Stranger of Sword City Revisited is worth revisiting
Last year, Experience Inc. released Stranger of Sword City. Touting itself as as “the next step in the evolution of the traditional dungeon RPG”, SoSC presented a classically-styled, back-to-basics dungeon crawler with daunting dungeons, terrifying monsters, and brutal combat that urged players to plan their every move carefully. It was a solid game, but Experience Inc. thought that they could make it even better. So, they took it, re-vamped it, and released it once more – this time as Stranger of Sword City Revisited. And believe me, it’s still just as tough as it’s ever been.
Stranger of Sword City Revisited wastes little time cranking things up to 11 – even in terms of its narrative. The story story begins with the player waking up amongst the wreckage of a plane crash in a cold and unforgiving-looking dungeon. As they’re collecting their wits, the player is greeted by an old man who tells them that the evil being responsible for crashing their plane is most likely after them, and helps guide them out of the dungeon – only to turn into into a terrifying monster and attempt to devour them whole. Just as the player is about to meet an untimely end, they are saved by a young woman. Introducing herself as Riu, the woman helps the player the rest of the way through the dungeon and tells them that she and the player are “Strangers” – powerful beings from a different world – and it is only through their cooperation with other Strangers that they can escape from the land in which they are trapped known as Escario, the City of Swords.
In order to escape Escario, Strangers need only do but one thing; collect Blood Crystals. Easy, right? No, of course it isn’t. Blood Crystals are incredibly rare, and can’t just be found lying around anywhere. Rather, Blood Crystals are found inside of Labyrinths – particularly dangerous areas within Escario– and it’s the job of Strangers to find them. Upon entering Escario, Strangers are given a unique ability – the ability to fight. Regardless of who you were before being forcibly made into a denizen of the City of Swords, Strangers always find themselves stronger, and sometimes even physically different, afterward. Were you a severely out-of-shape, 6′ 2″ tax attorney before? Well, now you’re an overly-muscular Dwarf Fighter. Welcome to Sword City.
Fortunately, the player is given full control over character customization for both themselves and their party members – and there’s an impressive amount of customization that can be done. Each character comes with their own race, which determines starting stats, age, which determines bonus stats and Life Points, and Talents, which include unique abilities such as being able to sense secrets within labyrinths, or being immune to critical hits.
New specifically to Revisited is the addition of Features, which allow players to automatically teach a skill to their newly-created character. Features ended up being incredibly useful most of the time, allowing me to do things like create a Wizard with healing magic. Unfortunately, the game only lists the skills that your characters learn, and not what the skills do, meaning that I ended up foolishly slapping on the ability to use two items at once onto my main character (an ability that I’ve never made use of). Quite a bit goes into creating a character and, depending on how create them, it isn’t too hard to make a party that specifically caters to your combat needs. Of course, there’s plenty of fun superficial stuff to mess around with too. Players are able to pick from a wide selection of character portraits (which, weirdly, includes portraits of other actual in-game characters ), names, and even nicknames. While none of it impacts gameplay, little details like that are surprisingly fun.
Classes are also incredibly important. Joining the original Stranger of Sword City‘s solid lineup of Clerics, Ninja, Knights, and the like, are three new Revisited-exclusive classes – the Clocker, who can manipulate time (Think Time Mage + Red Mage), the Puppeteer, who can manipulate enemies, and the Freeman, a unique class who doesn’t fight but instead passively provides bonuses (such as extra money and shop discounts) for your party. Honestly, I think that Revisited did a fine job with the new classes. They’re all very gimmicky, but gimmicky in a fun and useful way. Each of the new classes provides exciting new opportunities to fine-tune strategies. And, since Revisited removed the limit on the number of times that characters can transition jobs, there are a lot of possibilities for your party members. After all of that’s set up, its time for some dungeon-crawling!
Stranger of Sword City Revisited is styled after old-school first-person dungeon-crawlers such as those from the Wizardy series or older (Shin) Megami Tensei titles. Rather than having a large number of smaller, one-and-done areas to explore, Revisited features a collection of massive, sometimes interlinking labyrinths that I can guarantee you won’t get through on your first (or second, or third) try. Each Labrynth is highly-detailed, and filled with a number of hidden passageways, unique treasures, and, often times, dungeon-specific gimmicks that players must familiarize themselves with (such as tiles that spin players around, or poisonous floors) before comfortably being able to navigate through each dungeon.
