Stranger of Sword City does not reinvent the RPG crawler genre, but it really does do a good job in mixing up the story and adding some mechanics that generally are not found in titles like this. In the end, the experience is a rewarding one and if you have been on the fence about the dungeon crawling genre in the past, this title might just be the one to try and see if it cannot win you over.
I will say that I have a soft spot for the RPG dungeon crawling genre that rivals that of turn-based strategy/RPG hybrids and sports games (yes, I know - one of these things is not at all like the others). There are aspects of dungeon crawlers that have a tendency to scare newcomers to the genre off. Dealing with permanent death of characters, managing your hit points while having to navigate winding, mind-twisting passages all while being hit with a minimalist presentation are the kinds of qualities that tend to make this a difficult genre to get into.
For better or for worse, a lot of those same qualities exist in this game as well. Fans of the genre such as myself will likely feel right at home with these conventions. There is a challenging learning curve and the game can have somewhat uneven spikes in difficulty - again norms for this type of game. But there is a lot more to Stranger of Sword City that makes it worth examining and perhaps even more welcoming to genre newcomers.
I love creating my own characters from scratch. I tend to emulate characters I have written about or created for role-playing sessions at a tabletop or for on a MUD. You have that kind of creative flexibility here as well, and it had me immediately invested in my party. However, there is very little guidance in the beginning, and this can lead to some poor choices when you are configuring your party. People who love to max/min their stats will be right at home here. Age is actually a factor, which is awesome and unique.
The premise is unique. I have enjoyed some of the other titles by Experience Inc. in the past, including the fantasy-themed Demon Gaze and the more science fiction based operation Abyss. I enjoyed both for different reasons, but this sort of modern dark fantasy that serves as the backdrop to Stranger of Sword City was a breath of fresh air. Our character winds up in a plane crash that lands you in a fantasy world called Escario. While it would seem as though your character is very unique, there is in fact a guild of people called Strangers who are like you.
As is often the case with games like this, a lot of information gets tossed your way right off of the bat, and that certainly does nothing to diminish that higher barrier of entry I mentioned earlier. Before long however, you are moving step-by-step through a first person grid of rooms attempting to kill baddies, avoid traps and to make new discoveries as your characters advance. The focal point of the title beyond this exploration and loot loop is the combat, which is of the turn-based and somewhat tactical nature.
Where Stranger of Sword City does a nice job of differentiating itself from other similar games in the genre are the Ambush and Life Point mechanic. Ambushes are a great risk versus reward mechanism where you may encounter areas of the dungeons that are set aside as Ambush spots. You can wait there, hoping to catch a passing convoy unprepared. These are often quite challenging, with some mini-boss like characters involved, but they also offer the possibility of great rewards. I put emphasis on the word possibility, because quite often the rewards did not feel as though they were fair compensation for the risk and effort I had into the venture. Still, when something awesome did drop, it was a great feeling.
The Life Point system is likely one of the more controversial aspects of the game. Characters start off with a certain number of Life Points, and when those are gone? So is the character. I mentioned how age was important earlier, and this is primarily why. If you create a younger character, he or she is a bit more spry. They can recover from hard hits up to a trio of times. However, older characters are generally going to be stronger, more experienced - and closer to knocking on death's door. Of course you can always reload the game and do some more grinding if you wind up in a battle with a person on their last life point - but that could also represent a fair chunk of progress and time lost. Still, some may find this more agreeable than letting a character fade away completely.
If you are used to just traditional RPGs, you are probably used to gaining experience and just plowing through everything. Here you have to be willing to run. Sometimes the battle actually cannot be won, and the risk of loss does not outweigh the potential for victory. You will also find yourself doing a lot of grinding. I mean, a lot. The progression is slow. I enjoy it - I've always been a grinder in RPGs, but if that mentality does not suit you, Stranger of Sword City might wear of your nerves after a while.
I enjoyed a lot of what the game had to offer in terms of presentation. I am used to dungeon crawlers having minimalist visual presentations, with a lot of static images and a lack of animation. While this is still true here, the actual art is generally fantastic and I enjoyed the soundtrack quite a bit as well. The genre has come a long ways from its origins where all of the passages looked the exact same and you had no idea where you were going because there was no differentiation in the scenery at all.
I was a fan of the last two games by Experience Inc. that were localized, but Stranger of Sword City is probably my favorite of the three now. I liked the unique setting, and while I am already a fan of the genre, the small new additions were welcome changes as well. This is no doubt a tough game to start off and get in to, but it is rewarding and one of the best candidates I can suggest to those who are curious about the dungeon crawling genre but have not yet taken the leap.
Article by Nick