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Welcome to my blog about video gaming in Russia!
I'm Tonich, a historian, tour guide and a musician from Nizhniy Novgorod, Russian Federation. And - what do you know! - I'm a gamer, too. Here I'll be dwelling upon what it's like to be a gamer in my home country and maybe just giving some thoughts about video games in general.

Yes, that's right. I did it. I killed off my uncle and mother-in-law just to be able to enjoy a video game. While they were around I just couldn't concentrate and have fun - not with them constantly bugging me, saying they're cold and hungry or feeling sick... And I just couldn't both provide food, heat and  medicine for the whole family of four and play my game without thinking back about it all.

So they left me no choice. I went on and denied them medicine when they needed it - fully aware that they were going to die. But I've already lost a family once because I couldn't feed them - and it's not something that makes you enjoy your video games, is it?

Do I regret my crime? Well, yeah, I started to wish I'd kept them alive after I got a little better at my job and started taking bribes - although only small ones. Still, I was able to move to a new apartment, adopted my niece, bought an expensive present for my sickly offspring and was finally able to complete Papers, Please. Yes, now I sometimes wish I could start everything over and look for a better way. Sometimes I just can't fall asleep and keep thinking that...

Oh, sorry, there's someone at the door. Must be the water delivery.

Hello, Mr Tonich. It is so good that you have decided to confess. Makes my job so much easier. I can not guarantee that the Ministry will take your sincere confession into consideration - you are a murderer, after all.
Anyway, please, come with me. GLORY TO ARSTOZKA!
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As far as I can gather, the concept of an antihero has become quite popular in the past decade or so, especially in videogames. Characters ranging from a young delinquent to a (classic) honorable outlaw to a murdering sociopath have made their way to the leading roles, replacing the presumably bland White Knights in Shining Armour (yes, Mr Spellcheck, I like it that way). And while I don't have any problem with the armour-clad messiah-complex guys (and sometimes gals), I don't think the advent of antiheroes is a bad thing. 

I've already discussed this matter in one of my previous blogs and praised Saint's Row IV for creating a both despicable and likable protagonist. What I did not mention is that there is a huge difference between playing an antihero and a total asshole.
There are a number of antihero types that I can recall in movies, games or animation. First of all, there are those who should have clearly become villains but somehow turned out on the side of the good, fighting an even greater evil (think Hellsing's Alucard, or the aforementioned President from Saint's Row IV). Then come guys with troubled past but hearts of gold (I think that's the most numerous type, Nico Bellic (Grand Theft Auto IV) and John Marston (Red Dead Redemption) are the first examples that springs to my mind). There are also bad (or simply unlikable) characters who are either made to regret their ways (Altair from the first Assassin's Creed, or Luke fon Fabre in Tales of the Abyss) or have been thrown into a crisis so dire that we can't help but sympathize with them - no matter how ugly they had been before (like Seth Gecko from the Dusk Till Dawn movie, or James Earl Cash from Manhunt).
Anyway, I believe that the defining trait of an antihero (or any kind of hero) is struggle - both external and internal. We must be shown that without those unlikely heroes everything's going to be real bad. And of course, they should possess a noticeable amount of charisma. But both aren't the case with Sniper Elite V2's leading man.

Oh, and just because I'm a nice guy: SPOILERS for Sniper Elite V2 ahead. Not that there's anything to spoil there, really.

