Stranger of Sword City is a Dungeon Crawler JRPG game developed by Experience Inc & Team Muramasa, licensed and published by NIS America. It’s a bit different from your typical dungeon crawler or JRPG, seamlessly combining elements from both into its own unique experience.
You start the game as a victim of a plane crash. Confused and alone you begin wandering, a strange wasteland littered with broken electronics and mechanical wreckage. Following some (spoiler-free) events, you learn that you have somehow entered another realm altogether, fraught with recently reawakening evils and events that even the local denizens do not know the cause of. As a stranger, you possess unusual strength compared to the people of Escario, due in part to a lower effect of gravity. You also possess special powers. Yours are especially unique, as you can absorb the power of blood crystals, earned through decimating lineage type monsters. This power among other mysteries will put you in the center of mysterious events and power struggles, all whilst you try to return home.
There are no additional modes in Stranger of Sword City, only the main story. You are provided the choice of difficulty, normal or beginner. If you are uncertain as to which would be better for you, I’d recommend going for the easier difficulty first, as though it is possible to change this later, it requires a special very expensive item to do so.
Starting the game begins with customizing your character. You can choose from a set of avatars (3 and a bit pages) An unusual, and nice touch, is that you can assign your gender for all avatars, and they do not need to correspond to the avatar images. These visual choices don’t impact the progress of the game, or your statistics, so you can choose whatever you like here. You then choose the characters age. This does affect your stats, as younger characters will generally have more life points and recover them quicker. I assume there is a benefit somewhere in choosing an older character (the age spans from 18-99) but I have yet to work out what it is.
The main characters race is Human by default, there may be a possibility that this is customisable on a new game+ but I have not completed the game yet to be able to test if this is the case.
- Humans are the most balanced race, and the easiest for the beginner, as well as the default option for your main character. (I’m unsure if you might get the option to try different races after a completed game as I have not finished it yet to test it out.)
- Elves, as in most games have a higher affinity to intelligence, making them great wizards.
- Dwarves are stronger and hardier than the other races but less agile.
- Migmys have the highest pious stat from the beginning and so make a good choice as healers, they also have good agility aiding in avoiding attacks.
- Neys are strong and agile, they make good dancers or ninja characters.
Talents are a bonus effect which gives the characters passive skills. The main character receives a unique talent (the ability to drain blood crystals, as well as unlimited life points) but you can choose the talent for your other members. There is no limit to how many characters can have the same talent, of course, it’s a good idea to have a balanced set.
- Fortunate – Evade enemy ambush at a higher rate
- Educated – Examine items/ Bonus for enemy identification abilities
- Invincible – Immune to critical and paralysis (except for in ambush zones)
- Intuition – Bonus for identifying traps on treasure chests
- Wild Eyes – Bonus to discovering hidden secrets in the labyrinth
I’d recommend at least having a member with intuition and one with wild eyes from the start, they end up being necessary often in order to complete tasks and progress in the game.
You get to roll a dice for bonus points once finished selecting the options for your character. The dice has a much higher probability of rolling a 5, and 3 for the certain races. Where it is 5 most often the highest roll you’ll eventually achieve is a 7, and for the 3 is a 5 (very rarely a 6). You then get to allocate these to:
- strength (Physical attack power)
- Intelligence (Affects magic and MP)
- Pious (Affects light magic and MP)
- Vitality (Defense and HP)
- Agility (Accuracy, evasion, and initiative)
- Luck (Affects many categories)
and finally you get to choose a class:
- Fighter – Close combat, heavily armed
- Knight – Protect allies, heavily armored
- Samurai – Front row only, speedy, focuses on one-hit kill sword attacks
- Wizard – Offensive and support magic
- Cleric – Healer
- Ranger – Midrange, weak but agile
- Ninja – Advanced class, can perform various roles
- Dancer – Trickster specializes in singing and dancing, uses thrown weapons.
In my personal opinion it seems it would have been a better idea to put class choice before bonus point allocation for easier decision making in where to allocate those points, though it is easily rectifiable as can return to the previous page and change the points accordingly.
