Stranger of Sword City is a Dungeon Crawler set in the magical land of Escario. We play as a Stranger, a human from another dimension that has been transported into the land of Escario after having survived a plane crash. Lost, confused and alone, you wake up deep in a dungeon with only a mysterious voice that is guiding your way out of this dangerous area. As can be expected by following a random voice in the dark and forbidding place you woke up in, you will quickly discover that the voice at the end of the tunnel does not have your best interests in mind.
To your luck you are rescued by a mysterious woman at the nick of time who happened to see your plane come crashing down. She turns out to be Riu Tsukisada, the current leader of the Strangers Guild, a band of people just like you that were transported into Escario and are searching for a way back to their homes. There begins your quest of slaying creatures and exploring the lands in the hopes of escaping these lands that are not your own. Before properly starting your adventure it is important to know that you can switch from one of the two unique art-styles at any time called Type A and Type B.
Type A is an amazing artstyle with tons of detail that fits the grim nature of this world while Type B feels extremely out of place and of much lesser quality. More options are never a bad thing but it is daunting as to why exactly they went through the effort. It is akin to removing high quality art and replacing it with a knock off whose tone stands out far too much from the environments and cutscene art for no particular reason but to each their own. Moving on, once you’re safely at your new home, the Strangers Guild, you can create your party or use the prebuilt characters to battle alongside with. While in the guild you can also buy items and revive your fallen comrades either instantly with cold, hard cash or by letting him/her recover over time.
This game has a unique system of permanent death in place that has an interesting trade off when building a character. He can be either young and inexperienced but able to be downed up to three times before meeting his maker or old and hardened yet being downed once is the end of him. Each character has 1-3 “Life Points” depending on their age so it can lead to some intense moments of risk/reward when a character down to his last life point is downed mid battle and you must decide to either revive him on the spot with an item and risking losing him forever if he gets downed again. Life points can be recovered by either using a very rare item, letting him rest at the guild or paying a ludicrous amount of money.
And die you will, this is no easy game and will hold no punches back even on the easiest difficulty mode. It is very important to build as many characters as you can right from the get go since they will level up even without being in your party and you will need to have more members that will be of actual use when the time comes to put them on the front lines due to the common occurrence of an injury of those on your A team. It’s free to build characters so you can max out the amount of characters you can have from the start of the game. Building a character has you assigning their stats, choosing their appearance and changing their voices to your liking. If you would you like to have a scary, tough looking member to have the voice of a little girl then more power to you.
For those of us that have played the Playstation Vita exclusive Demon Gaze all these features seem very familiar and to no surprise since Stranger of Sword City is built by the same creators. Sadly, having played Demon Gaze beforehand is more of a curse than anything since so much of that game’s assets are reused in the early hours of this game, leading it to feel like the same game with a few tweaks and a new artstyle. It was honestly off putting seeing the same environment and their respective hazards such as a forest that randomly changes where you are looking at or an underwater local where you must map out the sea currents to reach your destination. Strangers of Sword City is also available on the PC and Xbox One so these early moments of been there, done that of the early game will only be felt by a small portion of people.
Your overall goal is to hunt down powerful monsters known as “Linage Types” and collect a “Blood Crystal” that they drop upon death that contains a massive amount of energy. Using these is one of the neat features of the game since you can give them to one of the three faction leaders of Escario, them being the aforementioned Strangers Guild, the holy Kingdom and the Steampunk like Medell Company. Entrusting these crystals to one of those factions will not only change the ending but grants you different powers that makes choosing between them even more difficult. These are not gimmicky powers but ones that are vital to your survival such as nullifying any negative rebuffs for a few turns or recovering 10% of your overall health every turn to name a few.
These powers use your Moral Points that are earned by successfully striking an enemy with any of your party members. Aside from that combat is your typical turned based Dungeon Crawler affair with skills, magic, items and positioning of your party to worry about. It goes deeper than that by having a system in place of the different variety of enemy types such as spirit and immortal that cannot be harmed unless your weapon has that specific enchantment or you have a Mage or Cleric respectively to cast a spell allowing damage towards them with regular attacks. Having an ever changing variety of classes in your party is essential since most areas have a negative effect stacked against you such as being unable to use spells or are permanently poisoned, forcing you to consider what member to take.
Paying attention to every battle is a must, not due to the lack of being able to wipe the floor with enemies leveled lower than you but by the cheap tactic of randomly spawning enemies that surpass you by over 20 levels. That would be all well and good if they were new enemies, not the same exact ones you have been fighting since you got there with the only difference being their easily glossed over level number. Its sole purpose is likely to prevent mindless grinding but without any clear indication you are about to face an enemy you have no chance of defeating you’ll be getting some of your party injured before you find out the hard way. A simple color pallet swap on the enemy would have solved this issue. You have to wait quite a while for them to recover from death and then you have to wait even longer to recover his Life Point which totals up to nearly two hours of real time from my estimates.
