A good story is essential to a role-playing game's success, and a lack of a coherent story can often be a source of displeasure for many RPG fans. Thankfully, Legend of the Blade Masters, currently in development at Ronin Entertainment, will have a fully developed story that will not only draw you into its world, but will make you actually care about the characters involved as well.
Like many other fantasy worlds, the world of Legend of the Blade Masters was once populated by an assortment of dragons. However, these dragons were constantly fighting amongst each other to become the sole possessors of the five elements - earth, wind, water, wood, and fire. A great war ensued, and after the dust settled, only five dragons remained. Incredibly tired from battle, the dragons decided to rest in five different caves scattered across the land. While the dragons slept for thousands of years, humans became the dominant force in the world, thanks to the peaceful, unifying efforts of a single king. However, the peace was shattered when a series of dark holes began to appear across the land.
Out of these holes climbed the most evil creatures to ever walk the land. Humans watched helplessly as the creatures destroyed all that the humans had built. The king, who knew of the five legendary dragons, searched the land for a wizard capable of summoning the dragons to destroy the creatures that sprang from the dark wells. After a lenghty search, the king finally discovered the only wizard who was capable of waking the sleeping dragons. Together, the king and the wizard, Aberhart, began the journey to find their winged saviors. Eventually, the king and the wizard came back from their quest with the five dragons, and together, they were able to push the dark creatures back into their wells.
However, after the victory against the dark creatures, the king and wizard became bitter enemies. The wizard had an affair with the king's wife, and the jealous king ordered his wife and the wizard executed. The wizard managed to escape death, but the king's wife was killed by an arrow through the heart.
Vowing vengeance, the wizard dedicated himself to black magic and summoned a demon ally to help him destroy the kingdom and imprison the king's five dragons in five swords. The demon, however, betrayed the wizard and scattered the five swords across the land. As soon as the king learned of the dragons' imprisonment, he summoned the last of his remaining knights to help him find the swords before the vengeful wizard could.
Legend of the Blade Masters starts immediately after the events illustrated above. As the intro movie comes to a close, you're character, Erik Valdemar, joins the search for the five swords.
Exploring the World
Traveling through Legend of the Blade Master's landscape seems cumbersome at first: All your maneuvering is done through the mouse, and with an onscreen arrow as your guide, you must point and click the direction in which you want to proceed. Areas off-limits to your character are clearly marked with a red X. While exploring the landscape, you'll notice that the camera doesn't take a static position behind you - in fact, the camera in Legend of the Blade Masters can be manipulated a number of different ways. As you're walking, you can use the right-click button to readjust the camera or simply move the mouse in the direction you want to look. This becomes useful, especially when you try to escape from a pack of enemies or attempt to negotiate the landscape. Another available option lets you change the camera angle altogether by placing it in the sky and creating a top-down view of the action. This top-down view seems to be the most practical when you're trying to find various locations or objects. For a better view of the action - especially during battles - the closer third-person view will serve as a better choice.
The camera, while important during exploration, will be the least of your worries during a battle. Unlike other mouse-driven action role-playing games, Legend of the Blade Masters contains a battle system that doesn't solely rely on a barrage of mouse clicking. When you meet up with an enemy, you will have the option of using a regular attack or casting a spell. If you do decide to attack, the colored aura surrounding the enemy should be a point of interest. The aura changes different colors, from purple to bright red. When the aura is a darker color such as blue or purple, it signifies that your chances of striking a critical blow are far less than if the aura were red or bright pink. In effect, this battle system forces you to time your blows to get a respectable amount of damage for each swing of your weapon. This system might be a little difficult to adapt to, as you may find yourself clicking furiously to make sure that you get more strikes in before the enemy does. But, after encountering stronger enemies, timing your strikes will prove to be much more useful than clicking the mouse as quickly as possible.
