Stranger of Sword City – Xbox One
Platform: Xbox One
Developer: Experience Inc
Publisher: Experience Inc
Release Date: March 22, 2016 (NA)
Nerd Rating: 8/10
Reviewed by: InfiniteKnife
Do you enjoy exploration, fighting, strategy, story, and spending a lot of time doing all of them? If the answer is yes, you’re a fan of RPGs. Something about this genre has always intrigued me. I love the idea of losing myself in fictional worlds full of different people, creatures, magic, and lore and Stranger of Sword City has plenty of it all.
Stranger of Sword City begins with a plane crash, leaving you as the sole survivor. As you awaken, you get to choose who you are and enter the character creation. There are 5 different character races which each have different attribute loadouts at the start and 8 classes which can learn specific skills used in battle. This is a fairly standard start for RPGs, but here, we see a few neat features that stand out from others I’ve played.
First, there is an impressive assortment of 89 different portraits to choose for your characters. The art style appears to have been influenced from different places including The Legend of Zelda, Soul Calibur, DarkStalkers, Lord of the Rings, and even Hayao Miyazaki films. Portraits you don’t select for yourself or your future party members become NPCs during gameplay. I also really like that you can switch the visual style of the NPCs and party members during cutscenes to appeal to different tastes.
Stranger of Sword City is the first RPG I’ve played where a player can permanently die. Depending on the age of your character, they have 1-3 life points. When they are KO’d in battle, they can be revived but lose a life point. These can be recovered by spending a lot of money or by letting them heal back at base, which takes time. Be careful, because if a character loses that last life point, they disappear and are not able to be recovered.
One other thing I found noteworthy about the character creation process is the minimum bonus attribute points you’re assigned based on age. The older the character, the higher the number of minimum bonus points you can apply to your starting stats. You get a chance to roll for a higher number of points to spend but because you can roll an unlimited amount of times, it seems kind of pointless to have a range because there is no reason (other than lack of patience) not to try to roll the highest number to get the maximum amount of points to spend. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to be able to spin until I got what I wanted but it just didn’t seem valuable to even roll in the first place.
Once you get going, you’re introduced to the labyrinth navigation piece of Stranger of Sword City. It’s fairly straight forward to move around. These areas are all on a grid and the map is uncovered as you move through it. I liked the inclusion of a strafe option by using the right stick and quick 360 turn by pressing down on the left stick. Pressing the A button will also act as an action/investigate option which disables traps, finds hidden doors, and identifies hiding spots. One gripe I did have about the dungeon crawling is the metal doors. They make a loud, awful clanging sound that doesn’t feel like it really fits with the game. It’s really minor but stood out enough that made it worth mentioning.
A feature I really love about navigation is fast travel. From the map, you can select a spot and can ask the game to navigate you to it automatically, which significantly cuts down the time spent backtracking. If you encounter a random battle, your fast travel continues right after and you can manually stop if you see something you’d like to stop and investigate or pick up. There are random battles like many other turn based RPGs, but there are also enemy icons visible in the dungeons you can touch to fight or try to avoid. Some are placed in areas where it’s impossible to proceed without defeating them.
Stranger of Sword City has a unique way to get better weapons, armor, and accessories. There are designated hiding areas in each dungeon where enemies carrying chests that contain these items. In order to get the chest, you need to defeat the group leader which is denoted by a crown. If you don’t defeat them in enough time, they can escape and you’ll lose out on the item. You can also allow enemies to pass to take a shot at another item, but be careful, because each time you do, the danger level increases which makes for tougher enemies. Once you have the item, it needs to be identified to see its actual stats. This is automatic when you leave the area, but you can try to do so manually which runs the risk of cursing the item which is lifted with a special item or when you leave.
Battles are turn based but unlike many other RPGs, there is no character animation. You select each party member’s action for that turn and then each move is executed in turn with a swipe or flash depending on the move. The text bar atop the screen reads the result of the move. I really appreciated the addition of a quick action option that runs through all the turns for the round super quick as well as a repeat action option that has everyone do the same action as the previous turn. A move log is available to see what happened earlier in the battle in case you miss anything important.
This is handy for grinding normal enemy types that are easily taken down by physical attacks. Otherwise, combat will be familiar to veterans of the genre. Although there is a skill for some classes that prevents them, one hit instant kill critical attacks were a problem for me when facing certain enemies and really felt super cheap. I reset the game a few times when one of my better characters would get insta-killed by a crit counter and it was really frustrating that there was nothing I could do to prevent it.
Of your 6 party members, 3 are considered front row and the other 3 are the back, so you need to be strategic with who is placed where depending on weapon range, defense, and speed. It’s generally a good idea to put your fighters with high defense in front and your casters and ranged attackers in the back.
The object of Stranger of Sword City is to return back to your own world along with the others who ended up there. To achieve this, you’re tasked with helping to clear the world of enemies called Lineage Types (like bosses) who carry mysterious items called Blood Crystals. In order to prevent them from continuously regenerating, the Blood Crystal must be taken when they’re defeated. These crystals can then be given to one of 3 special characters called Vessels who use their power to give you special skills and abilities to use in battle by spending Morale Points. A few examples of these skills are Holy Light which regenerates a percentage of HP for everyone each turn and Soul Wall which clears conditions and increases magic defense. Skill trees allow for you to build these skills any way you wish and some are even increased levels of previous ones that stack and increase effectiveness of existing ones. Morale points are spent when using these skills during battle and regenerate each time you successfully land an attack on an enemy.
The 3 Vessels, named Riu, Alm, and Marilith are leaders of the 3 factions of Sword City and while none are evil, per se, I always felt a little hesitant to give one of them too many Blood Crystals because they would have pretty cryptic dialogue like “Give me that power.” You have to give the crystals and the main story advances differently depending on who gets the most, but I didn’t play long enough to see the differences they cause.
I like the variety of enemy types in Stranger of Sword City. There is your usual re-color of certain types but the artists got pretty creative with the monsters. There are some strange ones including a hybrid raven/snake and even rabbit/bats. Even though they aren’t animated, the monsters were certainly not boring and some were downright creepy looking.
The sound in Stranger of Sword City (aside from that clangy door!) is fantastic. The music sounds amazing with the visuals and it sounds really professionally made. A few of the tunes got a bit tiring to hear if you stayed in an area for too long but it still all sounded great. The game text is in English but the actual spoke dialogue is in Japanese which doesn’t sound out of place at all. For a game like this, I actually prefer the dialogue to not read exactly the same as the text.
I had only planned to put about 10 hours of play into Stranger of Sword City to do this review but by the time I realized it, I was 35 hours in and I don’t believe I was even halfway through the campaign. I did quite a bit of level grinding like I usually do for RPGs and feel like this one was pretty fair with XP and leveling.
I am really glad I got to play this game and would definitely recommend fans of RPGs to check out. It is going to give a ton of play time and has unique aspects that set it apart from many others. At about $40, you’re getting a great value. If you are looking for a game to get immersed in for a while, look to this one with confidence.
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