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Game Info:

Stranger of Sword City
Developed By: Experience Inc.
Published By: NIS America, Inc.
Release Date: June 6, 2016
Available On: PC, PS Vita, Xbox One
ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, Violence
Genre: RPG
Mode: Single Player
Price: $39.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

In Stranger of Sword City, you find yourself inside of a commercial airplane, when suddenly you are alone and crash onto the surface of an unknown land.  Dangerous beasts threaten to attack you, and some others come to your aid.  They explain that you are one of many Strangers, who came from Earth to this new land in a different dimension, where monsters and special creatures called Lineages threaten everyone's safety.  Once defeated, they leave behind a Blood Crystal, which you must then hand over to one of the three vessels of the Gods of Light, Darkness, or Neutrality.  Doing so unlocks new Divinity skills, and helps steer the future of the world.

Stranger of Sword City is a rather deep and interesting take on the classic Wizardry RPG formula, where each dungeon is displayed in first person, with a grid map that you can refer to.  As you explore deeper and deeper, monsters try to stop you, and you gain experience from each successful encounter, until you finally level up and gain more power and equipment.  Then this cycle repeats until you and your team becomes a force to be reckoned with.  You may become powerful enough to then conquer the one or more Lineage type of adversary which function as the boss of that area, as well as several hidden enemies.  It is quite common to find yourself in a situation that you can't survive; that is why the game offers you a way to run – because sometimes, running is the right thing to do.

The game is definitely challenging.  There is a beginner mode I can't vouch for; I played on normal.  The first dungeon really does a great job of getting you to learn to be careful – and that survival is not guaranteed.  Dying has a high cost – unless you can pay the steep healing prices, you can be without your prized character for over a week in game time as they heal at the hospital, or if you don't manage your life points properly, they can disappear completely.  Thankfully, you can always reload, but lost time and progress is a constant companion until you manage to get your characters powerful enough to handle what comes to them – and even then, you can be very surprised by the simplest enemies, as they perform some nasty instant death critical, or all enemies focus on one of your team members unexpectedly.  As they say, always expect the unexpected.

Each dungeon has one or more enemy that is much more powerful than the rest, and can really mess you up if you aren't prepared.  In the first dungeon, there is one enemy that rarely shows up – but is ten levels higher than almost everything else.  If you don't pay attention to that fact, they can easily wipe your party, or even if they only wipe one character, the setback can be significant.  That is why it is always recommended to create an entire roster of characters, and at least one of each class right away, because if you have someone in the hospital, at least you have a backup.  Team members in reserve do gain a lesser amount of experience, so it's always worth it to fill up your spare character slots.

Creating characters is a fairly involved process.  There is a ton of character customization options, including various talents, attributes, and starting classes.  I say 'starting', because multiclassing is very easy – and very powerful.  You can multiclass at any time, with up to five class changes per playthrough, though it is highly recommended to wait until at least level 13, as you get a skill token at that point.  Skills from previous classes are assigned to those slots, so tokens are indispensable.  Sometimes, the big payoff for a class is gained when taken all the way to level 28 or 30, which can take quite a while.  But in some cases, it's definitely worth it.

Stranger of Sword City
Highlights:

Strong Points: Long and deep dungeon crawling experience; excellent 2D art; great music; fantastic leveling and multiclass system; innovative hiding system for ambushing
Weak Points: 3D rendered graphics are rendered at a low 720p internally; localization is passable but not great; controllers must be on when the game starts, and if they turn off mid-game, you have to quit out before they are detected again; some may not appreciate the quasi-permadeath
Moral Warnings: RPG violence, with some cut scenes showing significant blood and gore; some (rarely used) foul language, like 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', '*ss', and 'hell'; there are several deities (polytheism), each with their own vessels, which compete for your attention; enemies vary from creatures and humans, to dragons and spirits and the undead, including some 'God' class enemies; has a Satan-like enemy named 'Lucifel'; magic use prevalent and basically required to be effective; a spellbook has a hexagram on it; there is a narcotic-like drug present, whose origin is frankly disturbing (*spoilers* cannibalism *end spoilers*); female humans and creatures have varying levels of clothing, with a small number of enemies basically nude with hair covering the required parts, with other creatures having a nipple bump, but no actual nipple; one scene where you see a female human from the rear with her shirt off and you side the rear/side of her breast

There are several races of humanoids, like short Dwarves, tall and thin Elves, Humans, the dog-like Migmy, and the cat-like Ney. Each race has strengths and weaknesses, which makes them especially suited to certain roles.  A Migmy cleric and an Elven wizard are highly recommended, for example.  Talents, attributes, and age play a big role in how powerful you are as well.  The younger characters have more life points, so they can die more times without requiring a hospital stay.  But, the older they are, the more starting attribute points they get – which can make a big difference.  If they are over 60, they get only one life point, so death is permanent.  Weighing tradeoffs like these are ever present, as levels and multiclassing can have a similar cost, as your ability to hit and do damage with spells is largely affected by level.  Of course, almost any deficit can eventually be overcome with grinding.

