The Art of the Sword

Anyone who plays video games frequently has probably wielded a virtual sword at some point in their gaming career, especially if they’ve played RPGs. Swords and games have gone hand and hand since gaming was brought to the living room. This makes sense, especially when considering RPGs, which in turn base their systems on the Dungeons and Dragons standard, where swords and high fantasy are common.

Swords basically can be broken down into two categories in the gaming world: The traditional medieval style of swordsmanship (a’la Dungeons and Dragons, and Arthurian games), and the over-the-top, slicing through tanks style of swordsmanship, commonly found in Japanese RPGs such as Final Fantasy, and Action RPGs, such as the soon to be released Metal Gear Rising.

However, despite the fact that swords are so prominate in games, not many have been able to accurately replicate swordsmanship in real life.

When gaming first took off, swords were primarily used in a turn-based fashion, meaning there was little to no direct interaction between the player and the weapon, only a since of direction to the characters, by the player. The original Final Fantasy was like this. Actions were given, and the characters followed those actions.

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Those were the days, right?

Then, as technology improved, the ways in which a sword could be wielded improved along with it. The next large iteration of sword handling in games came with the generation of 3D consoles, such as the Playstation and Nintendo 64. Here, swords got…well, a little crazy. Say, Devil May Cry crazy? Rapid button mashing can lead to outrageous, flashy combos, designed to look cool, even though they’re physically impossible. 

Metal Gear Rising looks to carry that trend. Just a look at the trailer will explain that:

Did you see that? And then he…with that katana, and…wow.

So, where are we now? It looks to be there’s come a crossroads in the use of the blade in games. The button mashing of action games, and the directorial nature of turn-based games.

However, neither truly emulate the way a blade is actually handled. The reason this is the case is due to the limitations that controls put on bladed combat. Buttons simply cannot accurately correlate with the swings of a sword. Were a game to attempt to simulate realistic fight between two swordsmen, it would need to accurately  represent the physicality of the two blades as they clash against each other, the footing of the two combatants  the styles that the two are using, and that doesn’t even begin to take into account height and usage of terrain.

Controllers like the Wii Remote have improved upon this, but only slightly. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword features almost 1:1 combat, but even it cannot replicate the reversed clang that occurs were a sword to strike another opponent. As of now, this is impossible for a controller to emulate. 

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I have an idea as to who lost this one.

The closest a game has been able to replicate true swordsmanship would be Dark SoulsDark Souls differentiates itself from other Action-RPGs through its difficulty, but also, less obviously, through its weight. The weight of movement that is dependent on armor, the weight of a weapon’s swing, and whether that swing be via one hand or both. This weightiness lends itself to a realistic and exciting combat system.

None of what I just said matters though because THIS GAME WILL DESTROY YOU.

All that said, I think the direction swords are taking in games is fine. I don’t believe realism has to be taken into account when playing a game, though that’s an argument for another day. In the end, I think the Sword and the Game will be intertwined as technology advances, and I am excited to see how combative elements in games improve as time passes.