PLENTY OF WRITERS elsewhere have already taken the “right” approach to the new adult-themed massively multiplayer online roleplaying game Scarlet Blade, which broke out of beta late last March. In bemused horror, they warn about the dangers of objectification and worry that the game’s crass displays of cleavage undo all the work that’s gone into making video games less sexist and more artful (as though flicks like Sucker Punch and Grindhouse somehow undermine the achievements of Scorcese or Welles in film).
So since that’s been done, humor me, and let’s toss that aside and play devil’s advocate for a bit. I’ve played it for several hours, and I’m more concerned that Scarlet Blade just doesn’t do a good job of delivering the sexy schmexy experience it promises. Most unforgivably of all, it kind of makes boobs boring.
Maybe if you’re 12 years old (or at whatever age kids hit puberty these days), you’ll get some kind of rise out of its multitudinous mammaries. Maybe the constant tease of pink areolas peeking out from skimpy armor compels you shell out the $20 it takes to do away with the lingerie and reveal Scarlet Blade’s pixelated nipples in all their glory. And therein lies the problem. Scarlet Blade is supposedly aimed at us old fogeys who actually have the cash to pay for this kind of crap, and yet it merely gives us models that look unsettlingly like someone plopped a 14-year-old girl’s head on Alice Goodwin’s body. Indeed, it doesn’t even include what surely must be the most basic feature for a game like this. You can adjust the hairstyles, you can chose from a number of disappointingly similar anime facial features, but you can’t adjust your avatars’ actual boob size. C’mon, Aeria Games, if you’re going to objectify, at least do it right.
In fact, nothing struck me so much during my time with Scarlet Blade more than how bizarrely innocuous it all was aside from some innuendo. (“Are you really turning me off?” asks the girl on the logout screen. Oh, the scandal! “Show me the goods,” a merchant says. Take it to the Supreme Court!) Its story of a race of superhuman beings who were genetically engineered to save the world after some cataclysm sits well in a scifi storytelling environment that’s given us both like Halo and Mass Effect–the only difference here is that these superhumans choose to flaunt their perfection in far more revealing outfits than those favored by Mass Effect’s Miranda Lawson.
I didn’t reach the level cap of 29, but what I saw was actually rather less sexed up than what we’ve seen in games like Bayonetta. The babes of Scarlet Blade battle through surprisingly beautiful landscapes stuffed with a decent variety of generally unsexualized enemies like zombified fat guys, and the banter with the few dudes I saw sounded more like something out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer than even Lollipop Chainsaw. Judging from the criticisms about the game circulating about the internet, I half expected to spend my time slaying malfunctioning giant dildos amid phallic pine trees nestled between curiously repeating instances of twin peaks.
Notice all the gold spammers? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Perhaps Scarlet Blade would have been a better game if I had. Scarlet Blade’s character design cries out for this type of no-holds-barred frivolity; but instead it takes itself a bit too seriously. What we have isn’t Benny Hill’s idea of what an MMORPG should look like; rather, we have a mediocre MMORPG with a conventional sci-fi yarn with some three-fourths naked avatars running around. The great failing of Scarlet Blade is that, aside from the nudity unlock, we already enjoy this basic setup in far better games like Guild Wars 2 or even TERA. Both allow you to create infinitely more sultry avatars for use in worlds that feature better combat, better storylines, and better visuals. Hell, Guild Wars 2 even lets you customize your female character’s bra size, although it has the sense to tastefully disguise the option as body types. Guild Wars 2′s approach to sexuality is thus somewhat like Playboy’s; Scarlet Blade’s is like watching an awkward amateur video shoot filmed in a dingy garage.
More importantly, these two games “get” what Scarlet Blade does not; namely, for scantily clad women in video games to retail their appeal beyond an hour or so, the gameplay’s got to be as good as the goods. Scarlet Blade fails miserably in this regard. Quests tend to outpace your leveling speed, so you spend an inordinate time grinding (was that term ever more appropriate?) just to be able to equip the quest reward you received 30 minutes ago. Combat’s decent enough (shockingly), but ranged classes like the Punisher trigger boredom, while potentially unique classes like the Whipper lack dynamic elements that would make combat more fun than circling through rotations. In time, even the act of grinding with your barely clothed avatar isn’t sufficient to hold your attention, and when you finally start zooming to get a better look at the action instead of the assets, that’s when you know Scarlet Blade’s lost you. Worse yet, I found that the sight of so many similar breasts eventually inspired about as much arousal as gawking at tribal women in old National Geographics.
To be fair, the strip-poker styled puzzles are a nice touch.
Let’s go even one step further. I’ve read some high-minded words about how games like this must be “dangerous,” but the only danger I saw is the one it poses to your wallet. Never mind the $20 charge to see some nip; stories abound of hapless players who spent around $500 on Aeria’s “Gatcha” boxes in the hopes of scoring some special slinky lingerie for their avatars. Gambling items like this are common to free-to-play MMORPGs, but it’s worth wondering why anyone would throw that kind of money around just to frolic with a naked avatar when the entire internet’s chock full of the real thing for free. Take it from us, if you’ve just gotta play an MMORPG with hot female characters, go play something better like TERA, which is similar enough to Scarlet Blade to serve your needs while delivering better gameplay. If you’re just interested in hot, real women without the BS, just stick with the Smoking Jacket. We’ve got you covered.