Armor a leg
In a world where guns exist, metal suits of armor seem to have fallen out of vogue. But in the extraordinary realm of fantasy video games, ornate shoulder pads and fanciful breastplates are all the rage. The point of armor is to protect the body from incoming swords and arrows, averting certain death on the battlefield. But how could such spiky, heavy, or out-and-out majestic gear possibly function in a sword fight?
To get to the bottom of things, I knew I had to consult with an expert. Craig Johnson of Arms & Armor, Inc. in Minneapolis, MN, has around 30 years of experience in metalworking for weapons and protective gear. He's quite the history buff, having rigorously studied medieval-era armor and its many forms, and he owns the domain www.armor.com. So you better believe this guy knows his stuff when it comes to suits made of metal. He's not a gamer by trade, but his appraisals of video game armor are very educational, shall I say. Better read up before you suit up.
Medieval Iron Man (Templar, Hellgate: London)
The statement this armor makes: You're the perfect modern-day warrior, proudly combining old-school plate mail with high-tech neon lights. With all those crosses, people will know you do everything with a holy wrath, whether you're slaying demons on post-apocalyptic streets or getting your dance on at a drug-fueled rave. And when you've got a six-pack built into your armor, who cares what kind of flab you've got going on underneath?
Should you wear it in a fight? Sure, knock yourself out. The segmented breastplate is "perfectly achievable," says Johnson. But there's one pretty significant drawback. "With a sword as your weapon," says Johnson, "the flanges on the upper portions of the pauldronsthose can be problematic as you're moving your arms through the high arcs." If you're not careful, swinging your arms up for a massive downward strike can end up sandwiching your skull. The result? Unconsciousness, and a lifetime of shame in the local tavern.
Hail to the Lich King (Arthas, Warcraft 3)
The statement this armor makes: You really, really like death. As in, you alone rule over legions of the undead, all from the comfort of the Frozen Throne. Also, you have no qualms wearing metal plating in sub-zero temperatures, and your helmet doubles as a radio antenna or tuning fork in a pinch.
Should you wear it in a fight? No, unless you want your neck snapped. "Any time you put structures up on the helmet, that gives me a good handhold to grab it and twist your head right off your neck," says Johnson. "It's just leverage; if there's any way to hit that, grab it, push it, your head isn't strong enough to stop that from happening." The skulls embossed everywhere are a bit excessive, though Johnson points out that the structure is similar to medieval Besagues: plates which protect the armpits of Nuremberg armor. Oh, and actually getting out of the Frozen Throne would be a struggle. "With the way that skull is on his belly, that's riding pretty high...he might end up poking himself in the gut," says Johnson. "Being a Lich King, maybe he can just levitate out."
Jawsome (Battlegear of Might, World of Warcraft)
The statement this armor makes: You've got a thing for spikes. You're comfortable basing your fashion choices off of Trap Jaw from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. And you're a proud hardcore raider from the pre-expansion, vanilla days of WoW, when Molten Core seemed like an insurmountable challenge and Fire Resist was actually a viable gear stat.
Should you wear it in a fight? Do you enjoy being totally blind to whatever is on the ground in front of you? No? Then this is pretty much the Battlegear of Shite. "It doesn't look like you'd have much movement up or down for your head," says Johnson. With how tightly your head gets locked in by that jaw guard, anything below your nose would be completely invisible. And those shoulders--gloriously spiky though they may be--would work terribly in combat. "[You'd have] no peripheral vision, the way these shoulders are constructed," says Johnson. "You'd have a very limited field of vision. Anything attacking you from the side or behind, you'd be completely unaware it was coming till it hit you."
Metal Butt Floss (Shahdee, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within)
The statement this armor makes: You have a very nice butt, and you will stop at nothing to display it proudly. You're a deadly assassin tasked with a crap job: prevent some angsty, douchebag prince from reaching the Island of Time. And despite the dreadful conditions and constantly pouring rain, you refuse to wear performance fleece.
