Blades of steel
Oh sure, Cloud Strife's person-sized Buster Sword looks pretty cool...but if you were going toe-to-toe with an opponent, you'd probably be better off with a plastic butter knife for a weapon. Video games and real-world science get along like vegans and cannibals--for proof, just look at how they treat hair, armor, mortal wounds, and spatial reality. This is especially true when it comes to swords: Each and every law of physics gets brushed aside in the name of fantastical, intimidating blades that no human could ever actually wield.
But what would happen if they tried? I showed the 19 most iconic, outlandish video game swords to two experts: historical fencing guru and ARMA director John Clements, and Craig Johnson of Arms & Armor, the metallurgist (who you might recognize from my recent feature on armor) that's been teaching and practicing Western martial arts for upwards of 35 years, dealing with everything from stage combat to sport fencing. These guys know sharp weaponry like the back of their hand--but would they actually take any of these insanely ornate blades to a duel? Only one way to find out.
Schwing (Strider Hiryu's Falchion cypher, Strider)
The statement this sword makes: You're a simple future ninja, with simple future ninja tastes in sabers. You're an elite assassin with a soft side, judging from how often you surround yourself with robotic animals. And you never drive or ride public transit--whenever you arrive on the scene, it's always via a gigantic, Eagle-shaped hang glider.
Should you wield it in a fight? Absolutely, provided you've mastered the right techniques. "He's using it like the Okinawan tonfa," says Clements, making note of the single cross that acts as a handle. Clements recommends that you hold a cypher in a stance called "The Hanging Point," because "from that position, he can then do a reverse downward slice--a right-to-left slash." That posture would also let Strider guard his lower body fairly easily--perfect for when his opponent starts spamming crouching jabs in any Marvel vs. Capcom game.
Creepy Crawly (Quelaag's Furysword, Dark Souls)
The statement this sword makes: You've come face-to-face-to-face with a woman's naked torso affixed to a horrifying spider's body. Upon besting the frightful creature, you decided to craft a souvenir to commemorate this lovely memory: one of her amputated limbs. What the hell is wrong with you?
Should you wield it in a fight? If you can find one, go ahead and use it. "If it's [part of] an exoskeleton, it might be super lightand knowing how certain aspects of the bug world are, it could be super strong, too," says Johnson. And the leg's spiny shape would still cut just as well; as Johnson notes, "You've got some South Pacific swords made out of sawbills, or shark's teeth [which were implanted into] a chunk of wood. So that would be similar, in a way." And this kind of resourceful use of animal parts as blades isn't anything new. "Natural material weapons are not unknown," says Johnson. "A lot of times, when they had the melees [in medieval tournaments], they would use chunks of baleen from whales to create the sword blades." Huh--learn something new every day!
To Scale (Rathalos Flamesword, Monster Hunter 3)
The statement this sword makes: You're the kind of DIY-minded, innovative hunter who saw a dragon's scale and thought "Hey, I could craft a weapon from that." Only later did it occur to you how duct-taping a dinky piece of wood to a giant blade might not make such an effective longsword.
Should you wield it in a fight? Against something that isn't a gigantic monster? Hell no. "The width of the blade means it's unwieldy; you cannot transition from warding to cutting, from slicing to thrusting," says Clements. "You can't transition. It doesn't have [any] versatility because of the width. The wider the blade, the more mass, the more surface area would have to go into the target--and then there's friction." And that's discounting the giant spiked edge, which would catch on anything and everything. At best, this Flamesword might work as a giant chopping weapon, but you could never actually win a one-on-one duel with this kind of raw, inaccurate power. Clements puts it another way: "You wouldn't use a meat cleaver to skin a tomato."
Wave Blade 64 (Kain's Soul Reaver, Legacy of Kain)
The statement this sword makes: You're an immortal vampire who's constantly flipflopping between villain and antihero status. Your weapon is important enough to span an entire series, with the added ability to drain your opponent's blood like a metal silly straw. It even doubles as a handy soul storage system.
Should you wield it in a fight? Definitely--it may even give you a distinct advantage. Turns out, the wavy curvature of the blade could actually psyche your opponent out mid-duel. "The correct term [for the European form] is flammarda form of decorative blade," says Johnson. "In use, they may have had a sensory [benefit]. There's a tactile component of using a sword [in] its play with another sword; how you feel the other sword moving across your sword. It probably would disconcert someone who hasn't fought against something like that before." That's what those losing duelists get for not doing their sword homework.