And grinding you will do.  You will almost certainly come upon a boss Lineage, or even a random mob, that consistently kicks you to the curb.  What then?  Grind. Or, more precisely, lots of ambushing for both gear and experience.  Outside of a few bosses, weapon and armor drops almost never come from random enemies.  And buying them is pointless, as you can't get anything good.  Loot is gained by sitting in special ambush spots on each level and choosing ambush.  Doing this shows you what you are to fight, and what class of treasure awaits you.  Doing this repeatedly (it costs morale, which is limited but easy to replenish) gives you stronger and stronger enemies, and their improving loot.  If you skip this, you will fail, and fail hard – be warned.  And, the levels gained will help you be more effective as well.

The character and multiclassing system is honestly really well done and helps make the game hard to put down.  Grinding never felt boring or purposeless, because I always had that next thing to strive for – and the experience curves, while hardly fast, are balanced well enough that another level isn't too far away once you find a good spot that works for you.  I spent a good chunk of time grinding once I started down the multiclass path.  It was a bit painful at first, but if you stagger your party rather than doing them all at once, you can grow them while continuing to battle high end content for faster experience.  And they become a lot more powerful with each new class – the grind is worth it.

In Stranger of Sword City, the art style is something to behold.  It's all hand drawn, and simply fantastic.  They do offer two different styles for character portraits, type A and B.  A is the default dark fantasy style, and B is an anime style.  While I love anime, type A is vastly superior in this case.  The music is also excellent.  There are spots where you can tell that the small amount of 3D rendered environments are internally scaled to 720p, and it's a bit ugly there, but honestly it's easy to ignore since the vast majority of what you see is 2D hand drawn art.  There is a GeDoSaTo patch for this, but I was unable to get it to work.  

The music is also excellent.  I really enjoyed it, even with the many choral pieces.  It fits in with the environment really well.  The voice acting is all in Japanese, with English subtitles.  The localization is passable; there are a few moments when the text doesn't really make sense, though most of it is acceptable. Once you figure out what they mean, it mostly falls into place; it's just a shame that it could have been better.

Other things that could have been better include the fact that the default install on Steam does not support Xbox One controllers.  I had to use a (thankfully!) patched beta branch.  It has been several weeks since they published that beta branch, and they still haven't patched the main game for those controllers.  The game is perfectly playable with keyboard/mouse, but it's clearly intended for controllers.  The on-screen prompts are as expected with an Xbox controller; with the keyboard, they simply say 'button 1-10', and it's up to you to determine what those mappings are in the options.  It's obtuse, but could be worse – at least you don't have to quit to figure it out.  And eventually you will need to know this, as the Xbox controller support is not hot plug.  What this means is that if it ever gets disconnected for any reason – distance, batteries, timeouts, etc. - then the controller will no longer work until the game is restarted.  And without a save anywhere feature of any kind, you will almost certainly have to go back to town before you can save, quit, and go back to the controller.

Stranger of Sword City
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 3/5

Morality Score - 56%
Violence - 4/10
Language - 7/10
Sexual Content - 6/10
Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

For most of the game, there is only simple RPG violence, where you issue a command and see it happen on screen, in the form of slashes or other effects over the enemy or character icons.  Spells are similar, in that you simply see an effect on screen as a fire or ice splash over your enemy.  Some of the cut scenes are significantly bloodier and gorier than that.  There is a scene where you see a character impaled, with blood splattered everywhere.  It is not animated, but what is happening is clear.  There is also a monster decapitation in another scene, and some monsters are just floating heads with a small amount of blood.  

Thankfully, it is not littered with foul language; I noticed 'b*tch' and 'hell', and the ERSB also noted 'a*s' and 'b*st*rd'.  While present, those words are thankfully rare; I saw them maybe once or twice each during the rather long adventure.  Unfortunately, there is a drug reference that has a significant plot element.  'Poiney Powder' is a narcotic-like drug that has enslaved much of the slums.  The effects, distribution, and ultimately source are significant plot points of the first half of the game.  Without spoiling too much, cannibalism is also present in relation to this.

There are also plenty of options to make female characters with lots of skin showing.  You can choose more modestly dressed women, which I did, but that is not sufficient to avoid it entirely.  A few of the NPCs show off a lot, especially various amounts of cleavage, both from the front or side.  One cut scene has you viewing a topless woman from the back, and you can clearly see her breasts at that angle.  Some of the female monsters are basically completely naked; the succubus and similar wear nothing, with hair appropriately placed to keep the game under an M or AO rating.  A couple of monsters have nipple bumps, but no nipples.  The first half or so of the game, you don't see creatures like this.  It's the later part where enemies like this start showing up, and become more common.  There is no sexual dialog of any kind; only imagery.

Other enemies include creatures ranging from giant rat-like things to dragons to magical and undead spirits.  Magic use is common, and practically required for success (even if magic users are technically optional, good luck beating the game without one).  Healing, attack, and support magic is present.  There is an icon of a spellbook, and it has a hexagram on it.  This is one of the several Divinities you can get, which is a God (the game uses a capital 'G') blessing you.  As mentioned before, there are three competing Gods, and an enemy named 'Lucifel'. Some characters have (or do) try to become Gods at some point in the story.

Stranger of Sword City, despite some unfortunate bugs, is a really enjoyable dungeon crawler.  If you enjoy games like Wizardry, Etrian Odyssey, or just JRPGs in general, then you should definitely give Stranger of Sword City a look.  It's a solid RPG with a great class system, that really encourages replay value with the built-in New Game+ mode.  But before making that choice, please consider carefully the many appropriateness issues.  It's unfortunate that there have to be so many nearly naked enemies late game.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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