The incredible-looking Phantom Blade 0 is a semi-open-world "rebirth" of a $7 indie JRPG

 Phantom Blade 0
Phantom Blade 0

Phantom Blade 0 made a heck of an impression at the PlayStation Showcase with a trailer that seemed tailor-made to capture the attention of Sekiro fans. Now we're starting to get a bit more information about the game, which has its roots in a very small-scale indie JRPG series.

"Soulframe" Liang, founder of developer S-Game, explains on the PlayStation Blog that Phantom Blade 0 has its roots in RPG Maker. That's an inexpensive tool that lets aspiring indie devs create their own games in the classic JRPG style, and one which has powered uncountable games from a dedicated community. Liang's 2010 RPG Maker project, Rainblood: Town of Death, kicked off the series that would eventually become known as Phantom Blade.

Rainblood (or Phantom Blade) became a series in its native China, but only a handful of entries ever got translated into English. The original Town of Death RPG was a $7 direct download release that you can still pick up from GamersGate. A side-scrolling spin-off, Rainblood Chronicles: Mirage, is available on Steam for $5, and the similar Phantom Blade: Executioners is scheduled for a future release on Valve's platform.

The one thing all of these games have in common - including Phantom Blade 0 - is that they're visually striking games that take heavy influence from the Chinese wuxia fantasy genre. (If you're not familiar with wuxia, just think 'kinda like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.') Liang describes Phantom Blade 0 as "the game that we always wanted to make," and serves as a "spiritual rebirth of the original Rainblood." 13 years from an RPG Maker title to a big AAA PS5 game is quite an impressive turnaround.

Liang describes this as a "semi-open world" game with multiple handcrafted maps to explore. The team tried to strike a balance between the fast-paced action of games like Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden with the slower, more strategic play of a Soulslike. "Lucky for us, during the decade making mobile games, we learned to simplify things in favor of touchscreens, giving players a way to execute elaborate chains of moves with a minimum amount of button-mashing. As it turns out, with some tweaks, this mechanism works just as well on controllers."

Phantom Blade 0 also goes for kung-fu authenticity thanks to action director Kenji Tanigaki, a prolific director of kung-fu action in films. Tanigaki recorded moves in a "camera matrix" as reference for the developers, but importantly, this wasn't a traditional motion capture sequence - animators are taking that reference material and creating the in-game movies fully by hand, "because motion capturing can’t do it justice."

I thought the PlayStation Showcase trailer for Phantom Blade 0 looked cool, but after learning all this I'm now utterly fascinated by this game. Developer S-Game has a lot to prove about its ability to create a deep, satisfying console action game, but I'm eager to see the results.

Phantom Blade 0 might be the post-Elden Ring tonic we all need.