Into the dungeon.
Stranger of Sword City is one of the most obscure releases I have seen in a long time. Xbox One is not known for its Japanese street credit. More and more games from developers in the land of the rising sun are going PlayStation exclusive. So when I saw the latest dungeon crawler from Experience Inc. was coming to Microsoft’s console, needless to say I was shocked. The modern setting is also unique, making this package one of the most interesting to come along in a while.
The plot behind Stranger of Sword City feels like something JJ Abrams would come up with. The main character is travelling on a plane from Japan to Alaska. The plane ends up crashing, thus sending our hero into an alternate dimension, which also happens to house Sword City.
Platforms: XB1, Vita
Price I’d Pay: $29.99
Players quickly run into a girl with a large sword who serves as sort of an introduction to the world around them. It is also about the only tutorial players get before diving into the massive world of Sword City. To say this game boasts brutal difficulty is only selling it short.
Stranger of Sword City is a dungeon crawler, which means all of the combat and traversal is a bit simplified when compared to other games. Players move on a grid-based area to navigate the world, and it is all done in first person. Battles are played out using gorgeous 2D artwork as opposed to animated characters. There is a lot of menu-perusing, and a large chunk of time is spent preparing, dying, and repeating. This game is not for the faint of heart.
There is a lot of customization in creating a character. The downside is none of it is overly intuitive. Veterans of the genre will likely be familiar with how it works, but as someone looking in from the outside, it was impossible to tell what was the best class and race to being with. It also doesn’t help that the descriptions for each were a bit shallow, meaning experimentation was required. Not all is lost though if players make a bad creation decision, as there are ample opportunities to add more party members as the game progresses.
This brings us to the other depressing truth, characters can die…permanently. Imagine spending hours leveling up a specific party member. Having them positioned perfectly to compliment a play style, only to have them wiped out for good. Save scumming is not something I encourage, or am proud of, but I felt the need here. The game is brutal, unrelenting, but overall rewarding. Again, yet another reason I cannot recommend it to anyone outside of the small sample of hardcore players willing to dedicate their time to mastering its robust applications.
Battles play out in traditional turn-based fashion. Players queue up commands, and can even repeat previous attacks with the press of a button. However, this is not a mindless menu-driven system. Battles are methodical. Players will learn quickly that it is best to plan, heal, and run when necessary. Multiple trips back to the main hub to heal and reflect are the bulk of the initial ten or so hours of the game. This is not an experience to be rushed. Doing so will only result in poor decisions; decisions that players will have to live with.
Every area is a maze of danger. There are two core types of battles. The random encounters, which can be deadly on their own, and others the players can instigate themselves. Navigating around these areas is tense, especially considering the world is so flat and repetitious. I do love that the developers have crafted two completely unique art styles for everything in the game. These can also be switched on-the-fly; I actually ended up preferring Type A simply because it was more refined and unique. Type B felt like a washing machine full of anime tropes.
Stranger of Sword City is the definition of niche title. The gorgeous art style and in-depth combat really stand out, but the intense difficulty is definitely a large barrier to entry. That said, those with patience will find a lot of reward in this adventure. Dungeon crawlers are rare, and even more so on Xbox consoles, and this one is definitely worth unwrapping for players that have the time and patience.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.