Should you wear it in a fight? No, unless you like to stand totally motionless during a fight. "You would restrict some of the actual twisting of your torso, depending on how those suspender things are attached to the uppers," says Johnson. And, if you somehow had any doubts, metal thongs aren't fashionable for a reason. "If that's solid in the crotch area, it'd be prettyuncomfortable," says Johnson. It's not remotely practical--but in this instance, as Johnson wisely puts it, "that's not the point."
The Big Bad Armor (Cornell, Castlevania Judgment)
The statement this armor makes: You are one of the least appreciated protagonists in the entirety of the Castlevania franchise. You're a werewolf with a flair for the elaborate, choosing only the most ornate armor to defend your body. Despite having the capacity to tear your opponent into shreds, you're still man enough to wear a skirt. And, like every wolfperson of Japanese origin, you are an adept master of the martial arts.
Should you wear it in a fight? Only if you are, in fact, a werewolf. "If it's trying to fit a human body, he would have some major function issues," says Johnson. "You've got those big fins up by the head, which is riding down lower to the chest than a human's would be." Even if you could squeeze into this armor, your fighting style would be reduced to a clownish display of self-inflicted injury. "With those spiked bands around the forearms, you would end up skewering yourself in some way, shape, or form," says Johnson, "not to mention, you couldn't have your arms by your sides." And don't even get me started on those metal claws. As Johnson observes, your fingers can't possibly lift those gigantic blades covering your hands.
Why Even Bother (Ayumi, X-Blades)
The statement this armor makes: Being protected from sword stabs is less important than your opponents catching a glimpse of your bikini body. When you look in the mirror, you see little more than the insipid amalgamation of adolescent fantasies, what with the blonde hair, pigtails, prepubescent body, and total lack of pants to cover your g-string. You are essentially the result of what happens when a Russian game studio attempts to create an anime heroine.
Should you wear it in a fight? Wear what? Oh, those dinky arm guards and leg plating? We really suggest maybe, y'know, putting on an extra layer, but those arm guards might be worthwhile. "When you're attacking someone, your hand is the closest part of your body to them, so it's the easiest target to hit," says Johnson. "So forearm protection is almost always good." Those thigh guards, however, would be as useless as the existence of the X-Blades franchise. "The upper thigh is a pretty tough target to hit," notes Johnson, so no fighter worth their salt would actually try to attack you there. "Some of the other armors would be far more protective," observes Johnson. YA THINK?
Dragon with an Extra O (Dragoon, Final Fantasy 4)
The statement this armor makes: You are one of the coolest tropes to ever come out of the Final Fantasy series. Spears and tridents are your weapons of choice, and oftentimes, you prefer to plunge them into your enemies from the downswing of a gigantic leap. In fact, you jump so much, you put frogs and kangaroos combined to shame. Heh. Frogaroo.
Should you wear it in a fight? Yes--shockingly, the iconic Dragoon armor is more feasible than most video game creations. "That upper dragon head portion is just a crest," observes Johnson. "That doesnt bother me too much, as long as that nasal part doesn't come down too far. It's not unheard of that you would have this kind of [limited] vision in a medieval helmet." The spiked vambraces are a little too fanciful for their own good, though; "That [forearm piece] will catch on shit all the time," laughs Johnson. And the barbed plating on the calves is pretty dumb, seeing as you'd gore your gluteus maximus every time you took a squat.
Feeling Horny (Warrior of Light, Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy)
The statement this armor makes: You are the nameless hero of many a JRPG, summoned by the fates to slay an impending evil. Like most vaguely defined protagonists, you're a noble fighter with an imposing sense of calm. You could probably pass for a Fire Emblem character, if it wasn't for that garishly tall helmet.
Should you wear it in a fight? Here's a better question: Do you really think you could balance that helmet atop your head? Johnson actually thinks it's possible, under the right conditions--perhaps if those were hollowed-out animal horns. But if they were solid metal, forget it. "It [would change] your center of balance so badly," says Johnson. "You would want them to just break off if somebody grabbed them. If we're in a fight and I get a handle on one of those, I can throw you to the ground and twist your head around four times before you know what's going on." Please don't, Johnson. I want to live.
BEEFCAKE (War, Darksiders)
The statement this armor makes: Whenever you show up, it's literally the Apocalypse. You require armor that matches your comically oversized gauntlet, even if it makes your head look tiny. You were clearly the product of Joe Madureira's imagination.
