Subscribe to our newsletter

Join our subscriber list to get the latest news, updates and special offers delivered directly in your inbox.

Stellar Blade’s demo understood the assignment

Video game demos are tricky things. You can make or break your potential revenue on the strength of a demo. If your pre-release demo sucks, it cripples your chances of pre-orders. It leads to word-of-mouth disappointment tanking possible sales, even if your full game is actually pretty good.

But if your demo is done well, then… you get something like this:

Since the demo release on March 29 and through to the time of writing, Stellar Blade has been the best-selling pre-order on the SG Playstation Store. The same has been true on the US platform.

For a freshman triple-A PS5 exclusive from a developer better known for the mobile gacha shooter Goddess of Victory: Nikke, it’s a slam-dunk home-run hole-in-one whatever-other-sports-metaphor success.

Whatever the industry and players may think of Shift Up and the thirst-trap aesthetics of its games, there’s no denying the market demand for Stellar Blade now. Sure, sex sells, but not typically to the point that it can outpace even the long-awaited DLC of multi-Game of the Year Award winner Elden Ring.

The Stellar Blade demo release did something—if not everything—right.

When a mistake is a masterstroke

On March 9, the Stellar Blade demo unceremoniously appeared on the PlayStation Store, only to be quickly delisted less than an hour later. It seemed to just be a glitch, given that no prior announcement for it was made. The few content creators who did manage to snag it before it was taken down milked it for all it was worth, squeezing out bucketloads of screenshots, playthroughs, and analyses.

That “error” worked in Shift Up’s favor. Before that, Stellar Blade already had a lot of attention thanks to its strikingly gorgeous graphics, compelling gameplay showcases, and controversial fan service. But oh, that little oopsie.

“The first taste is free” is a time-tested marketing move. For it to organically become “the surprise first taste is free to a lucky few” and have it seen as unintentional, with Shift Up quietly not clamping down on whatever people post online? That’s marketing mastery.

By the time the demo was officially released weeks later, public appetite was whetted rather than diminished. The March 9 leak was like blood in the water, and everyone was hungry.

Or thirsty, because, well. You’ve seen what the game looks like.

More than just a pretty face

The demo contains around a couple hours’ worth of the game’s opening portion, depending on how leisurely you are. The combat is solid and displays Sekiro/God of War-levels of competence, even with much of the skill tree still hidden. The character, enemy, and set-piece designs are exquisitely sculpted and nuanced to the point of distraction. The music is remarkable and evocative, as it should be given that a lot of it was done by the same people who scored Nier: Automata.

And yes, the fan service is inescapable.

I don’t need to go into further detail because intensive coverage of the demo is already everywhere, from the hot takes to the calm critiques. There’s unilateral evidence that Stellar Blade is everything it promised it would be, and very likely more.

The only way the game can fumble things now is if, somehow, the rest of the game is complete garbage. And that’s exceedingly unlikely, given the level of quality the demo is showing off. While some game demos hold a lot back and occasionally have early—i.e., shoddy—build content, that’s not the case here.

They could have called it “Stellar Demo” and people would groan but still agree. It’s that successful as an onboarding experience.

Is that hallyu got?

I should mention that Shift Up is a Korean studio—if that wasn’t already obvious from the character aesthetics. If you decide to give Stellar Blade a try, I recommend playing it with Korean voiceovers. While the English voices are decent, they create the jarring cutscene impression of Korean supermodels who attended a finishing school abroad.

Playing in Korean feels more authentic and aligned with other Korean sci-fi productions like The Silent Sea or Black Knight. Yes, most people still look like models in those too but at least they sound linguistically appropriate.

There are other language and accessibility settings in the demo, too, covering aspects like subtitle visibility and speaker captioning through to gameplay adjustments like auto-looting and combat timing assist. It’s another achievement for Shift Up, providing so many options to experience and enjoy the game however we want. A win for accessibility is a win for everyone.

If you own a PS5, try the demo. It’s worth experiencing, if only for the chance to say you have Korean Bayonetta at home.

Stellar Blade is a PlayStation 5 exclusive (for now), releasing fully on April 26, 2024.