Mastering Blade Symphony: part one

Blade Symphony Bow

He doesn’t even wait to bow. He comes at me jumping: brave, considering that air is countered by fast attacks, but I’m not expecting it and take the hit. Phalanx’s third fast forward attack takes me into his personal space to land a solid hit, and I follow up with another jab before rolling and cancelling out of the combo chain to allow me to quickly transition into a balanced lunge, which misses. I switch straight from balanced to fast and hit him with a charged-up diving lunge that chains into an immediate leap backwards: he takes a chunk of damage and can’t do anything about it. The rest of the duel takes place at close quarters: fast on fast, parry on parry. He lands two in a row, but I only need to hit him once. Step, parry, strike. It’s over.

My rating goes up 7.59 per cent, which is enough to take me to 1,149th position. I’m in Diamond league, for the third time.

I expect progression to be slower from here: if I drop a single game against a Diamond fighter I’ll be back in Steel. I head to the Blade Rebellion German free-for-all server to practise. FFA servers like this are where the community hangs out. They can be a little awkward, at first – like your first day at a martial arts club that doesn’t think much of you. But it’s a useful way to test yourself against high-ranking players without having to put your rank on the line.

Most of the Masters are committed to duelling each other, so I head for a grassy area where a few other players are sparring with one another. I beat another Phalanx fairly handily, but he was Iron league. Then, a Diamond league Judgement player takes me to school. Judgement is the game’s heavy fighter. Playing Phalanx against him is like playing the Viper against the Mountain: it’s dangerous to make even a small mistake, as I do in that first duel when a blocked forward thrust opens me to a lateral heavy swipe that finishes me in a single hit. I haven’t beaten a Judgement for a while, and I’m rusty.

To make matters worse, a bug with whatever Steam Workshop item he’s using means that his entire upper body is concealed by massive letters spelling ‘ERROR’. I can still fight him, but it’s confusing and I’m off my game.

Blade symphony ERROR

I break off for a while, but end up duelling him again ten minutes later. We’re in an indoor area and, as the duel begins, there happens to be a pillar between us. I move towards it and he’s obviously not sure how to respond. He doesn’t move into his customary heavy attack for fear that it’ll hit wood rather than flesh, giving me space to rush in while he pauses to think. I nip him with a flick of my blade, doing little damage but causing him to turn. Then I jump back, block one hit, and manage to land a forward lunge. He runs into the courtyard and comes around with a charged-up attack: I misjudge its reach and end up smacked to my knees, my healthbar in ruins. I come up into an opportunistic thrust but it flies wide; he swings and misses, I roll back. Then I get lucky and manage to catch him with a heavy sweep.

We rush each other. The first hit of his downward blow cuts me to almost nothing, but there’s a hesitation – I wonder, briefly, if he thinks he’s won. I hammer a fast attack before he can end it, and the first hit makes it past his blade. Then the second, then the third; he drops.

I can't imagine it’s a particularly stylish way to play, but at this point I’ll settle for not getting a longsword in my brain.

The duel was too close to do much for my confidence, but it helps me figure out how my fighting style needs to change to deal with heavy fighters like Judgement. I can’t risk the close-range parries I normally prefer. It pays to be calmer, slower, to only engage in attacks that will land. I can’t imagine it’s a particularly stylish way to play, but at this point I’ll settle for not getting a longsword in my brain.

But I don’t face a Judgement, when it matters. When I load onto the next duelling server I’m faced with a Diamond-ranked Pure. Pures move in whirling patterns that belie their power. I’m out of my comfort zone, here – I never know quite when to dodge and when to strike. I really, really do not want to go down to Steel. I might have said that already.

The Pure begins by charging a heavy series of direct swings. I get out of the way but her follow up is close and fast and right in my periphery. Half of my health is gone and I’ve not landed a blow. I’m going to lose. She disengages and begins to charge her heavy again. I gamble, go for the interrupt, and lose. The first strike knocks me on my back. I clench my fist.

Blade Symphony rank

She opens the same way in the second round. This time I step back and win the parry, doing a tiny amount of damage. I manage to parry a close attack with a fast sideways flick and then land a few forward jabs, but I’m beaten away with an upwards thrust.

She rolls back and I begin to charge up a heavy lunge, then as she comes forward with a heavy blow I jump-cancel the move: hopping just as the animation begins so that the hitbox for the strike is slightly higher than it would normally be. It’s enough to get my blade above hers. Foil meets sternum, and I take round two. I tell myself that I can do this.

Round three is different—she strafes rather than attacking, and so I press the advantage and land an early blow. Her response is to charge and execute combos that cover a lot of ground, but I’m able to stay just inside her blind spot and take minimal damage. I land another air cancelled lunge and switch out into heavy stance. Once, somebody told me that my habit of using heavy sweeps with a rapier was pointless – it gains no benefit from the rapier’s bonus to thrusting attacks. Here, though, it catches Pure at the beginning of her charge, turning her away and opening up her flank. I land four hits and win. I bellow “YES!” out loud in the office, out of the blue, and punch the air.

The next time my scorecard comes up I’m 617th in the world. This ladder I’ve become obsessed with climbing is looking more climbable. Yet, as that rank number shrinks, every fight gets harder. These fights have been close and scrappy. If I’m ever going to climb into Master league, I still need to prove that I belong there.

The quest to master Blade Symphony concludes here.

Chris Thursten

Joining in 2011, Chris made his start with PC Gamer turning beautiful trees into magazines, first as a writer and later as deputy editor. Once PCG's reluctant MMO champion , his discovery of Dota 2 in 2012 led him to much darker, stranger places. In 2015, Chris became the editor of PC Gamer Pro, overseeing our online coverage of competitive gaming and esports. He left in 2017, and can be now found making games and recording the Crate & Crowbar podcast.