Game Review – Stranger of Sword City (PS Vita)
Language: Audio: Japanese / Subs: English
Developer: Experience Inc
Publisher: NIS America
Format: PS Vita/XBox One
Type: JRPG, Dungeon Crawler
Demo Box: PS Vita
Your flight crashes after passing through a mysterious portal. As the sole survivor, you awaken to an unfamiliar land lit by stars you’ve never seen. This land is Escario, the city of swords. Quickly marked as the Chosen One, the Stranger of Sword City, you must defend this place, and choose your allegiances carefully as you scour this land for a way home.
This title is, at its core, a game about death and fighting against vanishing forever. You will discover new meaning in the choices you make to survive against all odds. You will define yourself by the lives of those you leave behind, by the people you align yourself with, and the experiences you have on each new venture into the dark labyrinths that threaten to trap you
Before I get into my analysis and thoughts let me say this, if you like Demon Gaze, and other games of that genre (first person dungeon crawlers), buy this game without worry. As it’s frankly one of the better games in the genre
OK, Lets start with the options menu, since frankly I think it’s one of the best I’ve seen in a while. Fully featured and a toggle for everything under the sun, with one exception, auto forward and skip for the text. If they were in here I’d give you high praise but since they aren’t, no praise for you!
On a more serious note there a lot of options especially on the audio front, you can customise who, what, where and when. Awesome to see developers adding these sorts of features.
You can also change the character designs for the main characters on the fly in the options, under Mode Change Visuals, Type A and Type B.
One of the areas they did half learn from Demon Gaze is the character customisation. Rather than being stuck with the character the game gives you get to choose. However I was a tad disappointed to see the over abundance of female character avatars in the game. (44 verses 34 male). Honestly this doesn’t normally bother me, but the male avatars, with a few exceptions, were pretty much naff in my opinion. No character to them at all, and a good number of them seem to have been lifted from the mobs you fight in the game. I would have liked to have seen some diversity in the characters.
You get to choose Talents, though so far the only option I’ve found for the player is Chosen One, but if you make you’re own toons then there’s more to pick from. Hopefully the others open up after I finish the game.
The element I hate the most in the character creator is the stats as you can see in the screen shot you roll for bonus stats. What it doesn’t tell you is that you’re base stats are all 9. So you can spend ages trying to get a decent roll on the bonus stats. For a supposed random roll I had a hell of a lot of ‘3’ all in a line, and the highest I ever got was a ‘6’ so be prepared for a bit of gimping on the rolls.
You then add the bonus stats as you would in any RPG, so spending some time trying to get a good roll is wise, if not a must.
Life points, although not mentioned anywhere in game are vital by taking a younger character you gain more life points. These represent how often a character cane revived before they’re dead permanently. If you take an older character though you have less life points, but gain more bonus stats.
Personally I don’t like this given how low the base stats are. However it does introduce some tactics into your game play, do you take a young character who you can revive more times, or an older character who can be faster, stronger, and packs more lunch than normal.
Next up is class choice, and you’ve a good selection to choose from so finding one that fits your play style should be easy enough.
Next is you voice, nothing much to say here, pick which of the 18 presets you like, thats 18 for each, male and female. Again a good selection to choose from.
Finally pick your name and nickname, and your off. All told it’s not a bad character creator, just got a few niggle in it. However the creator does shine through for creating your own party. You get to pick different races and talents, which will effect your gameplay. So spending some time planing your party and their individual builds is wise, if not darn crucial.
So what’s the game like graphically? KICK ASS!
Graphically I love it, it’s got it’s colour pallet perfectly fitting for the theme. Something Demon Gaze lacked (Not that it looked bad!). Character designs are amazing, though it does tend towards the usual style for JRPG’s, so SJW shouldn’t play or their brain will melt. The character designs in this release are some of the best I’ve seen in a long time, with a good variety of designs, shapes and sizes.
The same can be said for the monsters as well, they’re pretty damn impressive looking. As are the few set pieces we get, they’re well drawn, well animated, and very fitting for the theme of the game.