I got this game free on Steam, so one might just say that I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, but I'm just going to be ungrateful and say it was one of the worst games I've played since Final Fantasy X-2. And the worst part in the game is the protagonist. First of all, he is a bad-mouthed, contemptuous bastard who does not have any respect for human life. And while that alone can be okay, given the right circumstance, there's also another thing: there is no struggle to his cause - neither external, nor internal. Just imagine the setting: it's the spring of 1945, the Allied forces are in Berlin, and the outcome of the war is pretty much clear. The German army is mostly wiped out, and we know that by that time the Nazi regime was throwing out everyone they could find in a desperate attempt to defend the capital: teenagers, old men and the like. Yes, they wear Nazi uniforms - but hardly are they capable soldiers, or that devoted to the cause. Is that an enemy one should be proud of defeating? I don't think so.
Then there are the Soviet troops who get shot even more frequently than the Nazis. Sure, the tensions between the USSR and the West are growing, and the unanimous struggle against a common enemy is gone, giving way to a race for the prize (that being Germany). So we can assume that the British secret service trying to make things harder for the USSR is more or less historically accurate. But still, shooting men who are formally your allies feels really wrong - let alone it being a war crime, by any account. Besides, me being a Russian, I just can't force myself to take pleasure in shooting men who are revered as heroes in my homeland. It's just like making a game about shooting my grandpa and asking me whether I enjoyed it.
Anyway, even if we accept this "alternative history" twist and assume that the Russians are indeed the bad guys there. Was it really necessary to let us play as a man who is devoid of any charisma at  all and who treats every human being other than himself with such contempt? Where's the "respect your enemy" formula gone? All that made me feel like I myself was playing as the ultimate bad guy there, and whenever the protagonist was killed I couldn't help saying, "Serves you right, you smug asshole!" I don't believe that's the right attitude to expect from the player.

And, as a NVRG side note, it's been my 30th birthday today. This year it was a bit on a sad side, as my wife is not feeling well these past few days, and my friends from around Moscow who had wanted to come visit me couldn't make it... but hey, I've received Nidhogg as a gift - so it's time to check whether it is really THE sword-fighting game for me. :)
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4:49 AM on 07.17.2014

So, there's a new trend going on with top ten games list, and while I was initially reluctant (rather: lazy) to write one and thought of just leaving a comment in the corresponding blog, I finally decided that I wanted my write-up to stay in my blog for me to reread it on long winter nights and feel like I'm worth something. :) I'll make it brief though. Because I'm lazy.
It's so hard to rank my favourite games this way. They are so different, and I love them all so much... but I'll try to do it. And hope that they won't sulk and disappear from my game library forever. :)

1. Shadow of the Colossus. It's beautiful, poignant and really one of a kind. I think this game is the closest we get to a Videogame as Art.  While a lot of other wanna-be-an-art-game titles try to venture into other media's turf (primarily cinema), a lot of them completely miss the point of videogames as a new art form. The point is that interactivity is what distinguishes games from everything else, and if we want to make something bigger than simply an "interactive movie" we must make the gameplay stand out just as much as (if not more than) other, more traditional elements. And, more importantly, it should complement them - and vise versa. And that's what SotC does like no other game.

2. Portal. It's short. It's brilliant. And it's got (arguably) the best ending song in video game history... What else there is to say? Perhaps that it makes you think out of the box... and then it does it again.

3. Valkyrie Profile. It had a most fascinating concept and an excellent, engaging combat system that combined both tactical planning and button-mashing. But it's in the individual stories of the einherjar that the game truly shines. Besides, Lenneth is my idea of a perfect female protagonist. I could fall in love with her... but then again, if I met her that would only mean my inevitable demise is at hand. So maybe that's not such a great idea after all. :)

4. Persona 4. I loved the story. I loved the characters. And the music. It made me laugh like no other game did. Even the dungeon crawling was pretty fun - at least at first playthrough.

5. Batman: Arkham Asylum. Just when about each and every one thought the beat'em'up genre was dead and buried, Rocksteady made a masterpiece that still influences games of very different kinds. Not only it was innovative, it was brilliantly executed and polished to a shine that could make you go temporarily blind. But what elevates this game from being simply a brilliant action game is the fourth-wall breaking "Joker Asylum" sequence that parodies the game's intro and toys with the player. Looks like it's not only in Soviet Russia that the game plays YOU. :)

6. Silent Hill 2. I don't think I even have to say anything. We all know it's timeless classic, right?

7. Final Fantasy VI. Besides having (not arguably) one of the best game music scores, it featured a wonderful cast and a beautifully presented story. By the end I was a bit tired of the combat though... no, scratch that. When I hear these tunes I can't think of any flaws at all. So, where was I? Ah, yes, the music score...