Louis Armstrong (Jazz's broadsword, Eternal Sonata)
The statement this sword makes: You couldn't decide between using a trumpet or a blade as a weapon, so you just combined them. You're a stoic, natural-born leader that calls the shots for the Andantino resistance. It's been hard getting by when everyone keeps mistaking you for the smooth-talking Transformer of the same name.
Should you wield it in a fight? Even without any brass trumpet pistons or trombone slides attached, this sword still makes no sense. "It's impractical because of its mass and its weight," says Clements. "The average [historical] sword was about three pounds; even your greatswords would be in the four-pound range. Real swords are no heavier than a six-pack of soda." But given the thick blade, this broadsword is far too heavy--swinging that kind of weight around would be like trying to utilize an elongated bowling ball as an effective weapon. Worse still, an opponent could easily grab those frets, letting him "hold [your sword] in place while he takes your head off or cuts through your thighs," says Clements. I doubt I'd be too jazzed in that scenario.
Whip It Good (Ivy Valentine's snake sword)
The statement this sword makes: You wanted a weapon that could really tie together your dominatrix look. With your golden stilettos and extremely tight leather strangling your enormous bust, a sword-whip hybrid was the perfect cherry on top. And really, no other weapon could pull off your trademark Calamity Symphony combo anyway.
Should you wield it in a fight? The real question is, could you actually craft a sword that morphs into a whip at a moment's notice? "Anything's possible with enough money and time," laughs Johnson. One thing's for sure: Ivy would have little to no blade strength when her weapon was in sword form. "It would really [depend on] how those things nest together," says Johnson. "You're running into all sorts of engineering issuesthe further out on the sword [that joint] is, the more leverage that joint has to somehow counteract." Getting hit in the face with a whip that has sharp bits of metal attached would certainly hurt--but as a sword, Valentine's weapon would go limp in an instant.
Cherry Finish (Monado, Xenoblade Chronicles)
The statement this sword makes: You want the power of a lightsaber, in the form that looks like a space-age keychain toy. When you wield this weapon, the universe seems to align in your favor--by calculating the trajectory of every particle in existence, it's almost as if you can predict the future. Trippy.
Should you wield it in a fight? Setting aside the whole precognizance, future-sight thing, the Monado probably shouldn't be your first pick for a swordfight. "The thicker the blade, the more material it has to push out of the way as it enters into the target," says Clements. "So if you have a blade that's very thick, it has to have a curvature and a really hard edge in order to slash." And that giant ring in the blade wouldn't serve much of a purpose, besides giving your opponent something to grab onto and wrench the weapon from your hands. "This would be something you could slice with," concludes Clements, "but it's impractical because there are far more maneuverable and agile designs, that don't have the deficiencies [that come with] a big hole."
Gun to a Swordfight (Squall Leonhart's Revolver Gunblade, Final Fantasy 8)
The statement this sword makes: You had the gall to replace the barrel of a pistol with a blade, and nobody called you out on how ridiculous that was. To make matters worse, this gun doesn't actually shoot bullets; instead, pulling the trigger amps up the blade with a jolt of energy. You like posing with your gunblade while wearing your leather jacket, because you're convinced it looks totally bad-ass.
Should you wield it in a fight? Sure--it's practically been done before. "In the 16th century, [weaponsmiths] did devise a couple of swords that had pistols attached to them," says Clements. "They were actually more like pistols with a blade attached; you get that one shot, then you basically have a machete." Surprisingly, the pistol grip could work: "I would not expect that to be that heavy," says Clements, "because that blade could be fairly thin, and the balance of it would be countered. The thing that would bother me is the chain--that could easily flick around and smack you in the hand, wrist or face as you're doing certain techniques." It seems Squall's accessorizing comes at a price.
Liquid Cool (Tidus' Brotherhood, Final Fantasy 10)
The statement this sword makes: You and water go way back--the majority of your body's made of it, and you're always decked out in your aquatic blitzball uniform. You're particularly bad at expressing your feelings, so you flirt with girls by laughing loudly and awkwardly at nothing. Chin up, buddy--we've all been there.
Should you wield it in a fight? Er, no. The blade seems to be constructed from a strange, water-like material, which already makes no physical sense (or maybe it's just a transparent casing for liquids, like those crazy goldfish disco boots). But the sword's construction isn't so great, either. "I'm not even sure which part is edged," says Johnson. "If the [upper] spike was off the back edge, it would seem to be a little more functional to me." No matter how you slice it, that hooked shape makes this weapon more of a barbed fishing spear than a viable sword.