Blade Symphony is Puny Human Games’ sword fighting game. Puny Human Games is probably best known by their previous name, Team Dystopia of the hit Half Life 2 mod Dystopia. Blade Symphony has been in development in one form or another since 2008. In 2011, Puny Human Games turned to Kickstarter to allow them to self-fund the game. Back in February of 2013, Blade Symphony began sending beta keys to their Kickstarter backers and on April 30th, entered Steam’s Early Access program for beta games. Blade Symphony is currently available for purchase on Steam for $14.99 USD and will be priced at $19.99 on release.
The game is still under intensive development, with the game undergoing some major balancing changes in response to the community’s recommendations. However, the game is currently in an extremely polished state. There are currently three characters with distinct fighting styles, four sword types, four duel maps, and two free for all maps. There are a variety of character and weapon customization options, but none of them affect the game’s balance as they are cosmetic only.
Phalanx is the high tech fencer who specializes in long ranged thrusts. Judgement is the armoured swordsman who could be easily mistaken for a tank based on how hard he hits, however such power comes at a cost of slow speed. Finally Ryoku is the masked acrobat who is designed out confuse and out-maneuver enemies with his capoeira and breakdancing inspired animations. I found the characters to be well balanced. Practically every player will find a character that will synergize well with his or her play style. However, Ryoku is still the target of heavy changes as developers are still not happy with the character.
Blade Symphony is a third person melee game. The gameplay reminds me of the first Bushido Blade on the original PlayStation. Skillful gameplay is rewarded while random button mashers will get stomped on. Heavy, balanced, and fast are the three basic stances. Each character has a unique chain of moves that limit the amount of strikes that can be landed with a single stance. However, attacks within stances can be chained together for longer, more devastating strikes. In addition, there are separate side sweeping attacks, air based attacks, charged based attacks with three separate tiers of power, grapple attacks, and thrown weapons. On the defensive side, players can parry attacks by attacking at the same time as their opponent or use their sword’s defensive ability. Each sword type has its own set of stats and unique defensive move.
I will admit that there is probably no word in the English language to describe how horrible I am at Blade Symphony. When trying to find words to describe my performance, words like atrocious, terrible, pathetic, and plain old bad comes to mind. Even then, I found myself having an incredible amount of fun playing Blade Symphony. I found the games mentally intensive and the learning curve to be steep. Over the course of many losses, I found myself creating a play style for myself and honing it in. Blade Symphony demands a lot of focus as one wrong move can result in a game-ending flurry of chained attacks. Currently, there is no training mode, so learning must be done through trial and error in the heat of the moment.
Free for all mode is fun, but Blade Symphony is at its best in 1v1 duels. Puny Human Games has a wonderful web based stat system that tracks player performance in duels, ranking players by skill, supposedly through the Glicko rating system. Duels are intense and are fought best out of three. Duel maps have three ongoing duel areas at all times and at certain angles, I could see other duels being fought through a window. I found the game did its best to try to pair duelists of similar skill levels, but since the community is so small right now, I often found myself being paired with much more skilled players at times and getting pummeled into the ground. The Blade Symphony community offset the sting of loss. Fights often begin with a polite bow and end with “nice fight” or some other polite compliment. Although the odd player with poor sportsmanship will always appear, I found the Blade Symphony community to be friendly in general.
Blade Symphony runs on the Source engine. The popular brown palettes are tossed aside for more intense colours. The maps are designed after popular fight locations inspired by films and television. Animations are excellent, with the acrobatic Ryoku’s moves easily stealing the show. Puny Human Games puts their previous Source engine experience to good use as the game runs smoothly while looking fantastic. Blade Symphony is also great to listen to, with an enjoyable soundtrack and excellent sound effects complimenting the visuals.
Blade Symphony is shaping up to be an excellent game. Combat is deep and intense. It is not a game for those not willing to experiment and learn the hard way as there is no solid tutorial or training mode to practice important skills. However, Blade Symphony is primed and ready to help expand the melee combat genre on the PC. The future looks sharp for Blade Symphony.