By Joe Cammisa
For most Xbox One users, being an RPG fan is generally an exercise in futility. Despite the Xbox 360 having a few amazing RPG exclusives, the Xbox One is looking to be a veritable wasteland of role playing games unless it’s a huge mainstream title like Final Fantasy XV or Fallout 4, while PlayStation owners will be rolling in all of the niche RPGs just like last generation with the PS3.
Thankfully, developer Experience Inc. is giving Xbox One gamers a shot to enjoy a role playing game all for themselves with the dungeon role player Stranger of Sword City, releasing digitally on March 22nd for the Xbox One. The game originally released in Japan on the Xbox 360 in 2014 along with a Vita release in 2015, but the game hasn’t left Japan until this enhanced re-release on the Xbox One (the Vita version will be published in the US by NIS America in late April).
You start off by creating your character, choosing your class, and picking your stats. The story kicks off with you surviving a plane crash after traveling through a strange portal and waking up in an unknown land. In this land you are a stranger and you can experience powers unthought of as you are deemed the chosen one and must eventually find a way home.
After a nice chunk of exposition, you will be able to create the rest of your party members as well as any substitute members to have when things go south and a party member dies. And party members will die. Even with a “beginner” difficulty option, this game will not hold your hand and might try to stab it if you reach out for help. Party members in this game have standard hit points as well as life points. When your hit points drop to zero, you must return to base to revive them. This is where your substitute members come into play as it takes a chunk of in time game to revive those members and when they are eventually brought back to life, they are down a life point. If a party member dies without any more life points, they are dead for good.
Yes, permadeath makes an appearance to remind you that this is not an easy game. Luckily life points can also be restored, but it’s either through a significantly longer in game wait, or through incredibly expensive items. Luckily, you are able to create new companions any time you are in town, but it’s smartest to create your team and a host of substitutes at the start of the game due to the fact that companions not in your party still gain experience while the rest of the party is out exploring and, probably, dying.
Gameplay itself is as old school as it gets. The game is a first person, grid based dungeon crawler in the vein of the classic Dungeons and Dragons games, Wizardry, or the Phantasy Star dungeons. The game keeps track of the map as you explore it, so thankfully there is no need to bust out the graph paper to keep track of things yourself. Dungeons can be straight forward affairs, but obviously things get more complicated as you progress through the game with hidden passages, teleportation stones, shifting walls, and plenty more. A casual romp through a dungeon will have you on edge after a while wondering if you should keep going, or return to town and save while you can.
Enemy encounters come in a number of varieties. There is the always present random battles, though not nearly as common as in other games. There are also enemies visible in the dungeons that start a battle when you walk into them. There is a third style where you are able to hide in certain areas of the dungeons in hopes of ambushing enemies carrying a chest to try and get some special loot as buying items in the store isn’t always the best decision financially.
Make no mistake, you will be hunting down those monstrous figures frequently, because grinding seems to be a necessity in this title, but thankfully the game makes it fairly painless, yet not mindless. During routine battles, you can hit the Y button to repeat the previous turn’s actions which can make most battles a fairly swift experience with minor hassles…but you still need to pay attention. Mixed in with random trash mobs, you will occasionally find some much higher level enemies which require either intense planning to win the battle, or just running and not losing some party members.
All items you pick up in the dungeon need to be identified before using or equipping. It’s possible to identify items yourself while in the field depending on the skills of your party members, but all items are automatically identified successfully upon returning to base, with items ranging from various potions, items you can sell or equpiment ranging from junk to unique items that only appear in the game once (and if you sell it or lose it, it’s gone forever!).
Managing equipment and skills is as important in this game as ever before. Different dungeons can demand using different classes to progress, so it’s smart to try out every different class possible so you can get used to what each character can do and how it will help you as you venture through the dungeons looking for Lineage monsters, the various bosses. Killing Lineage monsters rewards you with Blood Crystals, which can be given to three different factions in the game to help them gain more power which also leads to you gaining new abilities to make you battles as manageable as possible.
Visuals in the game are gorgeous hand drawn sprites that actually come in two styles that can be changed whenever you wish in the options menu. While the attempts to “animate” them can come across as looking awkward, the quality of the artwork makes up for it. Dungeons themselves are in full 3D and aren’t really anything special, but there are plenty of changes in scenery to keep things looking fresh through the game. Toss in a fantastic soundtrack from Naoaki Jimbo and the audio visual package looks and sounds great, while granted not exactly pushing the limits of the Xbox One hardware.
When it all comes down to it, this is a title absolutely worth picking up when it launches on March 22nd. The difficulty may ward a few people off, but those who have the patience to deal with an unforgiving and unabashedly old school role playing title will find a lot to love. As bonus incentive, you can pre-order digitally on the Xbox Store for $30, as opposed to the full $40 when the game launches. I can only hope that Experience Inc. finds their decision to release this game on the Xbox One in the US equally worthwhile as the game we get to play.
Buy it it: You’re an Xbox One owning RPG fan who is in need of a dungeon crawler and doesn’t mind getting slapped around a bit.
Joe Cammisa is an unemployed nerd who spends his time gaming, celebrating over three years of hosting The SML Podcast, and sharing pictures of his five cats on Facebook. Yeah, five. You can annoy him on Twitter [https://twitter.com/joecamnet] or on pretty much any gaming service under the name JoeCamNet. Be prepared to beat him in pretty much anything. A review copy of this game was provided to the author as part of a contest held by the publisher.