Should you wear it in a fight? "Depends on the size of the dude underneath," says Johnson. "If it's Ben [Grimm, aka The Thing] from the Fantastic Four, he might have a shot at it." Anyone without godlike strength or superpowers would find it rather difficult to fight in this armor, let alone stand. "Other than the size issue, and what the thickness of those plates would be, the way this is depicted this thing would probably weigh 200 or 300 pounds easy, maybe more," says Johnson. "And that shoulder piece--if that was solid bronze, it'd probably weight an additional 150 pounds." Listen, I don't care how much you lift or how often you get swole at the gym. There's no way you're going to wear 450 pounds on your upper body and swing a sword at the same time.
Pokey Man (Daedric armor, The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim)
The statement this armor makes: Tankiness is your highest priority, and nothing less than the highest armor rating in the game will do. You're totally fine with donning the heaviest armor in all of Skyrim, despite the fact that it makes you walk like a lethargic sloth in a vat of molasses. It's slow, OK?! It's slow.
Should you wear it in a fight? For as spiky as this armor is, there are some salvageable parts of it. "The skirt area would probably be okay, functionality-wise," says Johnson. "It's the reverse points that are gonna screw you up. Your shoulders and your helmet would hang up on each other almost certainly." And those rear elbow spikes are bad news, on top of being a total fashion faux pas.
Mean Green (Glass armor, The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind)
The statement this armor makes: You're so baller, you put freakin' rare gemstones all up in your armor. That was a rhyme, which we inadvertently make every time. You call your armor glass, but it looks like mostly metal up on dat ass. Alright, that's enough.
Should you wear it in a fight? Nah. "If [those jewels] were emeralds, they'd break; they're pretty fragile," says Johnson. And those crystals affixed to the shoulders will fall right out the moment you got into a swordfight. If there's one real-life benefit to the Glass armor, it's this: you'd look exactly like what Johnson describes as the "Green Goblin on steroids."
Bird Cage Skirt (Ashlotte, Soulcalibur IV)
The statement this armor makes: You are one of the weirdest-looking fighting game characters ever, and that's saying something. Despite having the appearance of a petite teenage android girl, your moveset mimics that of the hulking axe-wielder Astaroth. You were drawn and conceptualized by the same guy that did Air Gear.
Should you wear it in a fight? Actually, you could. Johnson posits that the metal skirt might actually stop a blade, though the consequences would be dire. "The problem is, you're running into physics again," says Johnson. "The lower down you hit on that, the more it's going to deflect because of leverage. You're giving them the lever, because the fulcrum would be up around your waist." So what exactly are you saying, Johnson? "If I come in with something heavy and hit it at the bottom, unless its flexible and could move with the force, it would have a tendency to twist your upper body." Ow.
One Leg at a Time (Female Castanic in light armor, Tera)
The statement this armor makes: You are just another victim of a regrettable MMO trope, which states that the better the armor is, the less skin it covers on the female form. And even though you have nothing more than a thin rail covering your upper torso, you at least saw fit to put on some chainmail pants. You gave up one leg into the process, but still, you tried.
Should you wear it in a fight? Sure, why not. "Usually in fighting, you'll have one leg you favor forward," says Johnson, "so if it was the leg she favored forward [that might be effective.]" And asymmetrical armor isn't all that uncommon, particularly in the medieval era. As with most video game armor, the biggest danger to the wearer seems to be themselves. "Whether that mail would stop anything, other than her slicing herself with her armor, would bequestionable," concludes Johnson.
One-Hit Wonder (Sir Arthur, Ghosts 'n Goblins)
The statement this armor makes: You are something of a masochist, going through hell not once but twice to save a damsel. Your dresser drawers are packed to the brim with white cotton, heart-patterned boxers. And you can somehow make a suit of armor materialize on your body just by grabbing a key.
Should you wear it in a fight? Most def; Arthur's default armor is as traditional as it gets. The real question is whether or not it would actually bust apart with a single hit--and amazingly, it actually is possible. "There used to be a form of jousting in the German late medieval period called the Rennen," explains Johnson. "They would actually have pieces that were designed to, when they were hit, explode. So it would actually come apart and pop away in a fantastic manner." Not the entire suit, mind you--usually just the chest piece or shield. But still, it's amazing to think that Capcom's valiant knight might have some historical accuracy.
