Posted Thu, Sep 13, 2012 by Ethec
It’s tempting to pigeonhole Blade & Soul as the latest in a long line of MMORPGs that, like Aion and TERA and a host of low-budget free-to-play MMOs whose marketers spam my inbox daily, seemed destined to find only niche success at best on our side of the Pacific. It’s an roomy mental shoebox for Asian ports to fall into, and one that many other companies besides NCSoft have spent a marketing fortune trying to claw their way out of.
But NCSoft’s Steve Levy seemed bent on curing my Asian port antipathy with Blade & Soul, and in the course of an hour-long demo at a recent games event, he succeeded. While the art style is unapologetically anime, Art Director Hyung Tae Kim is a widely respected manga artist and, from what I saw, has seriously upped the visual presentation of the game while avoiding typical anime tropes: outrageous hair dye, oversized weaponry, rampant androgeny, and the like.
Development began in 2007, and while the game launched June 30th, 2012 in South Korea, it seems like NCsoft is giving the game a little more time in the oven before releasing the game overseas. Still, even as Guild Wars 2 is basking in huge numbers, NCsoft is pretty excited about Blade & Soul’s reception in Korea. “Even in beta, it was beating out games at PC cafes like Diablo III and League of Legends,” Steve noted. “We’ve had amazing peak CCUs of over 230,000 users with steady CCUs over 200,000, and that’s just in one market.”
Visually, the leap from Lineage 2 (Director James Bae’s last effort) is akin to that from vanilla WoW to Guild Wars 2 . It’s that impressive. From the fluid, quasi-supernatural martial arts combat to deft movement along steeply sloped rooftops, it’s as though the anime MMO genre has finally grown up - especially when you factor in the relative lack of unwieldy armor, overwrought cleavage, and other over-the-top male gaze. It’s something you’ll get a small sense of from the screenshots, but moreso from the just-released Blade & Soul reveal trailer. And yes, Steve gives us his word that none of the cutscenes appearing in the trailer are pre-rendered – it’s all straight from the game engine.
Blade & Soul has the boilerplate story setup of its ilk: the 1,000 year peace has been shattered by an ancient evil. But as Steve notes, it gets very personal very quickly. “It’s your very classic Asian vengeance storyline. At the very beginning of the game, your village is attacked, it’s in ruins, your entire clan is wiped out, and your clan master is assassinated – betrayed by one of his own students.
"So you have a very personal story evolving along with the global story arc. And neither ends when you hit level cap – we’re going to continue both throughout.” It’s a winning formula, as evidenced by the coterminous storylines of NCSoft’s other 2012 hit, Guild Wars 2.
As you can probably guess, Blade & Soul’s combat runs along PvE and PvP lines and is very button-driven. Steve cited the Street Fighter and Tekken series as inspirations for the variety of combos available even at the earliest levels., noting that tab targeting will be available at least for low-level PvE players.