I feel bad for the PS Vita. My housemate bought one in his first year of university and it has been a large waste of money in his eyes. Most games available are JRPG’s, which are released cross-platform and eventually will end up on PC.
Stranger of Sword City is another one of these, a game which sadly falls over its own feet. It’s too obtuse. It’s poor at plot delivery almost begging you to lose interest, not helped by the plot being rather thin and lacking worthwhile depth. It’s a game trying to be different and unique yet ends up being a game with many innovations unable to fit them on a framework.
The threadbare story of Stranger of Sword City can be described as such: You are the only survivor of a plane that took off from Japan and ended crashing in another dimension filled with remnant of our world. This translates into first-person turn-based dungeon crawling as you and five warriors aim to kill monsters known as ‘Lineage Types’ whose blood hopefully holds the key to getting home.
The first thing you’ll notice is the game feels a little shabby. Your goal is accomplished by wandering a 3D grid labyrinth, looting treasure and fighting cardboard enemies. Attacks have no animation past slashes and flashes onscreen. While you can see its attempts to keep a retro styling going, in 2016 the game feels slightly shabby as a result of this: the implementation is poor, especially next to far more in-depth systems.
One of those systems is the rather deep character customisation system. There are a multitude of factors to manipulate including portrait, class, stats, race and age. These determine factors such as starting stats and skills and how your character gains experience, as well as their lives (explained more later.) Being able to create your own crew early in with depth is a rare touch, giving you the choice to specialise hard or to spread across the classes.
This would be awesome if the dungeons were not set up in a way which made your abilities useless. The game is rarely keeping you on equal footing. A fight can be a simple 45 second ordeal and straight after you can walk into a 20 minute brawl without warning. Magic is typically better than swords, dealing more damage consistently; but magic points are scarce, with items quite the expense. This leads to a lot of grinding and backtracking when magic characters are spent as they become useless when they are, something which would be far more acceptable if the game was not as stingy with experience points as it is.
Improving this apparent weakness is somewhat difficult. Blacksmiths can sell you better weapons and items, yet they are very expensive and the improvement is rather nominal. The better option is to ambush enemies, waiting in dungeons until higher level enemies turn up and killing them before they escape, winning their loot. Given your underpowered nature as well, this is a difficult venture much like normal gameplay.
You must also contend with permadeath as well, the joy of joys it is and probably the final nail in the game’s coffin. Each character has a limited number of lives determined by their age. The trade being fewer lives equals faster experience gain is little solace. When a life is lost you have to drag the character back to the home base to recover and struggle through the clunky recovery system which itself can take hours. When the last life is gone your character is gone forever, and unless you’ve put time into a backup character you’re in for more grinding. The story also suffers, giving none of your characters depth due to their cannon fodder status.
In sum, everything Stranger of Sword City has done was done better elsewhere. The artwork and the fact the game does work as a product is saving this game from achieving such a poor score. However it sadly falls in the hole of innovation and cannot recover, scoring only a mediocre 5.