Sword of Symphony, the in-development music-based JRPG from solo developer Stephen Ddungu, is back in the public conversation again. Apparently, after director Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hit theaters earlier this month, Ddungu’s fans took to Twitter to share an odd occurrence: One particular fight scene in the Doctor Strange sequel looks so similar to Sword of Symphony that many suspect Marvel Studios might’ve copied a sequence from Ddungu’s Kingdom Hearts-inspired game.
Ddungu has been working on Sword of Symphony for approximately two years now, showing off bits of development on social media sites like TikTok and Twitter. The game, which initially started as his senior thesis for college, quickly blew up because of its very obvious Black protagonist and super flashy rhythm-based combat with the player character using magical music notes to slay enemies. While it takes some inspiration from Kingdom Hearts, Ddungu noted on his Patreon that Sword of Symphony also pulls from other JRPGs like Final Fantasy and NieR: Automata. It’s easy to see why it became so popular when you see some gameplay. I mean, the game’s Twitter account boasts some 50k followers and its reveal video amassed millions of views on TikTok.
So, it was weird for many folks who left Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness after it landed in theaters worldwide on May 6 to see such striking similarities between the two. Apparently, there’s a fight scene in the Doctor Strange sequel in which the titular hero, played by the charming Benedict Cumberbatch, battles himself using the musical symbols for things like half and quarter notes. Sword of Symphony also uses music notes, but what supposedly makes the two scenes nearly identical to each other is how they’re executed.
In the Doctor Strange fight, the main character shoots an ethereal bar of music at a copy of himself, who blocks it with an energy circle. While emanating magic and projecting energy is typical for the Doctor Strange universe, this particular fight in the film looks just like Sword of Symphony combo videos showing the protagonist also using energy to shoot magic music notes. The film’s scene even features clear musical sounds that sync up to the action that very much mirrors Sword of Symphony’s audio design. The similarities are truly uncanny.
Folks took to social media to discuss the matter, with many echoing the sentiment that they immediately thought of Ddungu and Sword of Symphony when watching that specific Doctor Strange fight sequence. You can see the same kinda comments all over his TikTok, too. Ddungu was also shook by the sameness, saying he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Marvel copied him during the film’s “significant” reshoots.
Ddungu told Kotaku over Twitter DMs that the music fight scene in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was born during those reshoots, which started about three months after Sword of Symphony took off online.
“Based on a multitude of primary sources that support the notion they did, I’d say it’s ‘highly probable’ and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true,” Ddungu said. “Therefore, all the sources (which quote the people who made the film directly) strongly imply the scene wasn’t in the film’s original script and that it was a last-minute move executed at least three months after Sword of Symphony went viral and received praise for its concept. So when everyone’s telling me they ripped off my work, after scrutinising the surrounding evidence, I can understand why people have that view.”
Ddungu said he knows the idea of fighting with music isn’t new. It’s why he hasn’t sought to patent it or anything. In fact, the broader point he was trying to make clear, Ddungu said, is that “the way I express the idea is original, not necessarily the core idea itself, and that other franchises that use the concept do it in their own unique ways.” What rubs him the wrong way about this is that, if his work was copied, Marvel Studios and Sam Raimi “could have executed the idea in their own unique way” instead of coming out with something that “everyone has pointed out looks like an attempt to copy mine with infinitesimal changes.” He’d be down to work with Marvel if it approached him. He just hopes big studios give credit if they were in fact inspired by others’ works, though says studios are “under no obligation if they’re simply inspired by me.”
“I feel it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a Black creator, but instead (if it’s indeed true they copied me) it’s another case of creatives ripping off ideas from other creatives, which is hardly uncommon for big production studios.”
Kotaku has reached out to Disney and Marvel Studios for comment.
Update: 5/17/22, 3:35 p.m. ET: Added more statements from the developer.