Stranger of Sword City Review


Stranger of Sword City Boxart

Developer: Experience Inc.
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation Vita

You awake among the rubble of a plane crash, seemingly the sole survivor, and find yourself lost within unfamiliar ruins. As you make your way out, you learn that you were transported to an unknown location known as Escario, the Sword City – a city beset by monsters. Facing a deadly wyvern, you are saved by a strange young woman. She, too, has been warped to this land, and takes you to meet others that have experienced the same thing. So begins your journey in Stranger of Sword City.

Stranger of Sword City is very much a Wizardry-inspired dungeon crawler in the same vein as Demon Gaze and earlier Experience games. The gameplay cycle is standard dungeon crawler fare: you and your party move along grid-based dungeons in first-person with serviceable environments and plenty of random and fixed battles. It’s in the details that Stranger of Sword City distinguishes itself among the recent resurgence of the dungeon crawling genre.

Stranger of Sword City may not be post-apocalyptic Earth, but the atmosphere and story channel Shin Megami Tensei vibes. The character and enemy art is gorgeously dark and fitting with its definite Western influence, although there is an option to use a separate character art that is more anime-styled. Early on, you’re introduced to the three factions that roughly translate to Law, Chaos and Neutral routes, and decide which of these paths to follow. However, this choice isn’t made through dialogue options (most of which have no discernible impact), but by directly giving each of the three factions power through Blood Crystals that you find throughout your journey.

Stranger of Sword City 3

Blood Crystals are gained through beating special types of monsters known as Lineage Monsters. These are then given to your choice of the three above, not only to put them one step closer to achieving their goal, but to also give you new powers to use in battle called Divinities. During battle, your party gains Morale points which can be used at the beginning of each turn on a Divinity, giving you an edge in battle. Much of Stranger of Sword City is built around finding Lineage Monsters, with a few hints and locations given as areas are unlocked. And there are dozens of Lineage Monsters to find and fight as you progress.

A big distinguishing feature of Stranger of Sword City is that, outside of the first dungeon, there are almost always three different dungeons available to dive into at any time. If you’re running into a wall in one dungeon, all you need to do is start exploring a different one. It always feels like you’re moving forward and defeating new Lineages. And while there are tons of Lineage Monsters to seek out, only a few are explicitly needed to continue the story. Other story elements are gated by beating a certain majority of Lineages. This allows for the leniency to ignore any monsters that are giving your party trouble until later on, when you’re able to demolish them with ease.

Party creation also has a few unique features. The game starts with the custom creation of your main character, with the option to recruit other characters shortly thereafter. You start not only by naming your characters and choosing their portraits, but also selecting their age. Age impacts the starting bonus points and life points, with more bonus points given to older characters at the cost of life. Bonus points can be used for stats, which is important since you only receive an extra point for the first time a new level is reached. Life points, on the other hand, represent the number of times a character can be resurrected. Young characters have three life points, dropping with age to two and then to one life point after age 70.  A character who dies with only one life point disappears forever, so be careful. The sole exception to this rule is you, the main character, who can never permanently die.

Stranger of Sword City 1

At your party base, you can recruit new characters as well as resurrect characters and restore missing life points. Each of these actions either costs a large chunk of time or an absurd amount of money. Considering time is measured in battles fought (early battles each taking two in-game hours and higher difficulty battles taking even longer), and restoring life points for young characters alone taking a full in-game week, this severely impacts the pace of Stranger of Sword City. There are a few rare items that can be used in place of this, but consider their rarity before using.

The base also provides the option to change the classes of each party member up to five times. Class changing gives what would be a fairly substandard battle system a surprising amount of depth. This process costs a small amount of money and half of your character’s level, which sounds painful. However, their stats, HP, and MP stay the same or go up, meaning that class changing is usually preferable to slowly grinding a single class. There is one big caveat, however: party members lose a good amount of their Hit stat. Considering even a few lost points can cause a previously strong fighter to miss every swing, you will have to either grind or use spells/Divinities to get around this handicap for a short time after changing classes.

The dungeons themselves are mostly fun to traverse, with the exception of a few endgame dungeons. While the environment graphics are the typical crappy dungeon crawler fare, they manage to convey a sense of place and atmosphere. There are some secret passages throughout, but you’ll want to rely on your party to point out secrets, as the usual method of bumping into walls will do nothing. Secrets are instead found through a fairly long investigation process. The music is also very fitting, with several different battle themes used depending on the situation and a few exceptional boss themes.

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There are a few annoyances with Stranger of Sword City. The battle system relies too heavily on Hit and Avoid stats, which is extremely easy to abuse. Dying forces you to pay a huge time penalty that ruins the pacing, which led me to reset rather than deal with the penalty. There is also the fact that each class alone is built around a single purpose and makes the beginning of the game a bit of a chore. The class changing system doesn’t feel properly explained, with the loss in level sounding more prohibitive than it is (which led to poor planning for a few of my members and a few too many grinding sessions). As for the translation, there are a few hiccups, along with many explanations for skills and items being unclear.

Yet, after 46 hours, I beat the Neutral route on Normal difficulty and thoroughly enjoyed my time with Stranger of Sword City. For those yearning for even more after all that, there is a post-game dungeon, as well as the other endings and an online ranking system. While Stranger of Sword City has its share of problems, it breaks down the walls that hold other dungeon crawlers back in grind hell. There are always new bosses to fight and new areas to explore that give the game a feeling of constant progress and accomplishments that kept me coming back.

white3-43 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

Review written by Sean W.
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