Once you’ve completed the introduction and the tutorial, you can create a party of up to 6 members. The ultimate goal is to dispatch all of the lineage monsters which are causing problems throughout Sword City, whilst collecting blood crystals and gifting them to the vessels of your choice, in the hopes that the power to return to your own world will open up. Who you give them to affects not only the story, but the divinity you learn. Divinities are bonus skills or enchantments which you use by spending morale points, which are gained by defeating enemies.
To achieve this goal you set out into the various labyrinth dungeons throughout the city, trying to stay alive through waves of enemies whilst avoiding hidden traps and solving puzzles. Like many dungeon crawlers, and RPGs, Stranger of Sword City provides a plethora of ways to hinder your partys progress. Pitfall traps, spikes (doubly lethal in the pitch black spaces you often need to traverse with one space ahead visibility), booby-trapped chests, tiles which change your direction without you knowing which way, and walls which close behind you to name a few.
- START – Help dialogue
- Left Stick – Camera
- Right Stick – Move
- Triangle – Menu
- Select – Party statistics/equipment menu
- X – On map investigates
- O – On map in ambush area starts ambush
- R/L Shoulders – Sidestep move on map
As is reasonably standard for a dungeon crawler, the map is blacked out to begin with and areas become highlighted as you traverse them. Unlike MeiQ the spaces either side to you have to be physically traveled on to light up. The dungeons are also per-generated rather than procedural, though this is much more appropriate for the game-play as you will be grinding alot. In most of the dungeons you will eventually find a magic stone which enables you to exit the dungeon, and teleport back to that spot afterwards, enabling you to save, stock up on items and replenish your health/revive members.
Occasionally you will also come across a butterfly, which if you touch it will teleport you out of the dungeon, or you can kill it for 1500 experience. Health and MP replenish upon leaving a dungeon, and enemies and item drops spawn again (in different locations) when you enter a dungeon.
A convenient feature put in place with the map is an auto-move function, which is really helpful for those moments were you lose your bearings. Touching a highlighted area on the full size map will generate a path and auto-pilot you to that destination. Though it isn’t always guaranteed, hidden areas can’t be traversed this way even after traveling through them, and “tiles” that hinder or change your movement stop the auto-movement.
Enemies in Strangers of Sword City are a combination of random encounters, and visible on map enemies. I like how representations of enemies or NPC’s in the level environment are reminiscent of Dungeon & Dragons Standee tokens, and it’s a nice touch that they are always facing you. If you run away from a fight with an enemy which is visible on the map, they will not disappear, however the monsters in the fight may change.
An interesting mechanic in Strangers of Sword City is that of the ambush function. Using the wild eyes talent reveals areas in the dungeon where you can hide in wait for enemies which are transporting equipment. Using morale points you can ambush them, gaining the opportunity to acquire some better and occasionally rare equipment. If you don’t like the type of weapon that it tells you is in the chest you can let them pass and wait for the next enemy. Be careful though, each time you do, not only do the enemies get stronger, but they also gain the increasing chance of flipping the tables and ambushing you instead.
Also, ambushing enemies repeatedly in the same area attracts more dangerous enemies, but also costs more morale each time, e.g. jumping from 5 points for the first ambush, to 20 points for the second. The maps generally have multiple ambush spots, so it’s a good idea to circuit around.
In an ambush fight, one, or a row of enemies will be “crowned” the leader, and if they escape you will lose the treasure chest. A pop up dialogue warns you 4 turns ahead of when the leader will flee the battle.
Most of the chests will be trapped in some form, and you can use an item to disarm it, or (and you’ll likely be doing this more often) use the intuition talent to disarm it. The interesting spin on disarming traps in this game is that you will be presented with a list of traps (sometimes none, one, or more) and if you guess the correct one, then you disarm it. If not, well, it goes off. You do get small hints in terms of which is more common on what type of chest, but that’s about it.
Another interesting part of the ambush mechanic is how the designers have integrated it into main game-play by creating some lineage type enemies who will only appear through this function.