Though the battle system offers something new, the magic system continues the trend that is set by other action role-playing games. As previously mentioned, when you encounter an enemy, you will have the option to choose between a regular attack and a magic spell. Magic attacks are much easier to deal with than regular attacks, as you take the time to select which spell you want to use and then cast it at a safe distance. Magic attacks also work incredibly well in conjunction with the three-dimensional terrain. A number of times, you will arrive upon a group of enemies below you in a valley or above you on a hill, but you won't be able to reach them to perform a regular attack - though you probably wouldn't want to anyway. By performing a long-range attack like Erik Valdemar's fireball, you'll be able to take out each member of the group without suffering any damage from regular enemy attacks. Obtaining spells is a little different from other games in the genre. Instead of simply learning new spells as your character levels up, you will have to find crystals that have been spread out across the land, with each crystal giving you a unique spell.
Magic does have an obvious advantage over ordinary attacks, but there are still some benefits to taking an enemy head on. While traveling across the land or completing a quest, you'll come across elemental potions. These potions allow you to add elemental damage such as fire or cold to your primary weapon, which will be helpful in defeating stronger enemies. Going into a specific menu will let you elect which elemental you want to add to your primary weapon. You will have to be careful, though, as elemental power drains for as long as you have it equipped with your primary weapon.
Learning how to effectively use regular and magic attacks on enemies is just a part of Legend of the Blade Masters' gameplay. On your quest to find the five swords, you will encounter other characters that have objectives similar to yours - and they will end up joining you. Having additional party members adds a number of new strategies in defeating enemies. You can tell them to avoid the battle, attack, defend the leader, or use a ranged attack. Using this system effectively will be important in keeping members of your party alive, as some party members are less adept at hand-to-hand fighting and enduring heavy damage.
When you're not fighting the armies of the wizard, you'll be spending a large portion of your time completing miniquests. These quests can be as simple as retrieving some magic mud for a wizard or killing a boar that is blocking a path to something that is a little more complicated, such as finding materials to rebuild a bridge or finding parts of an old mill. To help you find these key items and places, a map is provided, which will indicate key areas and exits with a large blue dot. Places that you have yet to travel to will be covered in fog, while the places you've been to will be uncovered. Completing quests will be required to progress to new areas in the game. And while you don't need to complete every quest given to you, it would be wise to do so because you'll receive rare items - like elemental potions - from the character you help. While these miniquests can get distracting, you'll need to always keep in mind that your main objective is to find the five swords, each located in five different areas and each surrounded by a single guardian.
Legend of the Blade Masters comprises five different subworlds, each with its own unique environment. Some of the areas you'll come across include a forested area, a snow-filled mountain stage, and a desert area. Obviously, each level is a reflection of which elemental sword is located in that area, but the levels also play a large part in your effectiveness in combat. For example, in the snow stage, fire elemental potions will probably come in handy on your primary since they do much more damage when combined with your primary weapon. Of course, the enemies will also become much more difficult to defeat as you progress through the levels, regardless of your strategy.
In addition to the 41 substages, Legend of the Blade Masters will contain an extensive multiplayer mode. Ripcord originally planned to release the single-player and multiplayer versions of Legend of the Blade Masters as two separate games with the multiplayer game titled Quest of the Blade Masters. The plan to merge both games was officially announced a few weeks ago, which should give you an indication of the depth of Legend of the Blade Masters' multiplayer mode. Instead of just offering a multiplayer version of the single-player game, Blade Masters' multiplayer mode significantly changes the pace of the game with gameplay weighted toward action rather than role-playing. The landscape is filled with many more enemies than in single-player, and your main objective will be to kill just about everything in sight.
There is a surprisingly high level of customization in the multiplayer mode as well. You can choose from any one of the characters that join your party in the single-player mode such as Knight Macon, O'Lora Kita the elf, August Winslow the wizard elemental, or Lucan the mountain orc. After selecting your character, you can decide whether you want to cooperate with other characters or compete against them, and then you can adjust details for each level such as the amount of items, enemies, and gold, as well as the character levels. You can even select the level in which you will be competing against or working with four other players.
Legend of the Blade Masters hopes to build on the recent success of the action role-playing game in the PC gaming market; but the game won't simply try to copy what its predecessors have done. The game delivers a battle system that requires more than just incessant clicking of the mouse - strategy is actually involved. Legend of the Blade Masters' multiplayer mode offers a great amount of replayability, and it will make the game more accessible to people who enjoy more action-oriented gameplay. Additionally, Legend of the Blade Masters will be one of the first games released that allow PC gamers and Dreamcast players to play against each other online.