As always, Japan seems to excel at creating interesting and engaging RPGs. It should come to no surprise that a game like Stranger of Sword City has something to offer for those looking for something fresh and new. Stranger of Sword City is developed by Experience, who made Demon Gaze, which the game heavily resembles in it’s dungeon-crawling style. Apart from a few issues, the game is a must have for RPG lovers.
If I were to sum up the core gameplay of Stranger of Sword City in a word, I would describe it as complex. There is of course the traditional JRPG turn-based combat with spells and items, but there’s also a number of sub-systems in place that make the game stand out. Systems like the Divinity system allow players to make very powerful spells by destroying certain “Lineage” type monsters. Players must also create their own party of six, making unique characters that fill a front-line defense, and a back-line support. Making the best team combination possible will yield a higher chance of success when playing the game, but don’t be fooled, you’ll need to keep your wits about you if you want to make it anywhere in the game. Enemies are brutally difficult, and if you aren’t careful they can wipe out members of your team in the blink of an eye. Once they have died, you need to revive them at the Strangers Guild, which takes quite a bit of in-game time, and if a certain character dies 3 times, they turn into a butterfly and essentially become deleted from your game. It’s an incredibly horrifying experience, but that’s what makes the game so good.
In Stranger of Sword City, every battle could be your last, but the rewards are well worth the pain. There’s an option in the game to hide and ambush foes, which guarantees a chest containing rare items if you can beat the enemies. This is a fantastic way to make grinding for levels both fun and challenging. In addition to that, the more you ambush enemies, the stronger they become, the better items they drop AND the more EXP you get. This is the quickest way to earn money and gear for your team, which you will definitely need when facing those tougher enemies. Be careful though, one wrong step could spell doom for your entire crew.
There are a number of dungeons that you can travel to from the beginning of the game, where you fight different types of enemies, solve different types of puzzles, and yield different rewards. All of the dungeons have fantastic level design, filled to the brim with secret corridors, hidden doors, spike traps, walls that reappear, walls that disappear, and so on. This really builds the tension in the game as you explore through this elaborate labyrinth, desperately trying to defeat enemies while getting to the next checkpoint or trying to find that next lineage type. That’s really what the game excels at; creating a tense environment. I feel like a lot of Old School RPG players will really appreciate that, as well as the solid mechanics of the game.
Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that stop this game from being apart of the elite JRPG’s like the Shin Megami Tensei series. A lot of that has to do with the aesthetic of the game itself. Despite the fact that the 2d art is very well drawn, theres not a lot of visual appeal apart from that. The environments, characters and enemies all look very generic. There’s nothing that really grabs your attention. Same with the story, it feels pretty lackluster compared to the gameplay. None of the characters have a lot of depth to them, the motivations for them are boring, and the dialogue feels incredibly stilted and off-putting. It’s really weird that a JRPG like this has such a lackluster story, yet can still be really enjoyable to play.
Stranger of Sword City feels like a love-letter to Old School RPG’s and brings a lot of fresh new mechanics to the table. From the thrilling gameplay, to the level design and party customisation, all of the gameplay features meld together to create a memorable experience. Let down by some design oversights and stilted dialogue, Stranger of Sword City still manages to captivate and excite the sadist in me.