Story wise however it’s a different story, like Demon Gaze this is the weakest part of the game, but frankly who cares 😀
While I found the story weak, I found the characters to be amazing, the three Vessels (Rui, Marilith, Alm) to be more interesting than the entire story. So more than the story itself, it’s wanting to see how these girls develop is what’s keeping me playing.
The core story is the plane you were on got sucked into a different dimension (shouldn’t have taken that flight through the Bermuda Triangle!!) You find out you’re a ‘Chosen One’ one of a few that can handle the Lineage Monsters. So while taking care of them you have to choose who you want to side with from the 3 sides, all the while trying to get home.
Unfortunately the story is slow to develop, and I found my interest in it flagging. But my interest in the characters and their development is getting higher and higher!
Lets move onto gameplay, like all most all of the genre (Etrian Odyssey, Demon Gaze, Mind Zero, etc etc) you have a hub city, in this case ‘Stranger Base’ which has your shop and other bits and bobs. From here you head out to various ‘dungeons’ and kill lineage monsters. Lineage monsters are bosses, and they’re the main target of the game. Or rather the crystals they drop, the Blood Crystals are what you use to progress your character, more on this shortly.
Mechanically it’s the same as always, both you and enemies have a front and back row, and you take turns whacking on each other till one of you is dead.
The ‘unique’ ability for this game is ‘Divinity’ which you get from one of the 3 vessels who can upgrade the divinity by giving them your Blood Crystals. The game is a sort of three way wrangle by the Vessels, they each have their own objectives and by giving them your Crystals you help them move along those objectives.
Using your Divinity requires morale, which you get by beating monsters. It costs five morale to use a Divinity, and each Divinity can only be used once per encounter, so timing plays a part here.
If you’ve played Demon Gave you’ll no doubt remember the altars you used to summon monsters to get item drops. To summon monsters you needed stones, and by adding in stones of the corresponding item (cloth, accessory, sword etc etc) you’d get a mob that drops said items. That was a system I liked, even though it meant you were always looking for stones.
Those have been replaced with rooms, you go into a room that you can hide and ambush monsters transporting goods. It’s random as to what they’re carrying, but you can ‘pass’ and wait for the equipment you want. However you only get 4 attempts, with each pass the danger level goes up and after the 4th all hell breaks loose, well, it would be nice if it did wouldn’t it 😀 After the fourth pass you have to either retreat or fight.
Be warned though, you will frequently find high level monsters by doing this, don’t be afraid to retreat.
Ambushing can be a great way to level up your party, especially after you meet the third Vessel and the game opens up for you. Some areas have a lot of mobs that can summon allies. I had one round where the fight took me near 5 minutes and the EXP took me over a level and a half, as well as giving me a Katana +4, well worth!
However be wary, if the fight takes to long the boss will flee which costs you heavily. Not only do you not get his loot, but you wont get exp for killing him (cause he ran away) and the exp you get from the trash mobs isn’t worth the morale loss. Whats more if he flees and you’ve got mobs who’d normally summon allies, they won’t. Essentially when the boss flee’s it’s battle over. So make sure to burn him down as soon as possible.
Another thing to bear in mind is that this game is brutal, with a capital ‘B’ it pulls no punches and at times can piss you off. Especially if you’re in the middle of good run when ‘pow’ a level 16 drops on your level 6 party.
I’m approaching the 18hour mark now and I’ve buried 6 party members and have another 4 on deaths door.
if I’m honest this is brutality was initially fun, but as time went on and the grind became more noticeable, it became more frustrating. However while I abandoned Demon Gaze for the same reason, I find I actually keep playing the one. I’ll pick it up and play through for 20 mins or so, usually until I lose a party member or two, or need to return to town to heal up and identify things; and then do something else.
Yet I can’t deny I come back to this game atlas 3 or 4 times a day, and at the minute it’s the game I play at night in bed.
So in the end, I think this is a fun game, with a few quirks that need to be iron out in the next outing. However there’s no denying this is a huge step forward for Experience, Stranger of Sword City is frankly a killer game that stands right at the fore of the genre, and is worth its cost in both time and money.
Now all we need is for Experience to port the XBOX One version to PC!! Come on guys you know you want to!!