To further add to that flaw there is only one area in the game (Strangers Guild) that you can save the game which makes it all the more likely you can’t simply load up a save without losing a substantial amount of progress. I would normally applaud them for making your actions have consequences but not when the game is pulling off such cheap tactics. You don’t have to walk all the way back to the Guild thankfully as there are teleport stones in each area though this also comes with the biggest gripe that I have against this game. Linage types will randomly respawn at these stones. You know the big fearsome beasts you track down by reading the vague descriptions you are given of them? Well they just respawn over and over again which not only cheapens the whole experience of fighting them but also scale in level to you meaning they are tougher than before.
It can be a massive waste of your resources and it completely kills that thrill of barely taking out a superior foe by the skin of your teeth and tons of luck, since it is possible that they will respawn at the teleport stone right after, becoming an even more powerful undefeatable enemy and making you lose access to the ability to teleport in to that area. Lineage Types respawn so frequently that it felt like half of my time spent with the game was backtracking through previously conquered areas time and time again for that single purpose. The insane waiting time to recover, frequently respawning bosses and encountering hilariously over leveled common enemies that look exactly the same as the rest all are bad features but combined together it becomes quite obvious that they are in here for the sole purpose of padding out the game. There is not much content in here and it would likely be a 20-hour trek at most if it wasn’t so due the difficulty and the cheapness which has been stretched to a 60+ hour game in the worst manner.
Despite the feeling of having your time wasted by its mechanics it is still not a terrible game and does manage to create a unique world despite all the reused assets of Demon Gaze. It is a world with both magic and broken down, mostly unusable technology that does get you curious to learn more about it. There are no guns (at least for you) only primitive swords and bows against foes like a baby wyvern using a broken down TV as a shell. Butterflies are a huge theme to this game and their body parts are used for multiple things such as opening chests. They are also found gently floating around in randomly spawned places of an area and they will help you by teleporting you back to the guild or you can also choose to attack them for massive experience and their limbs. Messed up and even more so than you may realize at first.
As per Dungeon Crawler tradition the story is bare-bones but decent enough with a few twists. The hit or miss characters are what really make this an interesting tale. Some characters you can tell their intentions and their role in their stories before they even open their mouths but most are likable enough that when what you are expecting does happen it still has a bit of weight to it. The villains are the star characters here. They are mysterious in all the right ways and some arrive to save you from certain death while you instantly feel like you are in much more danger than you were before his arrival and will wonder if this time he will finally attack you. Other than one character there is no clear good and evil, so in time you begin to wonder whose side they are in. This combination of reliance and fearful distrust is simply wonderful and has made a certain character one that I will remember for a long time.
Music is very enjoyable and features some tracks that have a vocaloid singer. After the 80 hours I have spent with this title I’m not sick of any track which all obviously depends on personal taste but it’s still a testament to the quality. All characters are fully voice acted in Japanese with English subtitles. One of the unique features of Stranger of Sword City is that you are only able to change classes three times. That may sound like a negative but it is actually a very interesting mechanic since it allows you to keep certain skills from your last class and can build some interesting combinations of the 8 available classes. Doing so will cut your level down by half so it will take quite some time to achieve your dream build. Your character is nothing special (outside of story) from other characters so he is restricted by the same class restrictions as anyone else and must earn his way into becoming a sword & shield wielding front line mage.
This feature can be completely ignored and you will be able to beat the game with no need for it at all. Another unique aspect is that monsters do not drop gear, instead you must use moral points to set an ambush in preset locations and attack an enemy supply passing through for the gear you want. To further you wait to spring your ambush the more chances are that your foes will spot you and be prepared, allowing them to attack first. You must kill the party leader before he flees to get the treasure chests they are inexplicably carrying. Often times trying to open the treasure chest itself may be more dangerous than dispatching your foes. They contain nasty traps that can poison your entire party, trigger a heavy explosion or teleport you to a random spot in the area if you fail to disarm it by RNG. The safest way to open them is by using a butterfly limb but those are quite rare.
After you beat the game there is a post-game dungeon that will be different depending on what system you play the game on. The Vita’s dungeon will be the Black Palace while all the other versions will have the White Palace. Funnily enough this dungeon is much easier than the ending of the base game and is a great place to score awesome loot as well as grind exp. After conquering that final dungeon, entirely new bosses that live in a different dimension will spawn around certain locations and these are extremely challenging foes that most people suggest be taken on only after going through the game again in new game plus.
Areas feature hidden, invisible doors that can only be seen by activating it or a perspective party member spotting it when you pass it and they are mandatory to get through an area so if you are stuck strolling along the edges of the map is your best bet. Navigating the area will permanently show that location in your map but for those with the tendency to uncover 100% of the map will be in for a bad time. Trap doors and other deadly sometimes undetectable traps are scattered all over the place so getting from point A to B as efficiently as possible is your best bet for survival. At the end of the day this is a good game despite my love-hate relationship with. The cheap attempts to pad out the length severely damage this title but not to the point of flat out turning it into a bad game. Stranger of Sword City is not a game I’d recommend to those inexperienced in the genre but to those that feel they earned their stripes and are willing to accept the massive undertaking of conquering the dangerous world of Escario.