Stranger of Sword City is a dungeon crawling JRPG. It’s full of anime tropes, turn-based combat, sprawling dungeons, but none of it has very much depth. The story hardly manages to grab your interest. The battles are grind fests and the levelling and equipment system is all too generic. This game might work better as a handheld game that you can dip into for short bursts, but playing on PC doesn’t quite work.
Let’s start with the story. You begin your adventure as the only survivor on a Japanese flight and awaken in a strange land. You quickly encounter monsters, make friends with some of the locals and realise you have super powers. All of it shouts bland anime storyline and lands flat like a skydiver without a parachute. Interesting premise, but bad execution.
The battle system doesn’t fair much better. In the usual turn-based affair you choose your attack for each party member – be that regular attacks or special/magical ones – and then battle commences in order of speed stat. Throw in enemies and allies being able to be on different rows with certain weapons on being able to hit one or the other and the battles are decidedly OK. However, Stranger of Sword City is requires a lot of grinding. The monster levels increases at a considerable rate meaning players will need to fight lots of relatively easy and boring battles all the time. Stranger of Sword City knows this and has handily included a ‘skip animation’ option once all commands have been input. The problem is that while Bravely Default let you speed up battles and that was a really good addition, skipping them entirely makes Stranger of Sword City feel hollow and makes already dull battles even less engaging.
This problem with the battle system is further emphasised by an uninteresting levelling system. Often it is fine to need to grind battles in order to unlock interesting and powerful abilities, but since enemy levels radically shift all the time players are always left playing catch up making any unlocks less and less fun. It’s all about reaching that required level to progress without serious heartache. Maybe some people like that, but for me it takes far too long and none of the process is interesting enough to warrant that length.
Stranger of Sword City lets you create your own character, choose your portrait, race, gender and class. This is all excellent. Where this immediately falls down is assigning skill levels. By increasing your age and reducing your health then your character gains access to bonus stat points. That sounds interesting enough until I say that to get those bonus points you need to go through a random number generator. And because the same is true of creating members of your party I have lost more time than I’m proud of trying to get the maximum number of bonus points. The main reason this is stupid is because the game requires you to grind so much that having those precious extra points make a massive difference, but to then hide them behind an aggravating random number generator is just cruel.
The musical score is acceptable, but the rest of the game is so boring that I often had podcast or a TV show on at the same time in order to more easily pass the excessive battles with more ease. I think if the writing and the plot had engaged me better than I would be able to forgive a lot of the other issues with Stranger of Sword City, but instead the story boiled down to “go here” and “find and kill that”.
I will however praise the art direction. All the character portraits and levels are beautifully drawn even if a lot of the dungeons look the same. Stranger of Sword City does especially well with its monster design, all of which are excellent. I think it is unfortunate that Stranger of Sword City ended up being what it is because clearly there is a lot of potential. I have heard people call it the Dark Souls of the JRPG world, but the difference is that Dark Souls never demanded that you grind levels for hours. You could always overcome a boss no matter your level or equipment, but Stranger of Sword City makes it impossible to defeat certain enemies without forfeiting hours on level up before hand.
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