Sword and Fairy: Together Forever Review: A Triumphant Console Debut
You’d be forgiven for not being overly familiar with the Sword and Fairy series. This JRPG franchise which has developed a loyal fanbase in the East since its inaugural release back in 1995, has enjoyed little fanfare or mainstream coverage on Western shores; despite Sword and Fairy 6 and 7 having received worldwide releases on PC over the past few years.
Developer Softstar now brings us Sword and Fairy: Together Forever for PS4 and PS5 – effectively a console port of Sword and Fairy 7 that was released for PC last year. With this being the first installment not only to appear on console but also to feature real-time action-RPG combat rather than turn-based, it seems like the perfect opportunity for Softstar to reach a wider audience. Let’s find out whether Sword and Fairy: Together Forever sticks its console landing.
Dense and Epic Storytelling
I’m going to set one thing straight right off the bat – if you aren’t a fan of lore-heavy games or extremely dense narratives, then Sword and Fairy: Together Forever might not be for you. Taking its roots in Chinese mythology, prepare for an experience that holds its source material in extremely high regard. The narrative focuses on Qingshu, a member of the Mingshu sect whose job is to help protect her village from the monsters that lurk outside. Whilst on an excursion outside the village one afternoon, Qingshu spots a young boy being abducted by a bird-like monstrosity, and she quickly gives chase. Having saved the boy, the would-be abductors return to the village later that night, and, when the battle seems lost, in steps Xiu Wu, a humanoid deity sworn to protect the young boy. As it turns out, the child is actually being used as a vessel to house another deity, referred to as “Your Divinity,” who is the central target in an ancient conflict that has been ongoing for some time between humans, deities, and demons.
I’ll stop there, but as you have probably figured by now, Sword and Fairy: Together Forever’s narrative is a lot at times. I’ve only scratched the surface of how dense and out there things get, but I can simultaneously confirm that it’s gripping stuff, with twists and turns around every corner. There are undoubtedly times when the exposition and lore dumps can get a bit overwhelming, especially in the opening hours where you barely get a few minutes of gameplay at a time before being whisked off into another twenty minutes of narrative-driven sections. Stick with it, though, and things become a lot less overbearing, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the more compelling video game narratives in recent memory.
Flashy Yet Deep
It’s also worth powering through those opening hours because, simply put, Sword and Fairy: Together Forever is truly a blast to play once it does loosen the reins a little. Whilst there will no doubt be traditionalists out there who lambast the move to real-time action combat, but, it’s a combat system that manages to be both accessible, whilst still providing depth for those who want to dig a little deeper. If I were to liken it to something in recent memory, it would probably be last year’s fantastic Tales of Arise. Combos can be created using a mixture of light and heavy attacks mapped to the face buttons, whilst pulling the right trigger gives access to a host of elemental and special moves that are then also mapped to the face buttons.
The developers should be applauded also for how quickly they provide players with access to fun tools and awesome kits of destruction. Within a few hours, I was able to spawn elemental birds out of thin air who would rain down devastating lightning attacks, before switching to another party member who could conjure up spectral swords that could impale enemies from across the screen. Adding further party members only opens up more options then as you progress and before long, you’ll be switching party members on the fly mid-combat, identifying enemy weaknesses and figuring out which attacks are best suited to which foes. It all looks great in action as well. Whilst this isn’t the most visually impressive game out there, the art direction coupled with fantastic lighting and particle effects really help the combat encounters pop as you fire off spells and use all manner of impressive weaponry.
When you aren’t engaging with combat, chances are you’ll be off exploring the impressively varied environments, hunting down crafting materials and cooking ingredients that can both be used in their respective systems to buff your combat capabilities. We aren’t talking Monster Hunter levels of depth when it comes to pre-fight preparation, but the systems are engaging enough and the rewards beneficial enough that it feels like time well spent, especially in the late game when difficulty can spike dramatically.
There is also a wealth of side quests to take on, though these are largely a low point for Sword and Fairy: Together Forever. Whilst the writing across the main narrative is generally excellent, the same unfortunately cannot be said for the side quests. Expect fetch quests aplenty, which isn’t a bad thing in itself if handled right. The problem here is that the narrative around the vast majority of these quests is so uninspired that I had to force myself to engage with them, and I really only did so out of a desire to gain more experience across my party and to experience more of the excellent combat system.
It’s unfortunately during these side quests where Sword and Fairy: Together Forever’s biggest issue rears its head most often – and that’s the localization. It’s inconsistent at best, and downright atrocious at worst. Whilst the majority of the time, when pursuing the main quests, it’s pretty easy to overlook some of the issues with the localization as they are largely minor grammatical errors, the side quests fare much worse. It’s a shame that this is an issue at all, and to be honest, it’s baffling that this console release wasn’t used as an opportunity to tidy up an issue that has clearly been carried over from the PC release last year. It’s the sort of gripe that could probably be rectified with patches, however, given this seems to be a legacy issue from the original global release, it’s difficult to see there being any efforts made to address this now.
A Well Handled Port
In terms of presentation, as alluded to earlier in the review, the game often looks fantastic, especially in combat when things are frantic, and there isn’t any downtime to scrutinize too much. The cracks do begin to show slightly during the more serene moments when out exploring, though the fantastic environmental design and art direction do a lot to distract from the frequent pop-in and sometimes basic texture work. Sound design is also a frequent high point, with the Oriental-inspired tracks swelling at just the right moments during dramatic story beats or pivotal boss fights, whilst also managing to quieten and bubble softly in the background when out exploring and gathering materials.
Performance is thankfully solid throughout and compliments the already great presentation, with the target seeming to be a steady 60 fps, which to the developers’ credit Sword and Fairy: Together Forever largely sticks to, with the only notable drops coming during particularly taxing boss fights with the particle effects turned up to eleven. It’s worth noting that I also didn’t encounter any notable bugs outside of a few visual oddities here and there, which is always worth heaping praise on in a day and age where large-scale RPGs are frequently released in a half-baked state.
I truly hope that Sword and Fairy: Together Forever finally releasing on consoles gives the series the boost it needs towards more widespread recognition globally. It’s a fantastic title with some of the deepest lore to grace the genre in a while, which also manages to back up its compelling narrative with combat that is a joy to engage with. In a summer that has sorely been lacking in epic RPGs for genre enthusiasts to get stuck into, Sword and Fairy: Together Forever not only helps fill that void but does so with a level of style and heart that begs to be experienced.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PS4, PS5; Publisher: eastasiasoft; Developer: Softstar; Players: 1; Released: 4 August 2022; MSRP: $39.99: ESRB: T for Teen
Full Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.