Most musical games are rhythm games, popular examples include titles such as Guitar Hero, Beat Saber, and Dance Dance Revolution. However, Sword of Symphony turned that genre expectation on its head. It’s a stylish music-action roleplaying game that uses combat to compose music, meaning that the game inverts the typical relationship between inputs and combat. Sword of Symphony blurs the boundary between “video game” and “musical instrument.” For the solo developer Stephen Ddungu, defeating shadowy enemies is only a means to a beautiful end.
It also looks slick while doing it.
For those who have watched Ddungu’s reveal video, it’s easy to see why it captured nearly 1.2 million views on TikTok, while also going viral on platforms like Twitter. Sword of Symphony takes strong visual and story cues from Japanese role-playing games. The characters in its world wield magical energy based in music, and they fight an enemy that represents writer’s block. The animations on the protagonist’s attacks are dramatic and fun.
The most absurd part of Sword of Symphony’s development: its creator is a 22-year-old college student. The game was originally conceptualized as Ddungu’s university project, and he initially had no larger plans for the game. I wouldn’t have guessed it since the game’s polish is immaculate and the narrative ideas are ambitious. Moreover, Ddungu was the sole developer behind the game. He confirmed that he was the composer, game designer, animator, and visual effects artist.
Ddungu acknowledges on his Patreon page that Sword Symphony’s predecessor Purpose: Versa took inspiration from JRPGs such as Final Fantasy, Nier: Automata, and Kingdom Hearts. Sword specifically takes design cues from Genshin Impact and Kingdom Hearts and combat inspiration from Punishing: Grey Raven and Nier: Automata. At first glance, the enemies in Sword do resemble the Heartless from KH, but Sword of Symphony isn’t simply a homage. Ddungu told Kotaku over Discord that the game tells the story about his own experiences with creative blocks and being the target of intellectual property theft.
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Unlike the inspirations cited, Sword of Symphony features a Black protagonist. Since most JRPGs feature Japanese characters, this can help the game stand out when it releases in full. The success of the trailer also shows there is a strong demand for JRPGs featuring character diversity.
Sword of Symphony takes place in a desolate landscape of abstract shapes. Yet, the music and the visual effects are gentle and soothing. I’m especially excited about the parkour mechanic that was added in early July. The juxtaposition between magical and artificial aesthetics creates a sense of intrigue that hooks potential players, despite the fact that the game isn’t completed yet. Ddungu confirmed that he intends to release the game in three to four years.
Considering that his TikTok account has more than a hundred thousand followers with only a few videos posted, it’s fair to say that public anticipation for the game is very high. At the time of publication, the developer’s Discord server had over four hundred members who seemed excited about Sword of Symphony and other projects within the same original IP.
The trailer doesn’t tell us who the protagonist is or what his motivations are. The powerful animations tease our imagination of what the game could be, which feels more compelling than the developer telling us outright.
I’m hoping that his professor gave him full marks, but it’s clear that Sword of Symphony has grander potential than simply a “thesis project.”
Update: 8/26/2020, 4:41 p.m. ET: This article was amended to include comments from the game’s developer.