Naturally, Stranger of Sword City Revisited doesn’t just leave the original SoSC‘s labyrinths alone. Along with minor layout tweaks, events and monster ambushes were added. Events allow players to further explore labyrinths by coming across interesting characters or pieces of information (usually leading to treasure!), while monster ambushes are areas where particularly strong monsters live that players must either fight or bribe in order to get past. Not only does this new content help to expand the longevity of the game, but it manages to do so while blending into existing game content seamlessly. Revisited did a great job with its labyrinths. They were each challenging and very unique from one another (I particularly thought that the Slums were neat), and I got a genuine sense of accomplishment whenever I managed to get all the way through one. Of course, your ability to navigate through a dungeon means nothing if you can’t kill off the hordes of baddies bound to attack you along the way…
Stranger of Sword City Revisited‘s combat is a prime example of the term “easy to learn, hard to master.” In the beginning, battles aren’t too tough. You basically just exchange a few attacks with an enemy, it dies, and you move on – but that doesn’t last for too long. Each new area is home to new types of enemies that require different kinds of strategies, classes, and weapons. Every enemy belongs to a specific race, can harbor elemental properties, and tend to come in huge groups, so preparedness is key. It’s important to always be aware of what kinds of enemies you’ll be facing in each area, and keep in mind that different enemies require different strategies. Carelessness will only get your characters knocked out and, as the original Stranger of Sword City taught us, a character can only get KOd so many times before they’re gone for good. Stressful though it may be, I enjoyed the fact that I had to plan everything out. Too many games today make death meaningless – knowing that death has such permanent consequences always kept me on my toes.
Normal enemies may be tough, but they’re nothing compared to the big baddies of Revisited – the Lineage Types. Lineage Types are incredibly powerful boss monsters possessing Blood Crystals that can be found throughout dungeons (and one of the driving forces behind the game’s plot). Unlike with a lot of games, the bosses of Revisited usually aren’t just waiting around for players at the back of any given dungeon. Many Linage Types can be found randomly while wandering through the dungeon, while others must be triggered by fulfilling certain conditions – such as carrying a certain item with you, or taking too long in battle. Lineage Types require a lot of effort to beat, and can often show up out of nowhere, so constantly being prepared to fight ends up being important – but the risk is worth it. Blood Crystals, while necessary for story progression, can also be traded in for special Divinity skills, such as being able to automatically recovering HP each turn or temporarily increasing defense, which become vital the further you progress. As an added bonus, Revisited also throws in Slaying Challenges which, when accepted, set characters to a specific level for the duration of the Linage Type fight. While optional, Slaying Challenges reward players handsomely when completed so it’s really not something you should pass up. Linage Types and Slaying Challenges are incredibly difficult, but end up being a great deal of fun once you get the hang of them.
Dungeon a little too hard? Linage Type kick your butt? Just steal some equipment! Within each labyrinth are areas that players can hide, and ambush enemies carrying treasure chests with equipment. Once you ambush an enemy group, you’ll have a limited number of turns to defeat its leader. If you can manage to do that, then that sweet new gear is all yours. Due to how strong monsters are, ambushing becomes important very quickly. I appreciated having plenty of chances to upgrade my equipment, or make a little bit of extra cash selling what I didn’t need. Revisited also makes makes a few tweaks to its equipment system as well, not only adding new equipment into the mix, but allowing players to find multiple copies of special pieces of equipment, and allowing them to pay money to power-up equipment that they already have. I may like my RPGs difficult, but I’m glad that they at least leveled the playing field on this. The game’s already pretty grindy, and lessening the burden on players like this is extremely helpful.
Aside from a legitimate gameplay challenge, Stranger of Sword City Revisited also offers some splendid visuals and a nice soundtrack. Each of Revisited‘s areas are crafted with a great amount of care and detail, and really enhance the dungeon crawling-experience. I was also impressed with the character portraits which, though lacking the original SoSC‘s “Oxijiyen” artwork, managed offered a wide variety of party member looks and styles to choose from, as well as the stunning work on the game’s monsters. Revisited‘s grim and ethereal world was even further complimented by its soundtrack, comprised largely of beautifully-haunting exploration melodies and fierce battle music.
I was quite impressed with this game overall. I’ve played enough RPGs in my time to remain calm in most situations – but boy was Revisited good at making me nervous (in the best way possible). Stranger of Sword City Revisited did an excellent job of taking its already-enticing dungeon crawler and adding in plenty of new content, while still retaining that old-school dungeon-crawler feel. Escario may be a terrifying place, but Experience Inc. makes a pretty convincing argument to come back to it.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: Vita (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Experience Inc. ; Developer: Experience Inc. ; Players: 1 ; Released: February 28, 2017; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Stranger of Sword City Revisited given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher