Stranger of Sword City is a rare game in that it’s one of the only first-person dungeon-crawling RPG’s that I’ve actually enjoyed playing, and one that didn’t constantly feel needlessly vague in its instructions.
Stranger of Sword City follows you, a Stranger and Chosen One, who finds themselves in another world after a horrible plane crash which yielded no other survivors. You, along with other Strangers, fight to find their way to their original homes as well as protecting their new home in Sword City. As a Stranger, you’re one of the only people able to slay large monsters called Lineage and collect blood gems to become stronger, so many citizens rely on you to be powerful enough to rid any threat that can befall Sword City and, of course, so you can venture further to have a better chance of finding your way back home. A few of the characters are given backstories and fleshed-out personalities such as Riu, an optimistic and upbeat girl who more or less acts as your best friend, and it’s nice to become attached to the characters and empathise with their plight of being in a new world with seemingly no way to return to their loved ones.
Whilst I enjoyed the story, it’s the gameplay that’ll really make or break Stranger of Sword City for you and developer Experience Inc. certainly have experience in creating first-person dungeon crawlers (Demon Gaze and Ray Gigant are gems, whilst Operation Abyss we’ll choose to ignore), and they’ve provided an enjoyable experience here. If you’ve played one of their games before then you’ll know what to expect here which is a challenging experience that’ll keep you on your toes and get you thinking about how to tackle battles and dungeons, although Stranger of Sword City is arguably more straightforward than some of their other titles. You can pick a character portrait for your character (which also comes with a cool option to choose more realistic or anime-like portraits for every character in the game) and adjust their stats to your liking – age also has an effect on stats which you can input yourself, but I opted to go for my own age which seemed to be optimal for me.
Being a first-person dungeon-crawler, you’ll be spending plenty of time exploring dungeons and fighting hordes of enemies with your party of six. These characters can specialise in certain things such as strength, defence, magic and support, and you’ll be wanting a balanced team because some battles can last a long time and feature a lot of enemies. As is expected of a turn-based game, you can select to attack, defend, use a skill, etc, and all the other basic things that you’ve come to expect, and you can repeat the same orders again to make battles go quicker if you’re sure it’s a good idea. You have three people in the front row and these people will be the ones who’ll take the most damage, whilst the three in the back are better suited to support or ranged characters.
The dungeons lend to the gameplay themselves with puzzles, hidden items and routes ripe for finding, and these aren’t short – not even the first one! I died or was forced to return to base for healing due to the onslaught of enemies and getting confused as to which direction I was going in because, even though you have a map that fills itself out, it’s very easy to lose your bearings or fall through a hole in the floor. Falling in battle resets the game, so it’s important to return to the base or have items and support characters heal you rather than continuing to push forward as you’ll risk losing plenty of progress.
Being able to use realistic or anime-style portraits is a lovely feature and I opted for the latter, especially as it fit better with my chosen player portrait, and the art style of the game is gorgeous overall. Dungeons are varied, characters and enemies are detailed and fantastic, and the outfits are creative. The dungeons do fall victim to feeling repetitive as you walk down similar looking corridors time and time again, but they look great on Vita regardless. It really is the character design that steals the limelight here though and it’s clear that a painstaking amount of work went into them and the option to change how they look on the fly.
There’s very little spoken dialogue but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the OST, but some of the haunting piano-laden tracks make for relaxing listening. These are the tracks that stuck with me and encouraged me to continue playing as it really does feel pretty special, but the rest of the OST isn’t half bad either! Sound effects are okay if not a little repetitive and basic, but they compliment their varying environments well so whilst your footsteps crunch in the snow as you would expect them too, expect those footsteps to sound identical each time.
Stranger of Sword City isn’t my ideal game but, in a genre I’m not particularly fond of, it managed to provide enjoyment and the music and art style pushed me forward. Those looking for a challenge will find it here and if you were put off by Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy, then rest easy because Stranger of Sword City is a far, far better game. The Vita clearly still has great titles coming to the system and I’m pleased to see this game join its still growing library.