8.  Max Payne. An unexpected pick, even for me myself. It's just that I tried to remember the games that I could replay times and times again, and this one was among them. Apart from excellent atmosphere, fueled by poignant storytelling and fitting music, the game won me over with challenging gameplay where I had to actually plan how I shoot enemies instead of the usual going in guns blazing. And there are also wonderful comic strip sections, including a fourth-wall breaking one. Yes, I am fond of this stuff.

9.  Comix Zone. There were a lot of wonderful games on the Mega Drive/Genesis, but I think this game was the console's calling card. Yes, yes, I know about Sonic. But for me CZ really stole the show. While the story might seem simplistic (the protagonist being trapped in his own comic book and trying to escape back to the real world), the game was exemplar in art design and game planning, and those chiptune guitar riffs were simply majestic.

10.  The Void. As opposed to games I replay constantly, there are some that I never go back to after completing, and yet I just can't get them out of my head. I contemplate on the game's story (for it's cryptic like hell), I tell my friends about it (and fail miserably because it's not a game you can describe in a couple of sentences), I regularly find images and music that remind me of its art and soundtrack. I've even written a fucking song inspired by one of the game's locations! And yet, I can't force myself to replay it, or recommend it to most players, because as a game it is really unfriendly... Yes, I am talking about The Void. Try it sometime. No, better don't. Or maybe... hell, I can't decide.

And there are also honorary mentions for Dark Souls, Final Fantasy VII, Dune II, Gothic II and Deadly Premonition and a number of other games that I'm sure have slipped my mind. They are all amazing, they just didn't make it on my list.
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Oh, hey, it's been nearly a month since my last blog, so I've got to write something, right? :)

 You know, sometimes I can’t help thinking that I’m special. One of a kind. No, no, it’s got nothing to do with megalomania (or at least I hope so) – it’s just that too many times I’ve heard, “Nobody plays Grand Theft Auto for the story”. Well, I do! My favourite games in the series being Vice City and San Andreas, I’ve played them countless times. And all of these times I followed the story, with only a few distractions for side activities. Wreaking havoc in the streets and then escaping the police, shooting half a precinct until they call the military and drop a tank on me? No, not my thing. 

One of the reasons for this is that my own personality tends to leak into the games I play, and if I’m given a choice I just can’t force myself to play a bad guy. If I’m given dialogue options I usually pick the nicer ones. If I’m offered a non-lethal approach I take it. I just can’t do anything about it, even if I sometimes wish I could.

The second issue is how I see the games’ protagonists and their limits. Most GTA leads feature the “honorable outlaw” archetype. While Vice City’s Tommy Vercetti might be more of an asshole than some, selling drugs off an ice cream van or taking hit jobs for opposing gangs – I don’t think even he would take pleasure in massacring unarmed citizens (even despite “Mayhem” missions existent in the game). Trevor Philips was a different story, but he felt more like a mentally sick dude unable to control his fits of rage –  but even he had a couple of redeeming moments.

It's not one of them

The same goes for all non-fantasy open-world shooters I’ve played: every single time I found the open world to be stitched to the story. Even main missions and side ones often show a disparity – like they are played by two different people who share the protagonist’s name and face but not the personality. Sometimes the side missions become plain dumb
“I can’t let those two bandits make a shootout in a public place”, says Aiden Pearce and attempts to intercept them on their way… by engaging in a fucking shootout in the middle of a street. 
“I’m not a gangbanger, I’m just doin’ my best to get out of the neighborhood”, is what seems to be Franklin Clinton’s creed. Well, he definitely does his best by murdering people to get an advantage in stock trading…
And so forth.

Then I found Saints Row IV. To be honest, I’ve never been interested in the series, and it was only by chance that I decided to try it out during a free weekend on Steam. At first I found the game fairly amusing. Then I got really invested in it. And by the end I thought that I had finally found a sandbox that I could actually play as a sandbox. So, as has become usual, a point-by-point explanation why I felt that.

