+Strong combat mechanics that reflect upon classic row-based fighting
+Character classes offer unique blends in combat and require player awareness
+Difficult to start out, but lightens up as players progress
+Hiding mechanic offers a unique twist to dungeons
+Character portraits are top-notch as well as enemy portraits. Astonishing artwork
-Typical “become the hero” plot that doesn’t leave this theory behind much
-Combat gets repetitive after a decent amount of time
-Difficulty scaling rapidly decreases and declines with time
It’s hard to admit that both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One have been making difficult strides to be hubs for JRPG titles. The Xbox 360 saw exclusives such as Infinite Undiscovery, Lost Odyssey, and a push at titles like Magna Carta 2, which has been reasonably well received all around. Microsoft’s attempts, however didn’t end there, and remain to keep right where they are at. That was until Sony’s beautiful handheld, the PlayStation Vita for those wondering, received a unique diamond in the rough. Luckily for the PlayStation Vita, this isn’t something all that odd nor is it something all that unique since the handheld thrives like a shining star thanks to JRPG games. Unfortunately for the Xbox One, it has not even come close to tapping into JRPG games as it did in the past nor does it seem even close to grabbing onto the JRPG market like the Xbox 360 had. Luckily? Stranger of Sword City managed to slip in between the cracks and attempted to fill this gap, but for the Vita? Does it even manage to fill a much needed spot in the latest of game releases? That’s where we come in to discuss this title by Experience Inc.
Be it odd, the world seems almost non-existent when it comes to modern day dungeon crawling JRPGs. Sure we’ve seen a few titles out there, but nothing that really sticks its nose out and tries to be unique. Yea we’ve gotten titles such as Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters, Lost Dimension, and a few other various titles on the PlayStation vita, but none that went back to the traditional look of things. Unfortunately for the Xbox One this isn’t the case, which makes the catalog comparison rather difficult when it comes to Microsoft’s home console. However, the game takes familiar turns for some players that are used to the first person view RPGs that require them to tap multiple times to go in a single direction, block by block, which isn’t seemingly uncommon anymore. If you’ve ever played a title like Wizardy back on NES? These game types are a strong nod to the type of JRPG this one is. However, for some of you? You’ve probably imported the game since it originally released in Japan on PC/Xbox 360 back in 2014 and just now made its way stateside in 2016.
If you ever watched a show like Lost, imagine it has teamed up and had a child with a good game of Dungeons and Dragons, and that’s what the game delivers, but with an awkward start since players start out with a rather large plane crash. After it happens, the story takes place of our avatar waking up in a dimension unfamiliar to them where creatures known as “Lineage” have taken over and the monsters guarding them have overrun the world around the player. With a fair number of other humans and otherworldly creatures here, the avatar will be teaming up with other humans labeled as “Strangers” who are also strong and talented like your own, but that would be thanks to the lower gravity.
While players get underway, they are quickly going to witness their character being titled the “Chosen One” who will cause players to put into the middle of a rather large faction dispute. One where their new world is run by Three Kingdoms, all ruled by strangers, who are all combating for Blood Gems, which will allow them to gain god like powers that can only be obtained by slaying “Lineage Type” creatures. Surprisingly enough? Players will be able to support one of these three kingdoms in order to obtain Blood Gems and attempting to return home to your world.
Unlike titles such as New Tokyo Legacy Operation Abyss or Operation Babel, Stranger of Sword City is not an easy title nor is it an entry level JRPG. Instead the game starts out with varying degrees of difficulty that will leave players cringing with each step as they attempt to play. Even on the “Easy” difficulty the game has presented challenges a long the way that will cause players to cringe as they begin to find that even some of the easiest enemies are some of the hardest to fight against. Let alone are fights difficult, the menus for the game alone are quite difficult to explore while players will find themselves struggling to manage through them. Let alone are they hard, players will also find the leveling system is a bit more complex than just achieving the experience needed to level up, but also the fact that players will need to navigate the party menu in order to highlight the character they need before hitting LB/RB or L/R depending on if on Vita or XBO. Once done players can choose a single stat point to place depending on where they want it spent in order to provide a better challenge for enemy characters.
While in combat, players will find themselves cringing in pain while trying to revive party members. Unlike the main character, however, secondary characters can suffer from perma-death after being revived 2-3 times at max. Unfortunately, this mean training new characters. Players will need to prepare rather heavily when attempting to dungeon dive in order to keep party members at full health. This challenge provides a constant new face on the team if players make the fatal mistake that will lead to one of their party members being killed rather quickly. Their revival points? Are also determined on a characters age, which will come at players debating whether they want more skill points to assign of if they want more revives. This weight comes at heavy costs depending on how skilled players want their characters or how many times they want to bring them into combat.
For combat, players will want to spend a decent amount of time planning out their teams roster. For me? This meant creating 1-2 characters of each class and rotating them out as I went back to town to heal, but also to buy new equipment. The reason behind this? If a party member dies, it means that players will take 24 in-game hours to revive. If that’s not enough, players will find themselves rotating their characters out in order to keep the roster full. While this sounds fun and all, these replacement ally’s will start out on the spot fresh or where they left off in each dungeon, XP itself means that they will be under-leveled for a few hours in. Luckily, if you have back-up party members, they will gain experience while resting and as your main team goes through combat. Luckily characters generated by the player will scale to the players progress. It’s still suggested to get them the gear they need to provide a top-notch experience.
While a lot of these design choices are rather odd and offer a unique combat experience unlike New Tokyo Legacy Operation Abyss, players will find themselves managing everything quite easily within a few hours of gameplay. It is suggested to take some time reading the manual in order to learn controls, status effects, etc while players dig through the game itself. This will lead to payers appreciating these small stalling factors once they get underway with the title. Fortunately the complications begin to go away as players learn to upgrade gear, fetch quests, and take on random encounters that include ambushes that players can set up. These ambushes will carrying loot that players can take if the “boss” enemy is taken out in time. This means players can use the “Check Monster” in order to check their levels and types. This will also allow players to see what loot they are taking on that can include rings, weapons, underwear, and even usable items for player sin order to determine whether the risk of fighting these creatures is worth it or not.
Stranger of Sword City – PlayStation Vita [Reviewed] and Xbox One [Reviewed]
Developer: Experience Inc.
Publisher: NIS America
Price: $39.99 USD
Released: Available Now
If players decide the loot isn’t worth it, they can pass and wait for the next group, unfortunately doing so will allow for players to be ambushed in turn. If they decide to flee, they can leave this “Hiding” option in order to flee all together. This option can’t run forever, this means a completing a successful or unsuccessful combat means that players will use and or raise their Divinity Points that allow for unique experiences. This will allow players to hide or flee from combat if they are ambushed. While items are obtained in combat, players can use a “Identify” option to find out what items are. This means they can find rings, monster parts, and or strange items that may or may not have any other attributes to them. From here, players can choose to identify them constantly, but this option can fail due to a players luck. If the option fails the item becomes cursed and will be required to be cleansed upon leaving the dungeon so that players can use it with a party member. This doesn’t offset the amazing art styles that can be chosen through the games options menu. While this is minor it does offer a varied experience for those wanting a more realistic portraiture for each character.
While the games mechanics are thoroughly dismissed in tutorials, the options can be quite easily learned if players have the amount of patience needed for it. Even with this unnecessary learning curve, players can easily learn the game as time goes on throughout it. While it provides a unique experience challenges are present at every corner and welcome players to conquer them by any means necessary.
Our review is based on a copy provided to us by the games publisher. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 7 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter, Google+, and or you can find him on PSN with RaivynLyken.