We originally ran our Vita review for this title on 20/04/2016, reviewed by Vincent and provided to us from NIS Europe for the PSVita. Since then we have been provided from Experience INC the review code for the X Box One version. I’ll be using the core elements of Vincent’s review as most of it stands for my thoughts too but I shall be offering notes on where I felt different & why – Andi.
Strangers story starts with you being the sole survivor of a plane crash somewhere outside of Japan, though this is no ordinary plane crash as somehow they managed to crash into a different dimension. This dimension is a wasteland filled with magic, monsters and whatever crashes through from our world, quickly you discover you are somehow special and need to form a party with five other warriors in order to brave this world and defeat the dangerous monsters known as Lineage Types. These Lineage Types drop crystals made of their blood which can be given to the choice of 3 main factions to increase your standing with them and hopefully find a way home.
I found the story had some serious pacing issues which made the first dozen hours quite a slow affair, the story does pick up around the 15/20 hour mark but doesn’t quite live it to what you’d expect from the setting. I felt the atmosphere of the game was brilliantly done and it certainly helped me nose dive into the game sinking way into the 40 hour mark even if the characters were heavily cliched and the main narrative not quite as strong as it could of been.
Gameplay wise Stranger takes a 30 year old formula and tweaks the mechanics just enough to feel somewhat modern, you enter a labyrinth and work your way around, fighting with the locals and looting treasure as you try to increase your level to move onto the next labyrinth, rinse and repeat.
Where Experience Inc tried to mix things up is mostly in the background with actual decent layered character customization, you initially choose your character from dozens of anime styled cards, from there you choose your class, race, age and stat assignment from a pool. Age affects your characters maximum lives and XP gain rate on a sliding scale, the older the character the faster they gain XP and abilities but their maximum lives are lower as a result. Race choices give a single inherent skill as well as minor influence on your starting skills and stats. On reaching the first city you build your party with all the needed skills to get you through your adventure.
This falls over though when it becomes apparent that although the best fighters in the land most of the time your party is at a severe disadvantage, fights are completely random and could at any time throw you up against a hugely overleveled beastie who kills party members in a single mighty blow. Even worse is when the levels are slightly over your own, as you end up hacking away turn after turn trying to whittle the enemies life down for upwards of 10 minutes, magic is a rare commodity with an even rarer item to recover it so though it ends fights faster it also creates a lot of backtracking to the city to recover it for free as a magic user is useless once their points drop and fighting with half a party will almost always end in disaster. A disaster which annoyingly may include permadeath, each character has a limited amount of lives, once killed they can be revived at the Stranger base but this takes time unless you want to spend large amounts of cash reviving instantly. Ordinarily permadeath is just par to the course of a game but here it causes genuine frustration as to refill a characters lives you need an exceedingly rare item, an item that if you do not have will lead you into some major grinding to bring a backup party member up to a point to not be as useless as a chocolate teapot, this grinding is made even more of a chore when you realise just how little experience points you get for a fight, making every level a stretch to reach, coupled with how insanely expensive equipment is to buy leveling up is very time consuming and difficult.
There is one mechanic though that stands above all others in this title and that is the Ambush. Within each labyrinth there are marked areas where you can spend from a points pool called Divinity, although this pool is used for escaping battle and other special skills its best use is Ambush. You become invisible and wait for powerful enemies to come by, when one does you can inspect them before you fight, but each time you refuse a fight it becomes more dangerous and you are more likely to be discovered. When you commit to a fight then you are tasked with taking out the leader before he runs away, if you manage this then you get a large amount of XP and a chance to open a chest to gain some powerful weapons, armour or items. Often you will fail in this and there is a chance the chest is booby trapped but when you manage it it is very much worthwhile.
Graphically Stranger falls at both ends of the scale, the 2D assets such as NPC and Enemies are beautifully drawn and really look the part, they will not be to everyone’s taste but they give a nice modern edge to a retro concept, the 3D areas like the labyrinths though however are woefully dull and ugly. The graphical effects are almost non-existent with most attacks being a slash or flash, this is par for the course on this particular genre but similar games recently have added a little dash of flair to their battle scenes which could change your judgement on this issue, personally i’m used to it and it didn’t hurt me in anyway that I felt negatively about the issue.
Soundscape is another mixed bag, the music is on the most part is great, the voice acting is entirely in Japanese and is well done so what little dialogue there is lends itself well. The downside though is the sound effects, many of these have been recycled from Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy and were not used to great effect in either title with wildly varying volumes and an overall harshness of the sound which only serves to grate after a few hours.
I found Stranger of Sword City on the X Box One to be quite an enjoyable blast of fresh air, where as the title may of been wasted somewhat on the Vita due to the bundles of competition it really shines on the barren X Box One. The graphics are cleaned up somewhat but all that really does is show how nice the art is when outside of the dungeons, in all seriousness I nearly put this game down when I found out that there isn’t even artwork for stairs!. Once you get past the fact it’s obviously a port of a Vita title and sit down with it you’ll find yourself engrossed in this tale itching to get back out to the next dungeon and score yourself some tasty loot, it has it’s moments where it’ll whoop you hard but it has that real “brush off and try again” feeling about it and it’s one that certainly absorbs my game time on the X Box One.
The below score reflects my personal feelings on the time I had spent on the X Box One version of the game prior to this review. Factoring in that this title is fairly unique on the X Box One and thus hasn’t got any comparison & how I felt it stood up within the X Box One current gaming library.
I would also like to thank Vincent once again for allowing me to use the base of his review and make my own personal tweaks to this, if you are wondering how this title stood up on the Vita you can click HERE to be taken to the original source review
Stranger of Sword City (Xbox One) - 8/10
Who should buy this
- Fans of the genre
- Looking for a unique title on the one
- Fancy getting a rewarding time sink
Who should avoid this
- If you hate the genre
- Need AAA graphics and effects
- Want something to blast through in a few short hours
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