Blade Symphony bills itself as a “tactical sword fighting” game that challenges you to “prove that you are the world’s greatest swordsman.” It promises to be a game that rewards “skill-based tactical swordplay,” and it more than delivers on those claims and promises.
Blade Symphony, developed by Puny Human Games and available on Steam, is a third-person, 3D sword fighting game that is both highly tactical and entirely skill-based. Players face off against each other in 1v1, 2v2, of free-for-all battles across a variety of detailed and gorgeous arenas.
While the basic premise of a sword fight in Blade Symphony might be as simple as “stick ‘em with the pointy end,” the execution is far more complex. Players have a variety of options available, from basic swings and thrusts, to parries, feints, combos, air attacks, and even grabs.
The most defining quality of fighting in Blade Symphony, however, is system of fighting stances. Players can put their characters into one of three basic stances: light, balanced, and heavy. Attacks made from light stance are fast but do low damage, heavy attacks are the opposite, and balanced is a mix.
Unlike other fighting games, fast attacks aren’t necessarily the best ones, thanks to the parry mechanism. In Blade Symphony when sword attacks collide, the player in the heavier stance wins the parry. So, instead of getting pecked to death by a faster opponent, players can switch to a heavier stance, knock their opponent’s blade aside, and go on the offensive.
Switching stances is something that can be done on the fly. Players can switch stances as many times as they want during a fight, and stance switching is necessary to pulling off some combos. Mastering the stances, combos, and parries is just one of the pieces to becoming a master swordsman.
Blade Symphony offers players the choice of four different characters, each with their own unique characteristics. The strength, mobility, and speed of the characters vary, but the character is only half of what you control as a player.
For some players, the selection of the sword type is more important than the actual character. There are five different sword types to choose from: katana, scimitar, longsword, jian and foil. Foils do more thrusting damage, while the longsword does extra damage on a slicing attack depending on how much of the blade actually makes contact with the enemy. Each weapon also has a defensive component to it, allowing for blocks, guards, or feints depending on the type. Mastering each weapon type takes patience and practice, as each has its own subtle nuances to learn.
While the game only features four characters, there are 20 possible combinations of fighters based on sword choices. Each of those combinations behaves differently, and the timing for each one is unique. Blade Symphony rewards players who understand, and can thus exploit, the timing for every combination.
Overall the game appears to be quite balanced, with credit going to both the number of fighter/sword combinations and the stance system. Some players are quick to complain that the character Pure is too fast, and thus unbalanced, but this is really not the case. No player likes to give the explanation, “the other player was better than me this match,” but that is the only real explanation for a loss in Blade Symphony. Fast combinations of attacks can be defeated with properly timed parries, and the game’s tutorial even covers this mechanism.
While the game does allow you to practice against AI opponents, the real fun of the game is playing online against other humans. Players enter a tournament zone that normally accommodates a dozen fighters, but there is no real tournament system where players get eliminated. Each tournament zone has three arenas in which to battle, and players can switch between these when not fighting. At each arena a player can queue up and wait for his or her turn to fight the winner of the previous fight in that arena. The winner stays around to fight the next player in the queue, and the loser can switch arenas or re-queue in the current one. This system works very nicely as players can segregate themselves to play others in their own skill level, or even find higher ranked players to test themselves against.
In addition to 1v1 battles, players in a tournament arena can vote to make that one particular area a 2v2 battleground. 2v2 battles offer a change to the standard 1v1, and they can be a fun change of pace. Additionally, instead of joining a tournament zone, players can enter a free-for-all training map. Here players run around in third person view and can challenge other players to a protected 1v1 match, attack anyone not in a protected match, or watch other players fight. This mode can become a little chaotic, especially when players gang up on others or run around ganking players waiting for a duel request response.
Another really nice feature about Blade Symphony is that every character and weapon type is accessible to all players from the very first fight. There is no grinding to unlock better players or weapons, so everyone is on equal footing. Truly, in Blade Symphony skill and experience are the only determining factors to victory.
There are still plenty of rewards to grinding out battles besides learning how to dominate opponents. Players in tournament zones earn a note, the in game currency, for fighting in a match, and then they are awarded bonus notes for victories. Notes can be used to unlock new skins, outfits, and weapons, but these only change the appearance of items already available to all players. Players who win a lot can have some very impressive looking fighters.
In the end, Blade Symphony is a really good fighting game for players who want to put the time into learning a complex, but rewarding combat system. Button mashers are going to struggle a lot and likely lose patience in this game. Newbies will have to put time into the game, and some players will have to endure quite a few frustrating losses before they fully grasp the nuances of the combat system. Blade Symphony really is a hardcore, tactical sword fighting game that emphasizes player skill above all else.