Welcome to part two of our Mastering Blade Symphony diary. In case you missed it, here's part one.
This diary series was written for the UK magazine last summer: issues 268 and 269, to be precise. The game has been updated several times since then, so long-term Blade Symphony players may notice a few discrepancies.
Previously: Having crashed my Blade Symphony rating, I picked up my rapier and began my attempt to reach the Master rank—occupied by the top 1% of players. After a few initial defeats, I climbed out of Steel and gained a place in the Diamond league.
Two other Phalanx foilists are duelling in The Street, a rainy stretch of road in some unnamed Far East city. One is Diamond league, the other Steel—but the lower-ranked player is dominant. I duel him once, and lose both rounds. He simply makes far fewer mistakes than me. I overreach with each of my combos, trying to land one more hit than I need to and get punished for it with aggressive balanced lunges and sideways heavy sweeps.
Then I duel his previous opponent, the Diamond league foilist. I’m 653rd in the world, he’s 691st. It’s as closely matched a fight as I’ve ever had, and it’ll determine whether or not I climb any higher.
I go aggressive, landing a few forward jabs before receiving the same in return. Then I overextend, leaving myself open for a heavy lunge that hits me right in the chest. He follows up with a full fast string and the first round is over.
I’m cagier at the beginning of the second match. I evade his lunge but fail to connect with a sideways parry and run right into his ‘washing machine’—the twirling blade attack that can follow a balanced lunge. There’s a window to counter so I take it, landing a full fast string of attacks.
He comes back with the lunge, and I walk into it again. Then he leaps into an aerial attack that I don’t expect, right back into fast stance, and it’s over. I’ve been soundly beaten by somebody on my own level.
It’s a huge blow to my confidence. I consider blaming the time of day, the amount of coffee and practice I’ve had. I consider quitting the server and going to find another Diamond to fight. For whatever reason, I stay in the duel queue.
I find myself facing him again after he defeats the Steel-ranked foilist, who subsequently switches out for Judgement and a longsword.
Round one. He lands the second part of his fast string and I do the same. We’re each playing sloppily: going only for the fast hits, taking as much damage as we deal. Spamming like this isn’t exactly the hallmark of players in the top 6%, but we’re each too wary of the other’s heavier attacks to commit to anything else. Eventually the parries—and the round—go his way.
I think about this diary, and how it would be a pretty terrible story if I lost my Diamond rank as soon as I’d gained it—if the moral of the story is ‘actually, you belong in Steel after all’. Losing this match, I think, would be enough to put me there.
My lunge connects at the beginning of round two. I roll sideways instead of immediately following up and then land a charged, jump-cancelled thrust. I follow up with fast strikes, then another lunge, and then a parry and more blows. He drops and I’ve lost no health. OK, I think. I remember how to do this.
Another lunge connects with my sternum at the beginning of round three but I manage to land my entire combo—lunge into fast, parrying him to the side and jump-cancelling another fast strike. He hits me again but we’re both low on health, and neither of us wants to overextend. I feint forward then roll back, charging up a lunge that he fails to anticipate this time. I take the game, and restore some of my rating.
A new Diamond joins the server while I’m holding the duelling ground—a longsword-wielding Ryoku. I’m able to keep my distance and needle him in the first round, evading his attempt to land a heavy reverse sweep that I’d have a hard time blocking. He walks into a sideways heavy attack that opens him up for another combo, and it’s enough for me to take the first round. I’m feeling good.
I am wrong. He utterly destroys me in the second round, landing a grab that does a huge amount of damage and casts me to the ground. I roll sideways and come up into what should be a devastating lunge—the game shows my sword travelling entirely through his body—but no damage is registered, and I take his full heavy string of attacks after that, and again after that. It’s over quickly.