Most videogames are, at a brass tacks level, a form of escapism. We play out a variety of fantasies in a digital space and take on the personae of characters either of our own creation or the creation of a writing team. MMO’s are still one of the purest forms of escapism I know of in videogaming, and a lot of the time I find myself getting wrapped up in them a lot easier than most other genres. So it is with me and Blade and Soul but perhaps for entirely different reasons. See, Blade and Soul is a silly game, in my view. And much like Alice being exposed to the Mad Hatter’s tea party for too long, you just sort of go with the flow.
I don’t pretend to be a huge fan of anime. I used to be during my formative years but that ship sailed as I aged. Still, the overall design of Blade and Soul is appealing to me in a broad strokes sense. There is a lot made of the design tenets set forth by the game and its chief character designer Kim Hyung-tae’s penchant for anatomical liberties. The women of this game have anatomy that bobbles like a gelatin mold in a minor earthquake and dress in fashions that are held together by the most potent of fantasy dreams. The character creator has a slider for skin oiliness. It doesn’t take too much effort to craft an avatar that looks like Jessica Rabbit. The problem is, though, that there is more to the game than just its outlying appearance, and it’s a shame that the conversation for many begins and ends there.
Despite the genuinely uncomfortable outfits and designs I’ve seen in this game, I still have taken up the basic idea of Blade and Soul’s aesthetic in that this is a game that lets you build a completely bonkers anime character. To that point, my Assassin has a big, shiny dagger and rocks pigtails that would make Hatsune Miku jealous. I’ve put her in an outfit that absolutely screams the stereotype of a kunoichi. When you’re running along the surface of the water or gliding along the air through the sheer force of kung-fu willpower, you kind of learn to let a few things go in the name of fun. And, yes, this game is still incredibly fun to me.
Of course that’s not to say that feeling disgusted with a game’s anatomical stylings makes you wrong. If that sort of thing makes you itchy, then by all means. I consider that a valid enough reason to move on. My point is that I enjoy the idea of its design if not some of its execution. Just because I play Blade and Soul doesn’t mean I should be on some neighborhood watch list.
Combat and Character
Engaging enemies in this game still makes me grin, and that’s where all of the fun begins for me. Watching my pigtailed murder machine unload some sneaky acrobatic destruction on a poor Blackram before he or she even knows what happened is still one of the most satisfying things I’ve come across. Exposure to this game’s pacing has infected me to the point where other MMO’s feel like they’re moving through cold oatmeal.
Once you get acclimated to this game’s controls and the way your skills string together, you sort of change a bit. You become comforted by the absolute madness of the things you’re able to pull off. It’s a lot like a fighting game adrenaline rush when you string together a series of hard-hitting combos, or when you make a choice in a game like Star Wars: The Old Republic that deepens you in to the fantasy of being a Sith Lord. The way my Assassin moves through fights is infectious and empowering. When I manage to pair those combat cadences with the right look, the whole thing feels complete for me. She’s not exactly a very deep-dish character, granted – she’s the sort of person who talks faster than her brain works and tends to giggle when your attacks miss before efficiently stabbing you in the back – but she’s still a part of the game’s world. She’s woven in to the setting.
At that point, I have created a character, not just a “toon”.
The World Around Me
What about that game’s world? It certainly is a beautiful setting, full of unique vistas and interesting and varied locales. Thing is, I find the story of the world pretty dull. I’ve not gotten too far in the narrative yet, but I find the players of the plot really uninspired. Again, blame my ambivalence to anime. However, the mysticism and playground of the world draws me in even if the lore itself falls very short.
For example, during my questing I managed to run in to some roleplay at a village that was a stop along my questing trail. I was almost immediately drawn in to the spectacle, then began to take part as my character intervened on what she believed was a kidnapping of a Lyn. It would later turn in to her and said Lyn going to a temple to pray, then that same Lyn deserting my character as a trick, then the two of us watching another two or three people fight…and through the whole time, I wasn’t completely arrested by any sense of drama as I was just wrapped up in the enjoyment of the escape. The fight was played out boisterously and had myself and my new Lyn friend egging the combatants on, so I like to think that everyone else there were thinking about the same thing.
Blade and Soul is hardly the most impressive universe I’ve ever stepped foot in during my MMO’ing years, but it has this affect on you after some time. A sense that many of the rules can be just utterly ignored if it means things move forward. The Rule of Cool is law in this game’s world, and lots of folks have taken comfort in that fact.
Continuing the Adventure
As I slowly push deeper in to Blade and Soul, I become more and more entranced by the experience, yet still able to walk away from it without feeling lost. That could be owed to an underwhelming narrative, sure, but I kind of think of it as a big, loud, colorful adventure. People adore Star Wars not because it holds any sense of where the future could lead, but because it’s a grandiose space opera played out among larger-than-life characters. Professional wrestling isn’t a fight so much as a violent, choreographed dance. Monster trucks are honest in their intent – big, loud, showy things that are good at crushing cars and leaping through the air.
That’s what Blade and Soul is to me. It’s a professional wrestling monster truck Jedi.
It’s not terribly clever. It’s got a few problems with what the female body and female modesty is capable of. It probably has some of the worst English voice cast I’ve ever laid ears on. But much like a Doctor Who episode, you just sort of ignore the silliness and instead get wrapped up in it. It’s mental popcorn. It’s escape in to a world of high-speed ninja savagery and wuxia beauty. It’s a series of lovely forests and ruins and caves.
It’s a fun videogame. Can’t make it much more than that. Here’s hoping to see you in that videogame. Until next week, see you in the fields or sailing through the air!Related: Blade & Soul, Column, Tower of Mushin