1. The protagonist. In Saints Row IV you play as the sociopathic gang leader-now-turned-President-of-the-US (don’t ask me how he did it, I’ve yet to discover it myself). Despite the fact that you can customize the appearance, sex and even the voice of the character, his or her personality remains the same and - finally - pretty consistent throughout the game. It is a smug, shameless, murdering, inglorious bastard (though a charismatic one, I'll give them that). Even their own crew admit it. And yet I had loads of fun playing as a total douchebag just because he (in my case it was a male character) fit the story and the world perfectly. He was believable. Not the deepest or smartest type, yes, but that only made it easier to understand his way of thinking. So, when given a choice either to sacrifice myself and restore humanity or continue my hopeless, revenge-driven struggle against an alien horde from within a Matrix-like simulation, I didn’t hesitate a second. “Screw you, Zinyak, I’m going to kick your ass yet”, was what I said. Because that’s what my character would do and say.

2. The world. Most of the game’s missions take place in a virtual reality, in a simulated city with most of its population being either AI, or directly controlled by aliens. At first glance this design choice may seem rather trivial, but in fact, for a sandbox it’s really beneficial. First of all, knowing it’s all a simulation strips the player of all sense of guilt and lets them go all-out, wreaking havoc in the streets, blasting police cars with RPGs or throwing people through circus rings for points in a twisted TV show. It’s like a game within a game, a sandbox within a sandbox, and even the game's characters aren’t one bit shy to remind us about the fact. And secondly, the simulation concept paves the way for what makes the game really shine: superpowers.

3. I’ve got the Power! Believe me, I can’t express how sick and tired I am of all those copies of real cities where you waste literal hours on dull and messy driving from one point to another, eyes glued to mini-map/GPS, while crashing your freshly stolen sports car every five to ten seconds (depending on the traffic AI and the controls – and they are always dumb and clunky, respectively). And if you don’t have a ride, well, shame on you: now it’s slow and tedious walking or running (which practically makes no difference because, you know, stamina limit) for you.
“Hey, but what else can we do?” a game developer asks, “You can use our fast-travel system, like subway, or taxi, or a stagecoach, or a giant sea monster…” Oh, can I really? Because first I’d have to find that fast-travel entry point by more driving and walking, and often waiting… Volition, however, have found a way to make one’s way around town not only fast, but fun as well. Running through the city at sonic speed, brushing off incoming traffic, then jumping up to the top of a skyscraper and gliding towards your goal in a straight line (stopping occasionally to collect a cluster or two) – now that makes a difference. Also, that stomp move was pretty awesome, too.

Hey, why not let Volition make the next Sonic the Hedgehog game? Uh-oh, looks like the Sonic fans are after me now...gotta scram!

4. The missions. Now, if I were to describe the game’s missions with a single word, it would be variety. While a lot of sandboxes have the same recurring shootouts, races, car chases, police evasions, tail missions (ugh) and occasional police-evading car-chase shootouts, Saint’s Row IV has got activities suited to every fancy. Well, okay, most of the fancies. :) While I, for instance, was rather dissatisfied with most of combat-oriented missions, I had an absolute blast with climbing alien towers, going on stomping rampages or playing ragdoll to the traffic with a dumb smirk on my face. And no tail missions, thank goodness, no tail missions! Yeah, that alone makes it a good game.

Now, as a bottom line, I still can’t say Saint’s Row IV is among my favourite games. But it definitely is one of the best sandboxes for me. It was a consistent, varied, shamelessly fun experience, and it made playing a sociopathic asshole feel sooo great... Way to go, Volition and Deep Silver. Way to go.
Oh, and that sing-along ride was totally rad (I just had to mention it in the most irrelevant way possible). :)
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I remember how everyone was hyped when the now notorious tech demo of Final Fantasy VII intro remade on PS3 engine was shown. After all, I myself was hyped, too!

I doubt there's any Final Fantasy Fan out there who's never seen this video.

Now, after seven years and countless statements from game experts and even the original creators of FFVII explaining that the resources needed to remake the game would be unfathomable, some people still long for the miraculous advent of Final Fantasy VII Remake.

Now, let’s imagine that it has really happened. We’ve seen some [s]bull[/s] screenshots, a dozen of pre-rendered trailers and even a (muddy) gameplay video, and finally the release date has been announced. Everyone’s happy and saving money for a PS4 (because it’s an exclusive, of course), right? But wait, there’s something wrong… what’s that?! Ah, I get it! It’s called the new business model for video games!
So here’s what one might see at a store page for Final Fantasy VII Remake (by the way, spoilers and THE SPOILER ahead).

