From developer Experience Inc., Stranger of Sword City is a console port that contains two expansions: one from the Xbox 360 and the other from the PS Vita.
You play an otherworldly human, from Earth, who crashed in the city of Escario via a mysterious portal. You are naturally stronger here than on Earth due to the difference in gravity, and this is what marks you as a Stranger. Other Strangers in Escario also belong to the Strangers Guild.
Hunting monsters called Lineage Types is the goal of the game. These monsters can only be permanently killed by Chosen Ones, which you conveniently are. Lineage Types revive after death unless their Blood Crystal is taken by a Chosen One and given to one of the three Vessels. The Vessels are NPC’s that have a divine connection to their respective diety. Using the Blood Crystals gives them strength and upgrades a corresponding Divinity skill. Each Vessel follows a different path and who you give the Blood Crystal to determines what new Divinity skill you receive and progresses the story. From the Strangers Guild, you perform all the essential tasks such as recruiting new members into your party. While there are other factions, the Strangers Guild is your home. You can recruit members, warp to dungeons and perform other essential functions here. Most importantly, this is the only location where you can save your game.
While the story isn’t that engrossing and doesn’t have memorable characters or dialogue, it doesn’t hamper the game.
The character art is fantastic, especially the bosses and character portraits. I found myself looking at my enemies more than fighting them. The music is no slouch either. With easy melodies found in every part of your journey, I was often humming or tapping along with the game. The voice acting is all in Japanese, so for those that hate English dubs, rejoice!
The core of the game is combat, and most of that is grinding. Everything is turn based and thankfully there is an ‘auto-perform’ feature that skips past the animations. Once you figure out what is going on there really isn’t much to see. There were several times when I would encounter an enemy that would wipe my party in one or two moves. While frustrating, it gives every encounter a terrifying possibility or party wipe. The battle screen is similar to most turn-based dungeon crawlers, and I was immediately reminded of the Etrian Odyssey series. You are presented with a large amount of information, but the lack of a visible turn order or accessible Battle Log is a hindrance. It makes you feel like you are winging battles until you grind enough encounters to know what to expect. Enemies are presented in front, middle and back rows. Your party is only two rows of the recommended tanks and physical damage dealers up front and magic users in back. There are exceptions to this, mainly the dancer, ninja, and ranger, but I stuck with the tried and true knights/fighters up front and mages/clerics in back and was successful.
Each dungeon has a different theme and is where you spend the majority of your time playing. Navigating the dungeons is a simple affair, but while you’re in the dungeon, navigating menus for your party highlight the awkward control layout. Each button is explained, but not in a way that makes sense and when you are being given brand new information it becomes frustrating having to look at what each button does after reading what it should do. The biggest gripe I have with the game is the control layout which is not mapped for the PC. While the controls are not difficult to learn, they can cause unnecessary confusion. I was unable to locate my controller since I recently moved but after studying the original layout and given that this game was ported from console, it would stand to reason that using a controller would significantly improve this aspect. Likewise, the interface can make the game unintentionally annoying. What right-click does depends on what menu you are in, and it’s up to you to figure out. At the main menu, I would repeatedly select “New Game” (which is incredibly easy to select) and be forced to restart the game as the Menu button doesn’t work and there is no way to skip past the scene.
With all that being said, the controls are manageable after poking around for few hours.
A real shining point is the multiple ways to access the same menu, which is very convenient when first trying to navigate and doesn’t clutter the interface up later. The real MVP of the interface was the Map. Once an area is explored, you can click on any point on the map, and the game will walk you there at an increased speed. I accidentally discovered this and once I did, navigating the maze-like dungeons became much easier.
The character creation is easily the high point of the game. On the surface, it appears simple but after having my party wiped several times I began to see all the mechanics at work. The different races have base stats and depending on the age you choose for that character will receive three, five, seven or ten bonus points to allot to stats. There is also a roll mechanic that allows you to receive even more bonus points. Rolling for higher stats has not been so much fun since Baldur’s Gate. Classes are relatively straightforward, and the stats that apply to them are clearly laid out. Where it gets interesting is with the Life Point stat. While more is usually better, this isn’t true here. They are based on your character's age and allow for multiple ‘deaths.' In short: the higher a character's age the better their potential stat bonuses will be, but once they run out of Life Points they permanently die. Characters that have two or three Life Points (three is the cap) can ‘die’ multiple times but are not as strong as older characters. Once I realized this, my parties became more cohesive and efficient, and character creation felt like I was rolling for Dungeons and Dragons.
While it is pricey, $29.99 until June 13th and $36.99 after on Steam, the game is solid. I’ll admit I am a fan of grinding and wandering the dungeons looking for stuff to kill kept me up much later than I should have been. Leveling up is as rewarding as it always is and using new classes and new class abilities were awesome. I had the most fun with the character creation system. Theorycrafting parties was a blast, and using the various art made it feel like I was crafting a D&D party.
I would recommend this game to anyone who’s looking for a dungeon crawler they can sink their teeth into. With incredibly satisfying boss fights, gorgeous character art and a wide range of strategies, there is a lot to experience in Sword City.