Xuan Yuan Sword 7 Review: 家族 means family
A placid existence. A harmonious town. A carefree childhood. All of this was violently taken from Taishi Zhao one fateful night when invaders burned his home to the ground and murdered his parents, mentors, and other courtesans. Before escaping with his life, his mother bequeathed to him a scroll, his infant sister, Xiang, and a last request: take care of his sister so that they both may live. Zhao fled to the hills, Xiang strapped on his back. As he watched his town burn to the ground, he realized the turn his destiny had taken; he must raise baby Xiang alone in a cold and uncaring world.
It’s pretty crazy that a series of this caliber has yet to really make waves in the West, but I can see why something like Xuan Yuan Sword 7 was chosen to be this audience’s first marketed foray into the franchise. Developed by Softstar and DOMO Studio and published by eastasiasoft, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 was initially released on PC last year but has since made its way to consoles on September 30, 2021. Available for a launch price of $49.99, Xuan Yuan Sword 7’s 20 hour journey may feel a bit short considering the coin, but the splendor of Zhao’s world and the stories found within will readily entice those who love to get lost in a terrific tale.
Although Xuan Yuan Sword 7 opens up on the aforementioned wanton destruction, the game later fast-forwards a decade or so to feature Zhao as a young, competent hunter. He’s been looking out for Xiang the entire time in a remote part of the mountains, but, as fate would have it, their lives were not to be simple — she’s sick, and seeing a doctor isn’t something they can always afford. Zhao takes on odd jobs here and there, such as escorting soldiers through the winding mountain paths, in an effort to collect coin to pay for her treatments. In the meantime, he regales her with tales from his childhood while she drinks her bitter medicine — until yet another cruel twist of fate occurs and Xiang’s soul is separated from her body. Like the kindhearted, capable brother he is, he immediately takes it upon himself to find a way to reunite Xiang’s soul with her body, fighting through hordes of magical, mythological creatures to that end.
Xuan Yuan Sword 7’s controls take a little bit of time to get used to at first, but after awhile it’s a pretty seamless experience. I don’t remember the last ARPG I played that made any of the shoulder buttons the main attack action, but it’s not a huge deal. Speaking of combat, fans of tank-style gameplay will be pretty happy here, as most fights can be won by spamming the heavy attack on repeat. There are other moves, like parries and counter attacks, but even on normal mode I found it was possible to just hack away at all the monsters that dared approach me.
Where Xuan Yuan Sword 7 really shines is in its aesthetics and its character interaction. Zhao’s world is simply gorgeous, from the lush mountain landscape to the creepy boss dungeons; in fact, while walking through the mountain trails, I often felt a cold chill on my arms, as if I was really there myself! At first I couldn’t tell if it was just the colors they used or the greenery reacting to gentle winds, but after some time I began to believe the secret to the lovely aesthetics was in the lighting. Sure, it was a little dark in the dungeons, but while outside, a full day/night cycle helped showcase the beauty of all scenes throughout the day. Truly, the visuals are stunning, amplified by the spectacular focus on lighting details.
What really got me about Xuan Yuan Sword 7 was its character interaction, especially Zhao’s relationship with Xiang. Although Xiang is predominately without a body throughout the game, her soul remains by her older brother’s side, eventually becoming a party member to help him through battles. The delivered dialog and facial animations serve to showcase just how close the pair are, and moments where they find themselves apart genuinely feel lonely. I tremendously enjoyed seeing the different relationships blossom throughout the game, but Zhao and Xiang’s remains my favorite.
While the aesthetics and story are lovely, there are some potential deal-breakers I must point out with Xuan Yuan Sword 7. First, I must remind players that it is a 20 hour experience at most, and that’s only if you’re going out of your way to solve all side quests, play the mini-games, etc (honestly that chess mini-game is a BLAST so put aside a few hours for that bad boy alone). Plenty of players can clear this game within 12 – 15 hours if they just focus on the main storyline, which, by the way, is extremely linear. While that does resolve one of my bigger gripes with RPGs as a whole (if your goal is urgent, why are you dilly-dallying??), I know linearity can be a sticking point for some players. Also, just to mention as an accessibility thing, the game is fully English subbed but features Mandarin voice-acting only (just so you know).
If I’m being honest, the biggest takeaway I got from Xuan Yuan Sword 7’s gameplay was that it felt like a PS3-era title. The levels weren’t truly open-world and were instead winding pathways from point A to point B, you have to save at specific waypoints instead of autosaving or saving from the main menu, and quick time events were lovingly sprinkled throughout. Granted, said QTEs served to give the game a Chinese martial arts movie kind of vibe so it was very on brand for the art direction, but in the gaming world, they can feel a little dated. Now, I get that fads cycle over time and that maybe retro-inspired things can make a comeback, and maybe I’m in the minority here, but the seventh generation doesn’t feel all that long ago — is it too early to bring back these mechanics, or is this the signal of something old/new?
Xuan Yuan Sword 7 tells a compelling story with gorgeous scenery and loveable characters, but it’s difficult to recommend to just anybody. I’m usually not one to knock game length, but a linear 15 – 20 hour experience for $49.99 is a harder sale than most. If you prefer story and style over combat and gameplay, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 is a no-brainer, its focus on familial bonds between brother and sister absolutely heartwarming. If you’re looking for a little more action in your ARPGs, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 probably won’t give you the satisfaction you’re expecting.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC, XBox One, XBox Series X|S, PS5, PS4 (reviewed); Publisher: eastasiasoft; Developer: DOMO Studio, Softstar; Players: 1; Released: September 30, 2021; MSRP: $49.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Xuan Yuan Sword 7 provided by the publisher.