Within the Blade PlayStation 4 Review

In Within the Blade the world is transforming, and not always for the better.

By Fragnarok, Posted 21 Jul 2021

Within the Blade is a stealth action platformer developed by Ametist Studio and published by Ratalaika Games. Within the Blade originally released on PC under the name Pixel Shinobi, but outside of this title change the console port is mostly identical. In a mystical version of feudal Japan, the dreaded Steel Claw daimyo has begun a rampage across the country. Now, only the Black Lotus ninja clan is able to stop them. Players take control of Hideaki, a veteran of Black Lotus who is leading the charge. He is further assisted by other members like Genshi the clan leader and sensei, Sayuri the forward scout, and various townspeople that provide services.

Within the Blade|Ametist Studio|Ratalaika Games|Pixel Shinobi

In the beginning, Hideaki will be armed with a basic sword. His move set with this weapon includes a quick three-hit combo, parrying, jump attack, double jump spin for more height, crawling, and a short wall run. If Hideaki sneaks up on an enemy from behind, he may instantly kill them with execution. While these options are fine, they can feel a bit stiff and ill-suited for several situations. However, as players acquire experience points and level, they can return to Genshi to advance among a large skill tree. Some paths provide longer string combos, aerial movement, boosted defenses, or mastery of other weapon types. Many of the branches intersect in strange ways, so players should read in-depth what each skill provides. If not careful, one may wind up upgrading skills that don’t apply to their arsenal, and Genshi will not directly refund spent points.

As mentioned, players can change out their preferred weapons. This includes a kusarigama with reach and whipping attacks, a grappling hook that can pull or push people (including Hideaki himself), throwing shurikens, smoke bombs, and even unarmed taijutsu which leverages speed over the defense. Players can also upgrade or buy new blades if they prefer the initial sword combat style. Some of these items can be found inside chests, while others are directly bought from Black Lotus merchants (or in some rare cases received as gifts from grateful villagers). Genshi can also teach players various smithy techniques, allowing Hideaki to craft his own gear from found materials. However, weapons have either durability rates or limited quantities which means players will need to bring multiple pieces to be safe.

Within the Blade|Ametist Studio|Ratalaika Games|Pixel Shinobi

Each stage is randomly generated, with different possible layouts, enemies, and traps. The only guarantee is the area’s primary and secondary objectives. This may include killing a certain number of enemies, using executions, saving allies, and more. While this can create great re-playability, it can also cause unexpected frustration. Enemies may be stationed in certain places or clustered together where side objectives may be extra difficult or impossible. In some cases, there may be routes that are completely unreachable due to the player’s lack of learned skills or equipment. Despite the emphasis on platforming, it tends to be Within the Blade’s low point. Hideaki’s movement can sometimes be unresponsive (either by design or because a skill hasn’t been acquired), he may automatically hop off walls, or be slammed by strong enemy pushback.

Completing objectives, avoiding detection, and using only stealth executions will provide a lot of extra experience points and coins. However, ignoring all of these and just brute-forcing through a level will still yield enough resources to finish the game. In fact, in some parts players can simply run to the end goal line without engaging generic enemies at all. While bonuses will be forfeited, players will never be penalized further. This means that one can simply make up the difference by killing and looting at the next level.

Within the Blade|Ametist Studio|Ratalaika Games|Pixel Shinobi

At the end of a particular zone (typically after three to five stages), players will need to battle a boss. These fights tend to break the normal flow of the game and rely on their own mechanics. Some bosses will be huge, but only have certain vulnerable points that take damage. Others may be incredibly fast and require players to attack where they expect a boss to arrive rather than their current location. These enemies tend to have some kind of instant kill move, either in the form of a telegraphed brutal single attack or a combo string that players need to escape. Even if defeated, players can instantly retry again (unless playing on the highest difficulty setting, where it will be permanent game over). A small oddity is that players can never shop or train before a boss fight; if they want to they must reload, go to town, and then retry the previous level.

Within the Blade’s save system can be unintuitive at first. Each individual stage has a single automatic save slot that records experience points, money, and inventory once cleared. Replaying an older stage will only affect itself, not previous or future stages. When reloading, players will also be refunded all the skill points and items they allocated towards the upcoming stage, and said stage will be regenerated anew. This means one needs to fully finish a level and be satisfied with the score for their status to be updated. If a player selects to retry, their past choices and crafting may be reset.

Within the Blade|Ametist Studio|Ratalaika Games|Pixel Shinobi

Within the Blade has various minor bugs, with strange spelling errors and grammar being the most frequent. At times it can be hard to tell what is meant to be a name of a person or place, instead of a common adjective or verb. Another oddity is that the skills menu will be a completely black screen with no text if one hasn’t yet leveled up and studied with Genshi. This could make players assume the game has locked up, though the menu can be exited despite a lack of prompts. Finally, the game’s heads-up display occupies the absolute edge of the screen but doesn’t make use of the PlayStation 4’s native margin adjustments. This means that some users may need to fiddle with their actual televisions to prevent the game from cutting off information.

Within the Blade has a good amount of customization and fun combat. However, those that need stable and fair level design may be put off by the random seeding. Intrigued players should be mindful that hack and slash action will always come first, followed by stealth, and platforming a complete crapshoot.
 

Kurtis Seid, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC
Publisher(s): Ametist Studio, Ratalaika Games
Developer(s): Ametist Studio
Genres: Action, Adventure
Themes: Stealth, Platformer, Feudal Japan
Release Date: 2021-07-16

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