By: Brian Gunn
Originally released only in Japan, Stranger of Sword City is actually a few years old now. Notable largely for its striking visual style, fan interest seems to have finally gotten it to appear stateside. Was it worth the two year wait, or are the visuals the only thing that stands out?
Stranger of Sword City is a dungeon RPG sometimes known as a blobber, in which the entire party moves forward one tile at a time from a first-person perspective. Like other entries in the genre — such as the Etrian Odyssey series — it’s an old-school style of game with fairly simple controls.
You blob along on grid-based maps until an encounter occurs, then you queue up your party commands via menus and watch as randomized turn-based combat occurs. It should be simpler than it is as the UI could use some work, often requiring visiting too many people or delving through too many menus to get things done.
One of the most striking features in the game is the visual style. While most dungeon RPGs favor the typical anime style these days, Stranger of Sword City favors a more realistic and painterly fashion. It’s honestly gorgeous enough to make the game worth a look on its own.
For some reason they’ve also included an alternate style that’s basically like every other anime JRPG style in the world, and I can’t imagine why anyone would use it.
Musically the title is good, though nothing particularly notable. There are the usual operatic tracks during important moments as well as the typical “going adventuring” upbeat song that you’ll hear quite a lot. There’s no voice acting beyond the occasional battle grunt, and sound effects are passable.
A plane crash finds our player character trapped in a mysterious world, one that echoes most fantasy worlds, except that it’s littered with the shells of the various vehicles that bring over the occasional person from the real world.
Players soon meet Riu, a schoolgirl (of course) that wields a massive blade that tells them the details of their new home. Anyone that somehow makes it over there is dubbed a Stranger, and each has unique abilities that make them invaluable to this mysterious world.
Your primary unique ability is fighting Lineage Type monsters, powerful beings that will come back to life if a Stranger does not loot the Blood Crystal it leaves behind. Basically, you’re one of the few that can defeat boss monsters, and so you’re going monster hunting whether you want to or not.
While the beginning of the game is fairly heavy on plot as you’re introduced to the various factions of power, after that it recedes into the background quite a bit as you go out Lineage hunting.
Characters are all player-created and mostly serve the traditional roles like in other RPGs. The cleric heals, the knight protects, and so on, though there’s a few unique classes like ninjas that have a variety of uses.
There’s a front and back row, with the front for the melee fighters and the back for squishy characters that need protecting. Most combat encounters are fairly routine, especially early on.
In fact, the early game is a significant barrier to entry. Most classes just don’t have anything interesting to do for long stretches of the game, either because melee-based ones are relegated to basic physical attacks, or casters that have too limited of a mana pool. Quite frankly, it makes chunks of the game rather tedious, with only boss fights offering relief.
There are two unique aspects to the game’s systems that are interesting. First is a Divinity system that gives your class agnostic powers to use like a guaranteed escape from battle or reducing damage during the next turn, which are earned by turning in the Blood Crystals you obtained from bosses.
Second is an ambush mechanic. Each area has areas where you can hide and ambush enemies that are transporting treasure, and once encountered you can choose to fight them for it or pass on them in hopes a more powerful item may show up in the next round, albeit with tougher foes.
This allows players to be more aggressive in their item hunting, though it’s still a bit slow overall. Both of these mechanics are tied into a resource called Morale that can be earned by fighting in battle.
There’s a lot to do as well. Early on players get access to many dungeons to explore at once, and characters can also switch classes and take a few skills with them — for example, wizards will probably want to reach cleric Level 7 since it gives a passive mana regen talent.
Stranger of Sword City is a slow but gorgeous dungeon RPG. It’ll make fans of grinding quite happy, but those looking for something to grab their attention right away might find the deliberate build to be too much to overcome.