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE: Standard Edition.  Out on release date and includes a copy of the game on 3 (three) BD disks, complete with a game box and a manual.

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE: Pre-Order Edition. Pre-order the game now and receive the following bonuses:
- a digital copy of the new, remade soundtrack recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra!
- in-game items: Ultima Weapon Pack (end-game weapons for all characters except Aeris, Yuffie and Vincent) and Mime Materia!

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE: Collector’s Edition. Buy this amazing pack and receive the following:
- a copy of the game in an exclusive solid metal box weighing 3 kg (6.6 pounds)!
- a vinyl copy of the new, remade soundtrack recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra  signed by Nobuo Uematsu (Note: Vinyl player is NOT included)!
- Tifa’s full-size fighting glove made of leather and polyester!
- a 12” Sephiroth action figure!
- in-game items: Apocalypse Weapon Pack (triple SP growth weapons for all characters except Yuffie and Vincent), Mime and Knights of the Round Materia and a Golden Chocobo complete with Chocobo Armor!

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE: Ultra Special SOLDIER Exclusive Limited Edition. This awesome EXCLUSIVE edition has been issued in 1 (one) copy and features the following EXCLUSIVE content, in addition to the Collector’s Edition:
- an EXCLUSIVE collection of Cloud Strife wigs, including Spiky Hair Wig, Dyed Wig and Blonde Wig (all made of natural hair) for you home role playing!
- an EXCLUSIVE set of blue contact lenses (please consult your physician before use)!
- the EXCLUSIVE full-size Buster Sword weighing 36 kg (80 pounds)!

Note: the price of the Ultra Special SOLDIER Exclusive Limited Edition does NOT include shipping costs.

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE: The Thieving Ninja Queen DLC Pack. Allows the adolescent ninja Yuffie Kisaragi to join your team, unlocks her weaponry and adds “Wutai” location and side mission, allowing you to unlock Yuffie’s final Limit Break (Note: sold separately within the No Limits pack).

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE: The Red Undead DLC Pack. Allows the Undead ex-Turk Vincent Valentine to join your team, unlocks his weaponry and adds “Lucrecia’s Cave” location and side mission, allowing you to unlock Vincent’s final Limit Break (Note: sold separately within the No Limits pack).

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE: No Limits DLC Pack. Adds new locations and side quest that allow you to unlock non-DLC characters’ final Limit Breaks (Note: Some of the Limit Breaks require the Mini Games DLC, in order to be obtained).

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE: The Mini Games DLC Pack. Unlocks the Submarine, Fort Condor Defense, Gold Saucer Arena, Chocobo Racing and Chocobo Breeding mini games.

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE: The Nemesis DLC Pack. Allows those seeking greater challenge to fight Ruby and Emerald Weapons and gain spectacular rewards for defeating them (Note: the Emerald Weapon fight requires the Submarine mini game, purchased via Mini Games DLC Pack)!

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE: The Resurrection DLC (not included in Season Pass). This DLC was created as an answer to multiple complaints from gamers dissatisfied with the conclusion of Disk 1 of the original game. Outsourced to Bioware, this expansion allows the player to alternate the scene at the Forgotten Capital and influence its outcome.

Explanation: the DLC allows Cloud to engage in a conversation with Sephiroth before the latter kills Aeris. While they chat, the rest of the group shift from foot to foot with dumb expressions on their faces. The conversation can result in the following:
1. Failing to dissuade Sephiroth or agreeing to join his cause - Sephiroth kills Aeris.
2. Persuading Sephiroth to join your group - Aeris kills herself in shame and Sephiroth later betrays you.
3. Talking Sephiroth to sleep and sneaking out of the Forgotten Capital - Aeris gets to despise Cloud and the rest of the group for being cowards and for preventing her from doing her task. Her morale broken, she succumbs to fever and dies at Great Glacier.