In battle you can fast forward animations by holding down X, or use fast-apply which will auto repeat the previous actions, though you won’t be able to change anything in response to the battle until the next turn this way. Battle choices are remembered, and remain highlighted on that action.
I very much appreciate the log function (accessible by pressing select in battle) which you can go back through if at any point you get confused, which is especially handy if you are using fast forward or fast apply, and have no idea why half your party is about to die.
Something that didn’t crop up in basic gameplay (though it may be in the gratuitously sized help menu) is that the spell menus are split into their types, which can be accessed by using the right and left shoulders. I kept wondering where my new spells had dissapeared to.
I’m still unclear on if exp can stack with characters who are currently in your party. Instead of showing a quantity, level progress is displayed in percentages. When the character reaches 100% you can level them up through the party menu and allocate the newly acquired bonus point. No experience is gained for dead members at end of battle, make sure you revive them.
Life points and health are affected by character age. Each time a character dies they lose a life, and when they all vanish the character “vanishes” (perma-dies.) You can rest them at the base to recover life, or pay a large amount to do so instantly. It takes varying time periods depending on character age etc, so it is good to have backup units. Time progresses in high level dungeons, and at the end of battles.
Another good reason to have standby units, and a good idea to create them early on, is that they generate a small amount of revenue which can be collected by going to the base and editing the party. (This is another one of the small things it doesn’t tell you until later.)
Strangers of sword city boasts a great soundtrack, and a genre appropriate art style, which ties it in to its roots and gives it a different feel from the similar games on the market. The game is chock full of clever writing, interesting tidbits and references, including things from multiple cultures not just Japan. A twist on the shop which aids the games challenge, as well as enhancing the game feel in a way which many games don’t try to do, is in the limited stock, where some items are in limited supply and will not replenish once you have purchased them all. Many games go with the unlimited supply method, and it’s nice to see different ideas coming into tackling the game-world economy system to a more realistic or challenging model.
The game implements a multi-player aspect by enabling ranking systems which are reset every month and based on different things such as gameplay time, and level. There are also PSN trophies, though the ranking of some of them seems a bit strange, for example, completing the tutorial earns you a silver trophy.
A few things I wish would be implemented are slots to save commands into memory which could be loaded to play instead of just the last actions performed in the fast select mode. The ability to use the touchscreen as an alternative to the X button, for those times where you’re trying to juggle other things and just want to progress to the next bit of dialogue without having to put everything you are doing down. A random name generator for character creation, as well as automatically fillung out the nickname to what you have filled out in the name section, for those of us who can’t or don’t want to give them a nickname, and find doing it twice somewhat tedious.
There’s not much in the way of tutorial explanations at the beginning of the game, leaving much of it up to you to get to grips with, though this isn’t too bad with standardised controls and genre conventions. There’s also a help screen accessible at nearly any time. It’s absolutely bursting with information, and may be a little more than is necessary, though it’s another fun throwback which reminds me of its roots in Tabletop games.
There’s been some mixed feedback for this game from other people, and to put my two cents in, I think enjoyment of the game very much depends on your taste and cultural experience. I for one, as a Dungeons & Dragons player, can see the heavy influence it has on the game, and appreciate the style, difficulty and occasional difficulty spikes with staying true to its roots. The animations in battle are not flashy for the reason that it is not the focus of the game. You’ll spend more time focusing on your stats and managing keeping your party alive than watching the effects, and for most of them once you’ve adjusted to the game, you’ll spend fast-forwarding the animations.
The game is very grind-centric and focuses more on the story and adventuring elements similarly to its inspiration, which is where I feel the subtle nuances in the ambient effects in the levels and sound effects really shine. The game is meant to be slightly punishing, which makes the light-hearted moments, comedic inserts and high action moments all the more effective. You will be spending a lot of time playing this game, and in a market where players are often complaining about short play times Strangers of Sword City addresses that, and presents a strategically enhanced challenge, filling the time up with genuine game-play not filler.
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