Die by the Blade Preview: Cyberpunk Samurai Chess (PC)

Die by the Blade is a unique 3D fighting game whose main mechanic is that the combatants can die in just one hit. Setting itself in a mix of urban cyberpunk and feudal Japan, the game ditches the combo-chaining of other fighting games and demands a more tactical approach to fights. Though content is slim, the demo shows promise for much more growth.

Die by the Blade Preview: Cyberpunk Samurai Chess (PC)

I got to preview Die by the Blade, a 3D PvP fighting game developed by Triple Hill Interactive, Grindstone, and Toko Midori Games, and published by Kwalee. Unlike most other fighting games on the market, Die by the Blade doesn’t utilize health bars or damage percentages. Instead, the main draw of this dueling game is the players’ ability to kill or die in one strike. The game has a host of mechanics in place to compliment this core one-shot system. At the moment, the game is bare-bones for content, but is to be expected for a demo. Here is a preview of the Die by the Blade demo.

The Die by the Blade demo is available on Steam, and will also be released on Xbox and PlayStation consoles sometime in 2023.

Die by the Blade - Announcement Trailer | PS5, PS4

Story: Little More Than a Haiku

Die by the Blade has no story mode, but it does have accompanying lore for its gameplay elements and world. There are currently three playable characters in the game: Yoshi, Butterfly, and Nakamura. Each character has a little lore bit to go with him or her. For example, Yoshi is a Ronin vigilante who upholds his and his late master’s honor by helping average people with bandits or menial labor. While it’s not much, it does help add context to this “samuraipunk” world being offered here.

“Samuraipunk” is the word used in the game’s description to label the world in which this game is played. While the exact setting is more or less ambiguous, the aesthetic and mechanics imply a futuristic urban Japan. More on how this is shown in the graphics and sounds section.

Gameplay: Sudden Death for Every Round

The main mechanic of Die by the Blade that separates it from the rest of the genre is its health system. Players only need to land one hit to kill their opponent. This mechanic is great for lowering the skill floor and barrier of entry that other fighting games may struggle to implement. Die by the Blade puts much more emphasis on the mind-games of a fight rather than chaining combos or special moves due to its unforgiving nature. The number of actions-per-second required goes down significantly, allowing for a wider audience to enter into the realm of fighting games. 

For describing controls, I will be using controller terminology, but note that this game supports keyboard and mouse as well.

Since it’s one-and-done per round, there are a lot more defensive options than other fighting games. These options also play heavily into synergizing with your own offensive options as well as countering your opponent’s. Players can enter one of three stances by inputting a direction on the right analog stick — high, middle, or low. If you strike your opponent while in the same stance as them, they automatically block the strike in most cases. You can also parry a strike regardless of stance by timing the left bumper correctly. The game rewards you more for parrying while matching your opponent’s stance, dubbed a perfect parry.

A good defense is paramount to defeating your opponent.

A good defense is paramount to defeating your opponent.

This reward is in the form of regaining Resolve. Resolve is Die by the Blade’s form of stamina. It depletes whenever you attack, block normally, roll, or have your strike parried, and replenishes over time. You also gain a chunk of Resolve when you parry a strike, and regain more from performing a perfect parry. Having little or no resolve reduces your attack speed and frequency, and causes you to fail your auto-blocks.

For offensive moves, the game is much more simple than other fighting games, hence the lower skill floor. You have only two attacking buttons: right bumper and right trigger. Right bumper controls horizontal attacks, and right trigger activates vertical attacks. These directions are important for getting around your opponent’s guard. Depending on your angle and distance from the target, a strike can hit even if you’re matching your opponent’s stance.

While the game doesn’t focus on them, there are combos in the game. They don’t extend past three strikes, and they’re there to provide a quick follow-up to certain strikes. This gives a different cadence to combat, allowing you to possibly bait out a parry and instead go for a more delayed strike. Performing certain combos may also cause the kill to happen in a gruesome finisher animation if the last strike lands. Mechanically speaking, the finishers are purely cosmetic, much like Mortal Kombat fatalities.

Die by the Blade features combat in which players can die in just one hit.

Die by the Blade features combat in which players can die in just one hit.

The developers seem to be planning for some kind of reward system. Characters have their own stats, though they aren’t always clear about everything they affect. Furthermore, there are two weapons in the game: the two-handed katana, and the dual wield wakizashi swords. Characters and weapons have dedicated customization screens, although the options are very limited at the moment. The description on Steam promises “in-depth character and weapon customization,” so it’ll be interesting to see how deep it will go.

Graphics and Sounds: As You’d Expect

As an overall preview, the graphics and sounds in Die by the Blade perform their duties well, but aren’t exceptional in most areas. The main area in which they shine is showing otherwise subtle details and information in combat.

As stated, the game takes place in a “samuraipunk” setting, combining elements of feudal Japan and futuristic urban cities. This is most conveyed through the three arenas — Ancient Forest, Downtown, and Office. Ancient Forest’s foliage waving in the wind shows more of the feudal Japan aesthetic. Office has a much more futuristic feel with its massive window and modern furniture. Downtown is a great mix of the two, with traditional lanterns illuminating a concrete jungle. In terms of graphics, the maps show the most detail and care, as they are visually distinct and pleasing without distracting from the gameplay.

Downtown is a great example arena to show the

Downtown is a great example arena to show the “samuraipunk” aesthetic.

The character models and how they interact with each other in combat is a bit middling, if not hilariously immersion-breaking at times. Characters’ skin looks a bit plastic, and blood meshes may clip into the model when a character dies. Speaking of character deaths, they can be a bit glitchy at times. Ragdolls may slightly jump if they clip into the ground, and I had an instance where I decapitated an enemy with a hit that initiated a finisher, which spawned another head to cut off. While they are imperfections, I will admit that I found them entertaining. On a brighter note, the developers animated the characters very well. They move in ways that convey realistic martial training with a bit of action-move flair.

My Die by the Blade preview ran very smoothly. I ran this game with a GeForce RTX 3060 Ti and an Intel Core i7-6700K. On max settings, I experienced no frame drops or stutters.

The graphics are most utilitarian when conveying the actions performed in combat. For example, clashing blades will flash a different color depending on the type of block performed. A sword’s slight wind trail will turn red when performing the final attack in a combo. The game has other subtle changes occur to convey different actions and states, and do so obviously enough for the player to notice them while being subtle enough to not be distracting.

Die by the Blade uses different animations and colors to convey information to the player, such as the type of block performed.

Die by the Blade uses different animations and colors to convey information to the player, such as the type of block performed.

The sounds are serviceable enough. Blades clang against each other, blood splats against the ground, and characters will grunt or scream when attacking or being hit. The menu music conveys more of its setting with traditional Japanese strings, drums, and wind instruments.

Die by the Blade was previewed on PC with a key provided by Kwalee

Die by the Blade's main draw will be its high-stakes combat in a constant state of sudden death. The risk of dying in a single hit gives this game a much more defensive and tactical combat experience as opposed to multi-hit combat chains. As of now, content is scarce, but Die by the Blade shows promise for players to develop both gameplay and skill progression.
  • One-shot combat provides a different fighting-game experience
  • Easy to learn, hard to master
  • Supports online play
  • Futuristic samurai aesthetic
  • Occasional visual bugs and audio bugs, mainly during finishers
  • Very little content at the moment

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