Review: Stranger of Sword City (PSV/PSTV)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
Title: Stranger of Sword City
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (541 MB)
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Experience Inc.
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T
Stranger of Sword City is also available on Xbox One, Xbox 360 (Japan), and PC (Japan).
The PlayStation Vita download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Stranger of Sword City tells a story where ships, airplanes, and people simply disappear from our reality and are transported into a parallel universe called Escario.

The people who appear in this alternate universe are collectively called Strangers, and in that world, they wield special powers and abilities. You play as the hero, or chosen one, who has the ability to slay great monsters called Lineage Types to harvest their Blood Crystals.

Gameplay:
The game is your typical dungeon crawler Japanese RPG with a turn-based combat system. You begin with a short introduction and then you’re lead to your character selection screen. After some events, you have five automatically-generated party members and you’re pretty much set loose in the first dungeon.

It wasn’t quite clear to me until one of my characters died that you pretty much have to create all of the rest of the characters in your party from the same character creator that you used for your main character.

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I suppose customizing each party member has its good points, such as being able to craft your party to your liking, but I was kind of disappointed to not get any background on the fantastically-drawn characters.

It would have been nice to maybe get like a little character bio or some sort of information about the characters, but I suppose this game allows you use your imagination to fill in your own story, which is fine for some people.

… attack the monsters or let them pass …
The battles themselves are random for the most part, but you do see visible enemies on the screen that regenerate at certain times. Early on in the game, you get the ability to hide and surprise attack monsters, which is referred to as the Ambush ability.

When you perform the Ambush attacks, you get to see the all of the monsters in the group, the leader of the monster group, and a treasure box of varying quality with an icon on it that indicates the contents.

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When doing the Ambush battles, you will have the ability to attack the monsters or let them pass in the hopes of getting better quality loot or a different type of equipment or weapon. As you let them pass, however, the danger meter increases each time which prevents you from getting the first strike.

When you choose to engage the enemies in an Ambush, your objective is to take down the enemy leader as quick as possible before it runs away. If the leader escapes it will take treasure, leaving you with the rest of the enemies to fight with no treasure.

… up to four or so rows of enemies behind the front line …
Sometimes the enemy leaders are very tough to hit and they’ll move around, call in more support, or shield themselves with their troops.

The turn-based battle system is a bit unique compared to anything I’ve played, in that there can be up to four or so rows of enemies behind the front line. This formation requires you to have party members with long and medium-reach weapons in order to hit enemies in the middle or back rows.

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It’s especially critical, when fighting covert battles, to be able to hit the leader in the further rows to take it down as fast as possible.

As far as the battle system goes, it’s extremely grindy and very tough to get loot drops from random encounters. You’ll spend many hours doing hidden battles just to equip your party, since they only come equipped with one weapon and maybe a piece of body armor.

… a trial and error process …
For the equipment, each character has two slots for hand weapons, one for a helmet, one for body, one for underwear, and one for an accessory. The different classes of characters enable you to fight with one or two weapons.

You’ll have to experiment to find out which character class and fighting type is best for your own needs, but it certainly seems to be a trial and error process.

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In the very beginning of the game, I must have missed where it was explained that members in your back row, which appear on the right-hand side of the screen, need to have a medium or long reach to even attack the front row of enemies.

So, the one or two of my starting characters were pretty useless and were mostly dead weight until I figured out how to create more characters with magic and/or more reach.

… a lot of heavy grinding …
Also, another surprise that I found out much later on, was that you can equip two weapon sets for each character. So it’s a good idea to have all your characters equipped with their regular weapons and also long-range weapons in the secondary slot.

This is needed in case you have to put them in the back row, or if the leader monster moves to the middle or back row. To switch weapon slots on the equipment screen, you have to press the Select button to equip the weapons. Once in battle, you can switch weapons sets by going into the item menu for your character.

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Overall, on the Normal difficulty setting, the gameplay is extremely slow to get started until you pass your first mission. You will need to do a lot of heavy grinding just to make it past the first mission, and then the game opens up quite a bit.

You’ll then get a much better perspective as to the true nature of the world you’ve been thrust into. Even though you’re sort of a Chosen One, you are more or less a bounty hunter for Lineage Types and can go after them in any order you see fit.

