Scarlet Blade – This Is What Happens When Looks Can Kill
By John Shadle (Sephorus), OnRPG Journalist
Scarlet Blade is an upcoming free-to-play sci-fi MMO developed by LivePlex and published in North America by Aeria Games. It's billed as featuring “strong PvP elements, a uniquely detailed world, and an engaging, well-crafted story set in a dystopian future”; it's also drawn some attention – for better or worse – as a 'mature MMO' featuring female-only player characters and a heavy emphasis on their particular assets. I had a chance to take an early look at Scarlet Blade during a Closed Beta period – and admittedly, came away mildly surprised with what I saw.
Scarlet Blade is set on a war-torn future Earth, where mankind is struggling to survive after decades of war against an invading alien race called the Narak. After a failed all-out nuclear attack and use of biological weapons that ended up accelerating our own demise, humanity gambled on a carefully-hidden cloned supersoldier project that would be able to repel the Narak at some point in the future. This process, as it turned out, responded far better to female chemical and neurological differences, which meant that our future saviors would be not mankind, but womankind. These soldiers – called the Arkana – and the humans they protected were guided and controlled during their solitude underground by an artificial intelligence known as Mother; however, once the time came to try and reclaim the surface, the humans and Arkana split into two warring factions – the Royal Guard, who believed that the recolonization of humanity should continue as the humans of old had instructed, and the Free Knights, who believed that humanity had doomed itself with its failed weaponry and that the Arkana should claim Earth for themselves. It's a surprisingly good story, if a quick read on Scarlet Blade's website.
Upon logging in for the first time, it was very apparent – and I stress very apparent – that LivePlex took the mature MMO label and ran with it. Even during the first loading screen, before a server has even been selected, players are treated - put that in airquotes if you'd like – to an Arkana that's not so much covered as she is hidden underneath her own hair and behind some machinery and cabling. It's continued... pretty much everywhere else in the game, with each of the Arkana archetypes - Scarlet Blade's version of classes - sporting their own style of armor that's skimpy enough to easily fit into the Chainmail Bikini trope (although tvtropes.org hasn't mentioned it – yet), or most of the quest dialogue making some reference to various physical qualities of the Arkana. It's not so much a heavy-handed marketing strategy and theme as it is an uppercut straight to the jaw – it's impossible to not notice and it's got the potential to leave some players reeling; more on this later.
The archetype selection is vaguely familiar, although it's got enough of a designed-by-men genetically-engineered feminine supersoldier vibe that establishes it in the rest of the game. There's the front-line Defender, the Arkana-supporting Medic, the rifle-wielding Punisher, the gunslinging Sentinel, the stealthy Shadow Walker, and the devastating Whipper. For the purposes of the review, I went with the Defender and her impressively-massive greatsword – although I'll admit to being very curious how the other five archetypes were handled here. There's a moderate amount of character customization available, from face types to hair styles/colors and a small selection of starter outfits. It's a bit small compared to other titles, although it serves its purpose adequately well without being overly detailed.
Aesthetically, Scarlet Blade's presentation is a bit hit-and-miss, but fairly good overall. The graphics – once I remembered to save the settings, anyway – were pretty good, with long-distance blur effects, flashy weapon strikes, and a fairly smooth frame rate. Zone design does a good job with portraying different settings, from regrown alien forests to futuristic bases to remnants of a war-torn civilization. The UI is surprisingly clean for what it presents, and while I can't give it props for originality (who can these days?), it's a pretty good appearance overall. Animations felt a little rough and unrealistic at times, but it wasn't so completely off that it was jarring. Sound effects were a weak point here – mostly with the English voiceovers – and was about the only aesthetic thing that I had a hard time accepting; however, with the title still being in closed beta and a large number of fans asking for an option to hear the original voiceovers instead, this has the potential to get resolved before the floodgates open. I'm hoping that this is the case as well, because the English versions are about the only thing holding the aesthetic presentation back.
Gameplay-wise, I feel like Scarlet Blade has the potential to come across as a huge letdown. The main story seemed like a thinly-disguised attempt to have you hack some things apart before going on to some other area, and side missions or additional activities (at least early on) were horrendously sparse. The lack of variety in gameplay, coupled with the fact that Scarlet Blade does include auto-pathing for quest objectives, made the early experience feel like I was playing a scantily-clad railroad car with no potential for switching to any other tracks. Admittedly – or at least, according to their marketing snippet - Scarlet Blade's major focus is on PvP for its later content; I just worry about players’ ability and/or willingness to get there with the early PvE mission offering as sparse as what was available.
There are a few other tidbits along the way to make Scarlet Blade more interesting as it progresses. Robotic pets can be collected and leveled up to fight alongside you. Bigger and better mounts – motorcycles, in this case – can be earned over the course of the game. Cards can be found from enemies (or snagged on the trading house) to gamble for in-game items. Giant mech suits are available to temporarily boost your Arkana's capability. Items can be enhanced and upgraded to become more potent. Tiled pictured – something the game erroneously calls 'puzzles' – can be revealed as you level up to uncover something far more, well... revealing. There's also the potential to collect a number of different costumes for yourself, which might be awesome if you're into having a Bunny Girl Tuxedo dance-off with several of your closest friends.
Truthfully, I wanted to hate this game before even punching in my login information for the first time, mainly because I've never been a huge fan of the woman-as-sex-objects marketing ploy and I felt that LivePlex took it as far as they possibly could go. Once I tried to sit down and review the game as just another game, though, Scarlet Blade actually wasn't half bad. It's not the greatest game I've ever played – far from it, really – but I feel that it gets more right than it gets wrong. Whether you'll enjoy this game depends on a few things, though. If you're looking for a serious and thoroughly-engaging storyline, vast amount of PvE content, or are at all bothered with pixelated depictions of scantily-clad woman, then I encourage you to look elsewhere. If you want something you don't need to take seriously, want something different from the many available fantasy titles, or if you've just got a thing for giant robots and panty shots, then Scarlet Blade might be worth checking out once the title officially opens its doors.
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