There's a Face on my Chest (Monoblos Armor, Monster Hunter 3)
The statement this armor makes: You've slain one of the desert's fiercest beasts, which resembles a triceratops / pterodactyl hybrid. You're also totally fine with skinning such a majestic animal and draping its carcass all over your protective plating. You have no idea how those spikes got so red, though, because no part of a Monoblos is actually that color.
Should you wear it in a fight? At this point, we've covered spiked armor and its downfalls plenty. So our question is: Would there be any benefit to outfitting your armor with a chest-mounted, outward spike? "No," answers Johnson plainly. That's that. As we've now learned, spikes and mobility don't mix, even when you're slaying the smallest of monsters. "This would be pretty unusable, movement-wise [or otherwise]," says Johnson.
Huge Stoner (Havel's armor, Dark Souls)
The statement this armor makes: Rather than cover your body with lightweight, protective sheets of steel, you used rocks. You'd rather drape colossal stones all over yourself, because metal is too mainstream and you're cooler than that. You also saw fit to recreate a feathered plume atop your stone helmet, despite it being, well, stone.
Should you wear it in a fight? Again, this is way too heavy to wear. But if Havel's armorsmith felt like getting a little fancy, he might be able to give the appearance that the armor was actually bigger than it was. "That's why medieval armor has rolled edges a lot," says Johnson. "[Rolling the edges] makes it look thicker, it reinforces it--but [the armor's] not that thick all the way through." Oh, and if you haven't figured it out yet, stone armor just doesn't work.
Luxury Defined (Tolten, Lost Odyssey)
The statement this armor makes: You're a bit meek, but dammit if you aren't the richest and most lavishly dressed person in the room. You're a mortal prince, but you're cool enough to roll with a posse of timeless warriors. Your hair is the kind of gorgeous that money can't buy.
Should you wear it in a fight? Not unless you want to face the wrath of Craig Johnson. After one long look, Johnson's first response was "I want to fight that dude." Besides, gold would make for terribly fragile armor. "[Gold] is a very soft metal, depending on how pure it is," says Johnson. "If it's pure gold, you could practically crush it with your fingers." Sure, you could try making armor out of gold alloy--but no matter how you slice it, Johnson insists that "gold and diamonds are impractical for armor." Bad news for any rappers looking to time-travel to the medieval era in style.
Hit the Slopes (Lu Bu, Dynasty Warriors 6)
The statement this armor makes: You're a stone-cold stunner when it comes to combat, feared throughout the battlefields of the Three Kingdoms. And every warrior, no matter how strong they think they are, needs to know something: You should never, ever be pursued.
Should you wear it in a fight? "Using a weapon like that? There's no way," says Johnson. Even for a master duelist like Lu Bu, such curvy armor would only get in the way. "With the way the thigh guards come out at points like thatif he could spin that once or twice without catching on something, I would be amazed," says Johnson.
Dress to Impress (Hoplite, Etrian Odyssey 3)
The statement this armor makes: You're the tank of the operation. Just because you're soaking up all the hits during battle, doesn't mean you can't make a statement for cuteness with a dress underneath all that platemail. In Japan, you're called a Phalanx, even though that makes no sense for an individual soldier.
Should you wear it in a fight? Yes. Of all the ridiculous video game armor on this list, the Hoplite's may just be the most practical. "You could make some parallels to certain Japanese armors," says Johnson, "or tonlets from the medieval period, which were actual skirts of metal that would come down." The only difference is that traditional tonlets usually stop before the knee--but hey, close enough.
A lot on your plate
Phew. That's quite enough armor talk for one day. While we aren't surprised that most video game protective gear is far from practical, it's fascinating to find out how some suits of armor are closer to reality than we once thought. Any crazy, medieval-era armor you think we missed? Tell us in the comments, and we'll get Craig Johnson back on the line.
And if you're looking for more, check out Gaming's 19 most impractical hairstyles: A stylist weighs in and Lol noob, do you even know where video game terms come from?