Stranger of Sword City is the first of two Experience Inc titles coming to the west over this week with their releases only a few days apart. With games such as the excellent Demon Gaze and the mediocre Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy under their belts, my feelings upon starting Stranger of Sword City were rather mixed.
Stranger of Sword City follows you, a plane crash survivor, somehow finding yourself in a different dimension. In this world, you are known as a Stranger and a Chosen One. Possessing a stronger physique and abilities than this world’s inhabitants you’re tasked with slaying large monsters known as Lineage Types along with other strangers that have ended up in this world. As a Chosen One, you’re to fight these monsters and collect Blood Crystals in the hopes of eventually returning home.
There are few characters with actual backstory in this game; Riu Tsukisada is one and acts as guild leader for all the Strangers that end up in Sword City. Your character and those that make up your party are created by you through a character creation process much like that of Demon Gaze. You can choose from a pretty large selection of character portraits which is nice and pick the race, class and age of your new characters. As with race and class, age also has an effect on characters abilities and as you progress through the game that character will age. A young character will heal quicker and have more vitally but an older one will have more wisdom and access to better spells, for example. So depending on the character you wish to create the age function adds even more scope to what’s possible. It’s an interesting concept and it certainly has its place within this game.
I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of creating your own characters within dungeon crawlers. I get the appeal of creating a team moulded to your preference which is great. I just prefer to be given a selection of characters and learn their ins and outs. Yes, this can be done with character creation and maybe even to a greater degree if you know what you’re doing. Character creation in these kinds of games usually tells me that your characters are going to die – a lot. Stranger of Sword City does exactly this and with reviving being expensive or time-consuming constantly creating new characters gets old quickly. The game does feature permadeath, once a character has died a set amount of times, they won’t be coming back.
If you’ve played a dungeon crawler before then you’ll know what to expect in terms of gameplay and exploration. Stranger of Sword City doesn’t revolutionise the genre in any way but does add a couple of interesting features. It’s a solid experience and features some interesting ideas like the Ambush system. Essentially there are specific areas in a dungeon where you can ambush enemies and possibly grab yourself some good gear. It’s risky though as enemies get stronger if you continue to ambush in the same area. Couple this with general enemies in a dungeon varying wildly in difficulty it’s a constant gamble with trying to level and get better gear. Is it unnecessarily hard and can you expect to have your party dying constantly – yes. Is the reward factor a big enough reason to continue, maybe not. Operation Abyss was a mediocre game with a great story but I can’t say the same for Stranger of Sword City. It’s definitely a game geared more towards hardcore dungeon crawler fans while newcomers are probably best avoiding this title.
Visually the game is decent, I don’t think it’s as great as Demon Gaze or Operation Abyss but it does feature two different visual options. This only applies to character portraits though giving you a choice of more adult-like characters or more cute styled ones. Like character portraits, the enemy portraits are gorgeous but totally static which is a shame in today’s world where we’ve seen games utilise some great live portraits. Dungeons can be very plain and samey which again is a shame-based on their previous games.
I’ve become a huge fan of dungeon crawlers in recent years and Experience Inc has certainly had a hand in my growing love for them. Having played some of their previous titles in Demon Gaze, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy and currently Ray Gigant (expect a review soon) I’m a little underwhelmed by Stranger of Sword City. The gameplay is solid but seems overly hard and needlessly punishing to players. Stranger of Sword City feels like a game that's definitely geared more towards the hardcore players. Story, visual and audio all appear very plain compared to their previous titles for me and it’s a real shame.