Being the sole survivor of a plane crash isn’t your typical lead in to an RPG full of monsters and magic, but it is exactly how your journey starts in Stranger of Sword City. You are a Stranger, one of many to be stranded in a parallel world. As a Stranger, you have the ability to fight powerful creatures known as Lineage Types, and collect crystals that can be traded to three different factions in the game. In doing so, you gain additional abilities and get one step closer to finding your way home.
You begin by creating your character, which is pretty fleshed out for the most part. You have your typical RPG classes you can choose from, ranging from Knights to Clerics to Rangers, and you are able to distribute points to various attributes from the start of the game. You are also able to choose your character’s age, which provides additional bonuses and weaknesses depending on your choice, which I will get into more in depth shortly. You have different races to choose from, and a character portrait that you can use to identify your character. I was disappointed in the lack of visual customization in that regard, as regardless of your race and gender choice, you could use any portrait. The portraits are pre-made, so you have no real control over what your character looks like.
Movement is handled in a first-person grid based system. It felt very reminiscent of Shin Megami Tensai: Nocturne…except not as pretty. Truthfully, I found the aesthetics of the game extremely displeasing, and in no way do they reflect the capabilities of current generation hardware. Battles are similarly bland, with animations ultimately being handled like classic Pokemon titles; battle animations are little more than a slash going across the screen. In contrast with a turn based battle system, the fighting did little to keep me engaged. It wouldn’t have been quite as frustrating with some type of character animation, but the simplistic style took away from a battle system that might have shown some promise otherwise.
The story and writing held up about as well as the art and fighting. Even at the beginning of the game I had to resist the urge to skip the bulk of the dialogue, which unfortunately didn’t get any better later in the game. The lack of detail is apparent here as well; static images and text boxes are there to convey the story, taking the place of any animation that could potentially keep you visually engaged in the story. Even your plane crash at the beginning of the game was handled as little more than a few boxes of descriptive text. Character interactions in the game, while occasionally entertaining, for the most part just felt like a chore.
I could get past all of this, if it weren’t for the game’s most frustrating feature: Permadeath. I’m not talking about the Fire Emblem permadeath, where you grow to care about a character, and then they’re gone, and it’s heart wrenching. I’m more talking about the type of death you might see in The Sims: two minutes later you have a new character that you’re plugging away with, and you’re more frustrated at the wasted time than any type of emotional attachment. The frustrating part of this for me was that the game does very little to explain this concept to you. When you are choosing your age (I told you we’d get there) you get Life Points and Bonus Points (the bonus points can be used to increase stats). Younger characters get additional life points, meaning they can recover from defeat more than older characters, but at the expense of the bonus points. So while you can die a few additional times with a younger character, older ones are able to take a bit more of a beating.
Once you are out of life points your character is gone, never to return. If you’re lucky, you’ve built a bench of characters and have someone ready to go when that time happens. If you’re unlucky, you get to start grinding again. Recovery items are incredibly expensive, and in limited supply. This wouldn’t be quite as much of an ordeal if the game were to just explain some of these things from the start. Unfortunately, I got stuck with a very confusing mess of trying to figure out how to recover.
This game had potential. I could compare this game to several JRPG’s that have been wildly successful, and pull more than a few similarities. However, a lack of detail and an incoherent setup left me doomed to failure before I even launched. Ultimately, the inspiration from other games that was obviously there was taken without any thought into what it was that made those classics good in the first place. With too little to make this game stand apart on it’s own, you’re better off going for one of the classics that influenced it.