… choose the game difficulty carefully …
These Lineage Types give you special items that will both grow your character but also shape the story of the game.

If you don’t like grinding, you should choose to play on Easy, but you won’t be able to get certain Trophies on this mode or be eligible for certain leaderboard stats. With that said, you should still choose the game difficulty carefully, because it costs five-thousand Blood Gems, the in-game currency, to change the difficulty from Normal to Easy.

Characters can be revived and recovered for free at the Base, but they'll be unusable for a long time.

Characters can be revived and recovered for free at the Base, but they’ll be unusable for a long time.

Given that Blood Gems are very tough to come by in Normal difficulty, you’re going to have to be prepared for some grinding to make the change.

To make the game even more grueling, when a character dies it takes several in-game days to revive them, so you will need one or more backups in place to step in to fill out your party. Also, each time a party member dies and is revived, they’ll lose a life point.

… avoid letting your party members die …
Once all of a party member’s life points are depleted, they vanish forever. Fortunately, you can recover their life points, but it will take seven or more in-game days to recover just one.

Needless to say, you should save your game often and avoid letting your party members die, because they’ll be laid up for a very long time. Later on in the game, you will be able to acquire items that instantly revive and recover, but as you can imagine, they’re very expensive.

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To me, the best part of the game so far is the story. That along with the parallel universe and trying to get back home is pretty surreal and interesting. The Lineage Types are very grotesque-looking, and the character NPCs are also very mysterious.

The whole need to retrieve the special items, which are in turn used to both level up your character and to forge alliances with the various factions, is a pretty neat concept. You’re forced into situations where you really like the ability that choosing one path takes you, but you may not like to help the faction that you’d be helping by taking that ability.

… it causes my imagination to run wild …
I can’t say for sure if there is a New Game Plus or other perks since I chose to play on Normal and getting through this game is very grueling. I’m also not quite sure this game is good for a mobile game, unless you are on a long plane trip and have a lot of time to spend.

I don’t think the game is necessarily set up for pick up and play action. I played it all on PS TV, and it seems like it works very well for sitting on the couch and grinding away on enemies.

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Visuals:
As far as graphics go for a portable game, I’d say they’re pretty average. The hand-drawn art is very good but the dungeons themselves don’t stand out much in any way.

The Strangers are all drawn in a way that suggests they were regular people that are now adapted to their new surroundings, some with bionic arms but wearing their old high school uniforms. I just love the whole mystique of the game and it causes my imagination to run wild.

The character NPCs were re-drawn for the game at some point in the process, so this version allows you to change the art style in the menus. The other art style isn’t as detailed and dark, and I much prefer the default graphical style.

… no option to select an English voice track …
Audio:
Another high point is the amazing soundtrack. The intro music is just awesome, and has me tempted to purchase the Limited Edition to get it.

The character voices are all in Japanese with no option to select an English voice track. I suppose since this is a brand new game with characters that I’m not familiar with, I’m completely fine with not having English voice acting.

I have an 8 next to my ID, yet I am not tied for second place.

I have an 8 next to my ID, yet I am not tied for second place.

Online/Multiplayer:
While this game is singleplayer only, it does with online leaderboards. The leaderboards track things like how high you’ve leveled certain characters, what kinds of weapons you’ve found, how fast you completed the game, etc.

However, it doesn’t seem very useful since it doesn’t really show where you stack up in the list. I’ve paged through several of the leaderboards, and my associated rank should be like two or three, yet my ID is not listed on the screen.

… the game seems like a slow burn …
Conclusion:
Those of you who like grindy, turn-based dungeon crawlers are going to be very satisfied with this game. If you’re just here for the story I would still recommend getting the game and playing it on Easy mode.

For everyone else, especially those of you who have short attention spans, I’d say perhaps pass on this one or wait for a price drop. This game seems like a pretty big commitment. Overall though, Stranger of Sword City is a good game with which I kind of have a love/hate relationship.

I played about forty hours of the game so far and it’s now getting a lot easier to get money and not die so much. Even though the game seems like a slow burn, the story, music, and the promise of good loot keeps beckoning me to play it again. Perhaps I’ll invest five-thousand Blood Gems and change my difficulty setting, just to see the ending.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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