Oh, and it's totally open world now and features asynchronous multiplayer!
...would you guys still be willing to purchase a game like that? ;)
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10:36 AM on 05.21.2014

We all love a good video game swordfight, don’t we? 
…Okay, some of us prefer gunfights. So what!
Eh? Brawlers? Yeah, I guess some people love brawlers better.
And then there are those weird folks who stand against violence in video games…
Alright, alright, I got it, let us not generalize. I love a good swordfight. Be it juggling opponents DMC-style, hacking through the battlefield in Dynasty Warriors, slicing goblins limb from limb in Blade of Darkness or cowering behind a shield while trying to outmaneuver enemies in Dark Souls – it all appeals to me. So whenever I get to create my own character in a fantasy RPG, a sword-wielding warrior is my usual choice.
But what I like even more are duels. A good video game duel can fill me with adrenaline, make me feel like I’m really fighting for my life with a sword in hand… too bad a really good duel is so rare these days.
I’ve given some thought to what would an ideal video game duel look like to me. And while it is, as usual, all in the details, I’ve come with a set of general requirements. Challenge is the first thing that springs to mind; an opponent easily defeated is easily forgotten. But, on the other hand, make an enemy too hard, and all you get is frustration. Recently, there was an excellent frontpaged c-blog by Wrenchfarm about fighting bosses of your own size (and, usually, skill). And while I fully agree with the guy on that, it’s only one of the prerequisites of a good sword duel (and sword fight in general) for me. 
NOTICE: I’m going to back my points with examples of my favourite VG swordfights, so there might be minor spoilers from games I mention. Nothing serious though.

1. Focus on defense. Judging from my experience with video games, there are two major categories sword fights can be attributed to: spectacular and more-or less realistic. Spectacular fights include (but are not limited to) multiple combos and super-powered strikes, air juggling, pre-rendered finishers – you know the stuff. And basically, those kinds of fights are more focused on offense, on dealing more damage to your opponent’s health bar than they deal to yours. A few hits taken are not a problem, we’ve got plenty of health to spare, and can occasionally heal ourselves if it gets too close… 
But in a real sword fight any hit you take can be fatal. Even if it doesn’t connect with a vital organ, the pain and bleeding will lower your chances of survival considerably. So it’s blocking, parrying and evasive maneuvers that you would utilize first of all. And then, when the enemy gets angry and impatient and opens up… wham! Well, of course, making a game with one-hit-kill fights is going to be too risky, but what I believe is you have to make each hit count.

2. Outwitting your opponent. So, we’ve learned that the best offense is a good defense, and that recklessly attacking can only get you killed. But the same goes for the enemy, too. Is it really fun when your opponent is attacking you head-on (which is, incidentally, the case in most games)? I say, it’s not. A duel is a battle of wits, as well as skill. So your adversary has to be cautious, making use of those same defensive tactics; parrying your blows, countering back your own counterattacks, flanking you, and maybe even feinting so that you strike prematurely and get riposted. I know that’s a lot to ask of an AI, but some games have proved that it is possible to at least imitate this behavior. Then each fight would feel like a confrontation, and not a chore.

Yes, it's Dark Souls. You really saw this one coming, right?:) Havel the Rock. One of the most intense and satisfying duels I’ve had in gaming.
I’m at the bottom of a small, confined tower. My medium-armoured knight is armed with just a low-level broadsword, and standing against him is this steel-clad behemoth of a man. Nowhere to run, no space for maneuvering, no time to gobble Estus to heal. Two hits of his maul can easily break my defense, the third would squash me for good – and all I can do is chip away tiny portions off his health. So my best bet is trying to connect a backstab. I slowly start circling around that juggernaut, waiting for him to open up. Uh-oh! He’s obviously not dumb and sure as hell not hasty, and I’m starting to lose patience. And that’s what eventually gets me killed.
Five tries, a dozen backstabs – and he’s finally down. I take a deep breath and wipe the sweat from my forehead. It was a fair fight and a well-earned victory. Rest in peace, noble knight.

3. Individuality. Each duel should be unique – or it’s not a duel at all. Be it a boss, a miniboss or just some rare type of enemy, your adversary should possess their own, fighting style, as well as distinctive appearance. More so, if they are given at least some background, if you know their motives, know why they are fighting you – I believe it elevates the fight even higher.

