Stranger of Sword City Review0 Comments
Reviewed on: PlayStation Vita
Also available on: Xbox One
Developer: Experience Inc
Publisher: NIS America
Stranger of Sword City makes me angry.
This isn't always a bad thing in video games; sometimes a good challenge can be a driving force in keeping a game interesting. Ask a Souls player what I mean and he or she will explain it to you between bouts in the fetal position. Stranger of Sword City's brand of anger is not founded in challenge, but in pure frustration, compiling the absolute worst elements of the seasoned JRPG franchise into one giant mess.
Let's start with the basic format: Stranger of Sword City is a labyrinthine dungeon crawler where I am responsible for a party of six warrios as we travel deeper and deeper into a perilous monolith in search of "Lineage Types," more powerful versions of basic monsters that house Blood Crystals for making my character stronger. There's a basic story about how I am the lone survivor of a crashed plane whose journey started in the real world but ended up in this alternate dimension of calamity and woe. I meet others who suffered the same fate, we all team up, and together we take on the bad guys.
Sounds interesting, right? On the surface it seems like the kind of meaty RPG that I would have no issue sinking my teeth into for an extended period of time. The only problem is that the game gives me exactly zero reason to want to stick around any longer than need be. The difficulty can spike from hard to party armageddon, turning even the best laid plans for a dungeon into a wasted effort. Grinding through enemies only begets more grinding, as more often than not I'll successfully level up a few characters only to run into a buzzsaw of a monster than sends me back to the save before I leveled up. It's brutal just for the sake of being brutal, and that does not a fun game make.
There are a few elements of Stranger of Sword City that are new to me, the most prevalent of which is the ability to "hide" in certain areas of a dungeon in order to coax larger enemies out and take them on. These larger monsters drag the better pieces of equipment in the game with them in treasure chests, and the only way to obtain it is to defeat the monster. It's a neat little mechanic that, again, normally ends in frustration as the target monster usually runs away with its souped up armor in tow. What the heck is the point of luring one of these more powerful beasts out of the woodwork if it's only going to run back into its hiding place after two turns? Why would I want to take the time to hide myself if it's often for naught? This idea is actually a perfect representation of the entire game: interesting on the surface, but quickly devolves into frustrating madness.
Being able to customize my character is cool and may be the best part of the entire experience. The customization is not too involved — basically I chose a pre-designed template for my character, his name, his voice, and his attributes — but it's the only part of the game that made me feel like the game wanted me to be a part of it. Trudging through a dungeon and the endless onslaught of enemies that dwell in it makes the game seem hostile, like it couldn't be bothered with the guy holding the Vita trying to play it. At least with customization it's a character I made that's getting smacked around and not some generic hero.
Though gameplay is frustrating and narrative is virtually non-existent, a crisp visual style with impressive animation could redeem the game a bit. The characters and enemies are beautifully hand drawn, their colors juxtaposing the boring greys and browns of the environments fairly well. Fighting with and against these characters, however, is another a lession in disappointment. Battle animations are rudimentary at best and lazy at worst, with each attack showing as a small blip, flash, or swipe across the defending character. There's no rendered models duking it out or fantastic spells lighting up my screen, just a few blips here and there. In fact, the game even knows how underwhelming these animations are, giving me the option of skipping them entirely and going to the next phase of the battle immediately after selecting all of my actions. When the game itself thinks something isn't worth looking at, then I have to take its word for it.
I had high hopes for Stranger of Sword City. I thought a tough dungeon crawler would be right up my alley, but instead it's done little more than leave a poor taste in my mouth. Dungeon crawling is brutally difficult from the jump, the story is essentially an afterthought, and the visual style is half interesting and half underwhelming. I don't want to be the Stranger in Sword City anymore, get me out of here.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.
You're not going to want to meet this Stranger of Sword City, as he only brings anger and frustration.