Stranger of Sword City is yet another intriguing dungeon crawler role playing game developed by Experience Inc. who was previously known for their work on the title Demon Gaze which is also a dungeon crawler. Stranger of Sword City was originally released in Japan early June 2014 for the Xbox 360 but it was later ported to several other consoles in Japan such as the PlayStation Vita and PC. The game was eventually localized to North America for the Xbox One late March 2016 then it was later released on the PlayStation Vita late April 2016 for both North America and Europe. Now PC gamers will also have a chance to play this innovative dungeon crawler with its release to Steam early June 2016. The Steam version will include over forty fun and unique Steam achievements and some Steam cards.
The game begins when the plane which your character is a passenger on suddenly crashes into a strange and foreign land. Your character who currently seems to be the only passenger to survive is quickly greeted by an elderly man with a heavily eerie appearance. The main character is quickly marked as the chosen one and becomes a target for both those who wish for chaos and for those who wish to protect the world. After the eerie man disappears the hero must navigate the labyrinth-like dungeon to find a way out and more importantly find a safe place. Once the hero makes it outside of the dungeon they are once again greeted by the eerie old man but this time he is intent on killing you but after the man summons the monsters a powerful and fierce woman makes a sudden appearance and saves the hero from the monsters summoned by the elderly man. After defeating the strange monsters the woman introduces herself as Riu and begins to explain how things work in this strange and foreign world.
The world works very differently than the world which the character came from and people from outside of the world are the most powerful due to the fact that they somehow receive incredible strength once they arrive. Riu also explains that the hero is not only a stranger but a very special type of stranger known as a chosen one. As she begins to escort the hero to the city Escario also known as Sword City they suddenly encounter a special type of monster known as a lineage type which carries a special item known as a blood crystal. After defeating the monster the hero and Riu finally make it to Sword City and you will have the chance to learn more about the city and the strange new world. When you have the chance to speak further with Riu she explains how the blood crystals work as well as the hero’s role in Sword City. You will also learn about the three vessels which each work as a proxy for different gods. It is up to you to choose which of the three vessels you will align with in order to gain strength and ultimately determine the fate of the entire world but choose wisely as each of the vessels presents a different fate.
The game presents the player with many unique and complicated gameplay mechanics which can take a while to learn for anyone who is new to the dungeon crawler sub-genre. Some of the less complicated gameplay mechanics include those for dungeon navigation and the battle system. Dungeon navigation is very simple once you get the hang of the labyrinth-like structure and reading the map which can be learned immediately upon starting the game. The battle system tends to be a little difficult at first but once it is learned through the very first battle it becomes far more simple. There is an option during battles to skip the battle action animations for those who prefer to get to their next turn in battle more quickly. The more complicated mechanics include forming your party and distributing points to stats upon leveling up characters. Some of the gameplay mechanics stand out while others are very cliché for the dungeon crawler sub-genre but overall the mechanics make the game fun, challenging, and engaging.
The game has many options that can help improve gameplay based on the player’s preferences. You will be able to customize several aspects of your character upon beginning a new game. The customizable traits of your character include appearance, age, class, race, name, nick name, and finally the distribution of starting points into your character’s stats. The character creation is very fun and you can do so many things to customize your character. You can do things like create a burly male character and give them a squeaky female voice or create a female character who appears like a teenage girl but is actually a forty-five year old. Be sure to choose certain traits of your character carefully especially when it comes to your character’s age due to the possible negative effects it could have in the game. The older your character the sooner they are likely to permanently die or as it is called in the game disappear. Older characters have fewer life points and the max is three life points. Later in the game you will also be able to create customized party members to fight alongside the hero. The Steam version includes an exclusive feature known as “Picture Gate” which allows you to upload an image in which you can create a customized party member from. Character customization is the games strongest feature and truly helps the game stand apart from other dungeon crawler titles.
The art is another strong point of the game due to the high level of detail and interesting style. All of the localized version including the Steam version include the original art style and the more recent anime art style. You will be able to choose between the two art styles when it comes to the NPCs only. Your characters appearance can also be in either style and is unaffected by your choice for the appearance of NPCs. The backgrounds in the game will always remain in the more detailed and realistic style of the original Japanese Xbox 360 version. Unfortunately the style of the backgrounds might ward a majority of players from selecting the anime style for NPCs and the lead hero as it can have a negative effect on the overall visual appearance of the game. The anime style can create an even larger disconnect between the world and the characters than the lack of character animations. The lack of character animations can make the game feel a bit dull at times but it does not have too heavy of an impact on the overall quality of the game. Where the game does have animations it is heavily improved in the Steam version due to the smoother appearance. Some animations in the PlayStation Vita version were weak and a bit unnatural due to some minor lagging issues but in the Steam version those same animations are flawless. While the animations are severely lacking the art at least manages to pick up the slack.
The Steam version of Stranger of Sword City is a heavy improvement to the previous PlayStation Vita and Xbox One versions of the game. The Steam version includes many exclusive features that further make it the best version of the game. I highly recommend the PC port of the game to those who missed out on the PlayStation Vita and Xbox One versions as well as those who had a less satisfying experience with the previous versions. A game that I struggled to enjoy on the PlayStation Vita has become an enjoyable gaming experience thanks to the Steam version and its exclusive content particularly the picture gate.Stranger of Sword City game is one of the most innovative and complex games within the dungeon crawler sub-genre.
PROS: Character Customization, Exclusive Features, Two Art Styles
CONS: Lack of Character Animations, Loss of Party Members
This review is based on a digital copy of Stranger of Sword City on Steam provided by NIS America.