Blade of Darkness (or Severance: Blade of Darkness) – one of my favourite slashers in gaming history and, I suppose, a spiritual predecessor to the Souls series. The game was all about excellent (and brutal) combat, but one particular fight still stands out for me.
I clear out skeletons from the graveyard and venture into a vast, darkened crypt. In its center is a coffin; I give in to my treasure hunter's instincts and go straight to it. I hardly even touch the lid when suddenly it is blown off and a fiery skeleton rises from his resting place, hovering menacingly above my character, then descending and, without further ado, going into the offensive. Judging by his gear and the crypt itself, he was once the king of these lands and now he has every right to be mad at me for desecrating his tomb. The crypt is now locked and dark, and the only source of light comes from the skeleton, making the scene even more eerie. The fight is tough, but in the end I emerge victorious and receive two levels at once (for a game where leveling up is slow it’s truly a gift)! Later in the game, burning skeletons would become rather common, but only the first one stays in my memory. Because he was fucking King.

4. Intuitive controls. They don’t have to be simple, but depth should prevail over complexity. The combat controls from Gothic & Gothic II (which I played before the original game and which impressed me the most) are among my favourite, despite their being confusing at first. For those who haven’t played the games: in the “classic” combat mode you hold down the attack button, then press forward for onslaught, left and right for sideswipes and back for a well-timed parry. When the button is released, the same direction keys are used for movement and backstepping. It takes time to get used to this, but when you do you’ll likely find this system surprisingly deep and much more fit for fighting human foes than the simplified control scheme that you can freely switch to in Gothic II.

It’s the first chapter of Gothic II, and I’ve just arrived in the town of Khorinis. I’d talked my way through a bandit ambush, killed a handful of wolves and monsters with just a twig, leveled up a couple of times, forged a fine sword and thought that I might be getting good at the game. Walking casually through the harbor district, I meet a guy named Moe who starts picking on me and demanding a toll. Ha! Instead, I decide to test my new steel on this scoundrel. But to my surprise, I find out that fighting him is way different than what I’ve experienced with wolves and bloodflies. That, and he’s much tougher than me. Soon I am on the ground and waiting for the “Game Over” screen – but what I see next is a surprise for me. The bastard stoops over my character, mocks me for being a wuss, then robs me of all my money and leaves!
After a few more attempts I finally beat the crap out of this guy and do exactly what he did to me. And my conscience is clear. That was my real rite of initiation into Khorinis, and not some “become an apprentice” thing. Now, I finally feel at home.

5. Rhythm. A sense of rhythm is crucial to a good swordfight. Apart from the organic need to keep up with the pace in real fencing, the rhythmic clashing of steel is also purely aesthetic. Why do you think a swordfight set to music is such a great movie cliché? That’s right – because of the rhythm. Unfortunately there are only a few games I know that feature this. The creators of The Witcher tried to imbue its combat with rhythm elements but, in my opinion, they failed. Soul Calibur, on the other hand, is a much better example with  its Guard Point system. And another fine example is really old – I’m talking of the original 2D Prince of Persia. The combat controls were simplistic: you could only move back and forth, attack and parry. But the parrying animation showed us the hero crossing swords with his opponent a few times before going back to the default stance – a relatively small detail, but it made the combat surprisingly much more satisfying.

Level 1 of Prince of Persia. I’ve finally traversed through the first set of traps and I decide to go right at the intersection. A strange hooded figure blocks my path and, as soon as I approach, hits me with a long object, killing me off instantly. The image on my old, black-and-white TV is so blurry that at first I’m under the impression that I have been hit with a cane by some old woman.  Only later I realised that was actually a sword.
A few hours later I’m back here with a blade of my own – now we’re talking! Clank, clank… oh, that awful sound of taking damage – it still haunts me to this day. Clank, clank… and I’m down again. So it’s back to the level’s beginning – but sooner or later I will have my revenge!

And I did.

And now, my fellow community members, I’d like to ask you, which games would you list as having the best swordfights? I’ve heard of Niddhogg but I’m still considering trying it out... Or maybe there are other games I haven’t heard of which would satisfy all of my capricious demands? :) Please, feel free to express your opinions!
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