In what seems like a completely different time period, the PsVita was the master of JRPGS/VN & Dungeon Crawlers, Experience Inc knew this all too well and it wasn’t uncommon to see their titles on the console. Now is the time of the Switch and Exp Inc have re-released a fan favourite and freshly translated a lost title, hidden treasure? Read on.
So within this title you have 2 classic style dungeon crawlers in the vein of Wizardry or the more recent Etrian Odyssey/Persona Q games, Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Strangers of Sword City Revisited.
Stranger of Sword City Revisited is by large the same title myself and another reviewer have covered during our websites run, the revisited version does include a plethora of additions such as extra classes, improvements to the battle system and balancing which is rather enticing for those who may have played before.
Saviors of Sapphire Wings is also a remake of a untranslated title called Students of the Round, much like the above this is effectively the definitive way to experience the game, especially for audiences outside of Japan.
This package bundles both of the above games together with no bonuses but you are getting the definitive version of a well loved title of the genre and a freshly translated spiritual successor!.
Saviors of Sapphire Wings
We won’t be going super in depth for the write up on this one as it shares most of its bones with Stranger of Sword City in which we have a full blown review just below this one, instead we are just going to tackle what the main differences are and any issues we had with the game.
Saviors of Sapphire Wings has a much stronger focus of narrative storytelling and character development than that of Stranger of Sword City. Whereas the latter felt a little lacking until later on, Saviors provides a much more robust narrative which while interesting is riddled with JRPG clichés to the point it feels like “Japanese Role Playing Game Narrative for Dummies”, also I didn’t feel it had half the atmosphere that Stranger had.
As expected of this developer, the artwork for this title is fantastic at its best and anime cliche at its worst. Whereas Strangers has a very dark and consistent art style, Saviors likes to mix that art direction with a more popular Anime style often causing a contrast within the game and it’s scenes.
This next one sounds alot like nitpicking but bare in mind when I heard this game was releasing I was ready for something visually more substantial than previous titles, instead it feels like a vita port, especially that we still don’t have tiles for stairs! Etrian nailed this years ago so showing an icon in the middle of the screen doesn’t fly with me at all.
Aside from the few issues with Saviors you’re still getting a mostly fine example of the dungeon crawling RPG genre that leans closer to the classic side of Wizardry rather than titles like Etrian or Mary Skelter. It’s tough as nails, tour de force of first person dungeon exploration with all the tropes of the genre capped off with a little more narrative than you would expect from it.
Stranger of Sword City.
Original review for the X Box 360 version covers our existing thoughts on the title.
Stranger of Sword City’s 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 have 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 for 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 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.
All in all NIS have bundled together 2 of the finest examples of classic dungeon role playing games even if they may be slightly archaic for some.
You’ve got easily 80 hours of hardcore dungeon exploring, monster killing, loot grinding and balls to the walls grinding which will more than pay off anyone willing to stick around.
Saviors of Sapphire Wings/Stranger of Sword City Revisited are fantastic titles for fans of the sub genre, it’s a much harder recommend for people who like their RPGs with bells, whistles and higher presentation, this is one hardcore package but one fans of the niche shouldn’t ignore.
For its target audience this is a very hard package to pass up. Not a booby trap