Stranger of Sword City was originally released on June 5, 2014 for the Xbox 360 in Japan. It was first ported to the U.S. via the Xbox One on March 22, 2016. One month later it’s getting a PS Vita release as well on April 26. By and large both games are the same with slight changes. This impressions piece is based off of the PS Vita edition. With that out of the way let’s begin.
The game takes place in the alternate dimension of Escario. Players are transported to this demolished wasteland when their plane enters a rift and crashes. Their destiny is explained to them that they are a Stranger, one from another world, and a Chosen One. As such they, and a few others, have the power to rid the world of the strongest monsters, or Lineage Types. Supporting characters help flesh out the world, but that’s about it. It’s vague and not altogether engaging albeit for a few later revelations.
At its heart SoSC is an old school dungeon crawler, harkening back to the days of red knuckle gaming. Players can create a team of up to six. Classes are fairly standard including multiple magic users and skilled fighters in both offense and defense. Explore the world, kill monsters, and grab loot. An average system of battle mechanics accompanied by a not so average difficulty.
This writer is no slouch when it comes to dungeon crawlers, or even challenging games in general like the Souls’ series, but Stranger of Sword City was giving him a run for his money. It’s not that the game is necessarily hard in terms of combat. Random encounters are low so the best away to grind is to run into these flaming skulls on the map, which will then summon a random assortment of monsters at random levels. More often than not those creatures were way stronger. Escaping and re-entering battle may result in a better hand, as it were, but without an assurance of retreat, it made fighting tedious.
On that note if one does fall in battle it’s game over. That’d seem like a fair price in most games, but not here. Players cannot save in a dungeon. Fallen party members can either be revived with time, or treated immediately for an exorbitant price. And items that issue an immediate evacuation from maps are also extremely expensive. Again, random encounters in a dungeon are fair and to the player’s general level, but the experience and rewards earned are low compared to the aforementioned flaming skulls making it a necessary risk.
Look. Hard games are great because that feeling of accomplishment after a tough encounter, or boss makes it that much more rewarding. In turn actually gaining value from these experiences like leveling up, or gaining better equipment makes the victory that much sweeter. In SoSC, that cost to victory is so painstakingly slow and filled with hours of torment that it’s hard to see through it all. Stranger of Sword City: grinding redefined.
Combat aside the style combination of gothic fantasy and steampunk works fantastically together. One slight issue with the characters though. Players can pick avatars for all party members created and some of that art doesn’t gel well with others. It’s like pairing Disney with Todd McFarlane. That aside, music is fittingly eerily as well as pumping when it comes to battles. It’s a great world to inhabit despite the lack of context and motivation when it comes to the plot. And while it may not be an enjoyable run, SoSC is at least packed with content for masochistic adventurers.
Stranger of Sword City was a letdown. The developer’s last game, Demon Gaze, was a nice little surprise when it came out in 2014. After learning this was from the same team, well, this writer’s hopes went up. It’s disappointing, but not a game without merit. The concept is great, but not exactly welled executed. The biggest problem is the seemingly lack of balance toward the player. SoSC is not a bad game just frustratingly hard, average on various levels, and one beyond this writer’s limit for punishment.
Score: 2/5 Stars
Special Notes: The publisher provided a review copy. This article was originally published on April 11, 2016 via my Examiner account before the website shut down.