth takedown. 

Stellar Blade lets you empower your preferred playstyle with Exospine and Gear. (Picture: Shreyansh/Shift Up)

Stellar Blade lets you empower your preferred playstyle with Exospine and Gear. Think of Exospine as armor pieces with varying perks. There's at least one Exospine for every playstyle. For instance, the Chain-Type Exospine greatly increases the attack power of combo attacks, so if you do prefer being the button-mashing warrior, this is the Exospine to use. 

Likewise, there's Beta-Trance-Type Exospine, which increases the attack power of Beta skills and Beta energy recharge rate. There's also the Camouflage-Type Exospine that favors stealth gameplay. 

Gear provides passive buffs that compliments the Exospine. (Picture: Shreyansh/Shift Up)

You can stick to one Exospine and finish the game with ease, but I recommend experimenting with different ones as it makes combat more exciting, especially in the second half of the game. Later on, you can also unlock an additional Exospine slot, which can allow you to take advantage of two vastly different combat styles together. 

While Stellar Blade's combat is mostly accessible, mastering various aspects of combat can take time. So it's a satisfying payoff when you finally learn to efficiently dash, slash, shoot, parry, and counter enemy attacks in a single fight.  

How fun is Stellar Blade's world to explore?

Stellar Blade's Blade Runner-inspired world is pretty but there are not a lot of pretty things to look at. (Picture: Shift Up)

Stellar Blade's world is pretty, but there are not a lot of pretty things to look at. The hub city, Xion, seems very Blade Runner, with sprawling, dusty old buildings and shady NPCs walking around in trench coats. 

It's not as alive as Witcher 3's Novigrad, but there are plenty of secret chests to open and NPC to interact with, most of which have a side quest for you. Speaking of, side quests are textbook-style fetch quests and end pretty much the same way, with only a few being an exception to the rule. That said, I still enjoyed exploring every nook and cranny of Xion, trying to open every secret chest and completing as many side quests as I could, as the rewards were essential to upgrade my combat abilities. 

It's the world outside Xion that I found quite underwhelming. There are only a handful of open-ended locations you can explore in Stellar Blade, and they all look relatively similar. Don't get me wrong, these locales are graphically pretty. The draw distance in the game is incredible, and I was awestruck at the sheer beauty of the sun-soaked horizon beyond the blue oasis when I first visited the Great Desert.

The draw distance in Stellar Blade is incredible. (Picture: Shreyansh/Shift Up)

However, the lack of notable points of interest within these environments and copy-paste level design quickly robbed me of the goodwill I had for the game's visuals. 

Stellar Blade's environments do very little to set the tone of its world or contribute in any way to its overarching narrative. It's a shame because exploration is rewarding in this game. There are some solid platforming puzzles in Stellar Blade (except a few tedious ones), and they often reward you with new outfit blueprints, collectible cans, or materials that could aid you in improving Eve's combat efficiency.

Even the simple key code puzzles evolve as you progress further into the game, and I often found myself wracking my brain hard to find the way to open yet another locked chest. 

Enemy designs are striking, with some subtle throwback to Resident Evil's most grotesque BOWs. Boss battles are unique encounters and a highlight of the game, though they are not as challenging as you would find in most soulslike games. It's alright, however, since every main boss has a unique attack pattern and parrying momentum that you must watch out for before rushing into the battle. 

I should also quickly add that I didn't experience any notable glitches or performance issues throughout the campaign. Stellar Blade is a remarkably polished game. I played the game in Balanced graphics mode, which is ideal, as it targets 60 FPS without sacrificing the fidelity.

Stellar Blade Review Verdict (3.5/5)


Despite its half-baked story, forgettable characters, and insincere world-building, I couldn't help but enjoy my time with Stellar Blade. Perhaps it's because it knows what it is, and I knew what I was getting into.

In Stellar Blade, what you see is what you get. The combat is the heart of the experience, but so is playing dress-up with Eve. If you're okay with all of that, Stellar Blade is a game worth your time and money.

A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher.