Blade Symphony First Impressions
Blade Symphony First Impressions
Puny Human, the developers of Blade Symphony, seek to create a game where varied and tactical swordplay takes center stage. Drawing inspiration from the lightsaber dueling community of Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy, (along with a hint of Bushido Blade thrown in) Puny Human’s vision first took shape in the form of Berimbau, a Source mod that, while offering interesting gameplay, was clearly a work-in-progress. Blade Symphony maintains many of the mod’s original elements, and a larger player base established through Kickstarter and the Steam Early Access program has allowed them to tweak and balance the game to a greater extent as it develops.
It would be unfair to simply call Blade Symphony a fighting game, though there are quite a few structural similarities. Players select from four characters and five weapons, and duel in a variety of settings. Player and opponent health bars are visible at the top of the screen, and matches are held in your standard best-of-three format (but can be set to a higher number of rounds if you run your own server). Attacks are categorized as fast, balanced, heavy, and air, with each type countering the one before it. On top of this, there are tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 attacks, which are determined by how long a player charges up the attack.
Having been built on the shoulders of Jedi Academy, Blade Symphony is quite obviously more inspired by the duels that emerged from a third-person action title than a traditional fighting game. A comparison would be “arena” mode in Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, or the duels that emerge during Mount and Blade’s multiplayer. This isn’t to say that Blade Symphony doesn’t bring anything new to the table, however.
Multiplayer combat is obviously the primary focus of the developers; it’s the meat and potatoes of Blade Symphony. There’s no single player, enemy AI, or proper story (as of yet). Combat relies on the physical presence and movement of the characters’ weapons. If the blade makes contact with an enemy during an attack animation, it counts as a hit. While this might seem like an obvious way to go about implementing swordplay, the ability for players to change their facing during many attack animations allows lethal hits to land just by grazing an enemy with the last few frames of an attack.
This approach to combat is also essential to the game’s parrying system. If two swords physically meet, then the attacks are considered parried. Depending on the stance the attack was carried out in (fast, balanced, heavy, or air), one player’s attack will pierce through the other’s. This leads to every attack in Blade Symphony having an inherent defensive element – players will often defensively zone enemies out with broad sweeping strokes as a result. Each weapon type has different defensive properties to utilize as well. For example, foils will rotate parried enemies by 75 degrees, and longswords do double damage if they managed to pierce an enemy’s attack.
Players can charge up to perform more powerful attacks, often with more elaborate animations. A fully charged attack (tier 3) will launch automatically after a certain amount of time, depending on the weapon. These fully charged attacks will pierce any blocking or parrying attempt (unless the attack that parried it was also fully charged). Since these attacks are telegraphed rather plainly in the game, it allows their strength to be mitigated through carefully avoiding them. This can often lead to stalemates due to neither side being willing to attack.
With such an emphasis on predicting and understanding dozens upon dozens of animations (between the four characters, four attack stances, three attack tiers, five weapons, rolling, dodging, wall running, grabs, and throwing knives), you will generally want to pick a favorite character and stick with them until you’ve mastered them. The movesets in Blade Symphony are tied to the selected characters (as opposed to weapons a la Dark Souls), with the weapons providing various bonuses to certain attack types, and granting different defensive maneuvers.
Judgement is a character that many players start with, and his moveset will be the most familiar to players of Jedi Academy. Though he is able to perform combos in balanced and fast stances, his heavy stance is the preferred mode of attack. Characterized by slow, sweeping strokes and flexible animations, Judgement’s heavy style is extremely powerful. His other two stances are more often used for change-ups or opportunistic quick strikes.
Phalanx on the other hand has a strong emphasis on mobility, and uses a combination of fencing and one-handed longsword techniques. The core of Phalanx is his fast stance, which consists primarily of thrusting attacks that propel him forward in typical fencing style. His sweeping heavy attacks are best to get an up-close player to back off for a bit, with downward heavy attacks serving as great surprise finishers. If your heavy attack fails to connect, quickly chaining to a medium attack can devastate an unsuspecting player who thinks he’s about to exploit an opening.
Ryoku is Blade Symphony’s attempt at an agile and “fun” character. His moves rely a great deal on strafing, and often mimic capoeira. Generally, Ryoku players have to engage their opponents at minimum range in order to be effective, but it can be difficult for inexperienced players to distance themselves from him after he has landed a few hits.
Finally, there’s Pure. Primarily inspired by a combination of Wushu and gymnastics, Pure was designed as an agile but balanced character. She is the most recently added character to the game, and is considered to be incomplete in this stage of the beta. She doesn’t even have bowing or taunting animations implemented yet.
Though the roster is somewhat limited, the variety of movesets and weapon types help mitigate what would otherwise be the kiss of death for many fighters. Blade Symphony is, however, far from perfect at the moment. As I mentioned earlier, heavy stance attacks will pierce through any light or medium attacks. Though they’re fairly slow and can usually leave a player open for counter-attack, the ability to change your character’s facing (and thus the position of your blade in the animation) gives heavy attacks an inordinate amount of defensive and offensive power. This flexibility also results in many players simply fending others off with slow sweeping attacks the entire time.
While this tactic is virtually useless at close range, players will often have to eat one or two heavy attacks to even get that close. There are ways around this, and we do see a bit more variety in the higher tiers of play, but Blade Symphony can quickly become frustrating once you try to progress in rank. Another mechanic that’s been slowly eaten away at is the ability for players to roll and dash – it has been subject to nerfs over the course of development. While in the right circumstances they can help you quickly get out of the way of a thrust or vertical attack, they are easily mitigated by the ability to adjust horizontal slashes. Though these issues don’t show up as often in higher levels of play, many newer players might find themselves put off by the dominance of certain play styles.
This of course only applies to the game in the sense of a competitive, matchmaking-driven title, which Blade Symphony is ultimately not. Though there’s great potential in the gameplay, Blade Symphony bears a striking similarity to the Jedi Academy dueling community that spawned it. It is a casual (relaxed and social, not “for casual gamers”) experience best suited for quick matches between friends. The game’s artwork and music, with their deliberate neutrality, work to this end. Cyborg swordsmen fighting each other in old monasteries, dojos, and snowy villages (all excellently crafted) isn’t exactly a profound artistic statement. In this instance though, that doesn’t matter. The presentation of Blade Symphony isn’t designed to draw players into an overarching narrative. It exists in service to the mechanics of the game and in this sense, does an excellent job. For fans of Jedi Academy and Mount and Blade, Blade Symphony is definitely worth paying attention to. Though clearly still in development, it’s already shaping up quite well.