When a remake of one of my favorite games came out for the Playstation Vita, I broke down and bought one. In spite of how good the hardware is, after finishing that game it has been a shelf ornament. So when I was offered the opportunity to not only branch out into a genre but a chance to dust off my beloved Vita I found myself unable to refuse. The developer, Experience, is also the outfit behind Demon Gaze, and in recent years seems to be at the forefront of taking the old school DRPG in a new direction while keeping the core of the game style intact. To that end, Stranger of Sword City is no exception.
The story starts when a flight between Japan and Alaska crash lands in an alternate dimension vis a portal. Your character then meets an old man who gives you some vague information, calls you a ‘Stranger’, and then tries to kill you. This event unites you with one of the more important characters of the game Riu (at this point it should made clear that the entirety of the game is subtitled). Riu gives you some more details, that you are actually on the outskirts of what is known as Sword City, walks you through a few small details of game play before taking you into to the city, and from there your true journey begins.
The first place you get taken to is known as the ‘Stranger Guild’. Strangers are considered powerful people, and refer to humans who have somehow been transported to Sword City (apparently this is a semi-common occurrence). There they mix with other races and work to keep monsters at bay. Riu also explains the Stranger’s ability to use heavy armor through the difference in gravity between the world they’re from versus the gravity in Escario. Riu is also one of three ‘Vessels’ speciali strangers that are considered proxy to the gods of the dimension. The other two belong to the other factions in Sword City; the knights and Medell Co. Beating bosses will earn you blood crystals, and giving them to one of the three will help you unlock skills. Each Vessel has it’s own skill tree and play’s a bit of a part in the plot as whatever skill tree you work on becomes the god you serve, altering your path. As far as the storytelling goes, it stays in a visual novel format, featuring static portraits and lots of dialogue. However, after the initial introductions (which take quite a bit of time) the plot takes a bit of backseat to the gameplay.
Beginning the game can get a bit confusing. The the character editor seems pretty straightforward at first glance but there are a few things that aren’t clear. There are two art styles present in the game, and the personal portrait you choose can be in either one. Also, the character’s nickname is the one that will be used most frequently rather than the given full name, so choose wisely. You are also told to work on your character without much knowledge of what some of the stats mean and how they work. This includes where to put your initial stat boosts. Depending on how your first forays go, don’t hesitate to restart. There are a few points that I wish were a little more defined before settling in. First is the concept of ‘Vanishing’. Essentially permadeath, a character’s age determines a lot in the game. A younger character can recover faster, but subsequently have lower stat increases. They also have more life points. When a character loses all their life points, they ‘vanish’ and permanently die. Older characters gain more upon leveling, but usually have two and sometimes one life point, thus if they die at all, they stay dead. If your main party gets wiped out, that’s it.
With this in mind when it comes down to creating the rest of your party I urge to make them all as soon as you can. First so you’re not endangering the few characters you may have at the beginning and second because heart points can be recovered, but slowly. One aspect of the game I do like is that even when you take a character out of your party they can gain exp, something appreciated because if you are looking for a very challenging drpg, you have found it. This game will not hold your hand, and in spite of how strong you become don’t expect to be over-leveled at any point.
As stated previously, experience works to change up the play a little with their DRPGs. In Stranger of Sword city, this starts with taking away the rogue class. If you want, most of your party members can access the treasure hunting skills. In the rogue’s place is a new class called ‘dancer’. It seems almost like a joking class but a dancer class character has the ability to raise morale and do a few other things that make them some of the core characters you would want in forming your party. With the way skills are applied, and the way the character maker works I find it enables the player to focus on creating a team that plays to the player’s strengths and lets them move through the game with a party they can enjoy a bit more than having characters there for the sole reason of one skill. With the challenge of this game, every part member needs to be utilized to the best of their ability.
Overall gameplay is further complicated by limited items in stock at the shop, as well as most of the useful items being very limited and very expensive. There are also very few ways to escape the dungeon, and no save points. The dungeon gameplay also offers one bonus via the ambushing feature. Certain places allow you to make sneak attacks on the enemy as well as see what they are carrying. Thus if you are looking for certain things, you can have a better chance at finding them. This isn’t completely a freebie though ,since the longer you stay put the more likely you are to be ambushed yourself.
All in all if you are not used to dungeon RPG, I would probably suggest looking elsewhere first to get some footing before moving onto Stranger of Sword City. Both art styles are breathtaking, and the game offers hours of gameplay mixed with a more memorable plot, but the game itself can be incredibly frustrating for someone trying to not only learn the mechanics of a DRPG but learn how Stranger of Sword city works to complicate the experience. However, if you are looking for something new and a tactical challenge it may be worth giving a try. If you are used to the genre and are looking for a challenging game to test yourself, this title is ideal and made for you.Tweet