Stranger of Sword City review for PS Vita, Xbox One

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: Xbox One
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Experience Inc.
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: Leaderboards

There’s a simple test to determine whether you’re going to like Stranger of Sword City: do you like dungeon crawling? I mean, do you really, really, really like dungeon crawling? If you do, then odds are very good that you’re going to love this too.

After all, you’ll be doing a lot of that here. In fact, you’ll be doing little else. And when you’re not grinding your way through labyrinthine dungeons, you’re getting ready to go back into them, whether you’re managing your party, buying new weapons, getting party members healed, or chatting with various characters about gossip related to the dungeons and your party. This game is nothing if not very focused on what it wants you to do.

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As you can probably guess from the tone of this review so far, I’m not a huge fan of dungeon crawling — at least not to the extent this game calls for. I’m fine with a bit of it in certain doses (say, however much you want to say Severed had), but Stranger in Sword City takes it far beyond anything I can stand.

In particular, I found the way the game handled healing and resurrection to be pretty infuriating. You’re given a party of six members to start, but you can’t earn new people until you’ve progressed to a certain point in the game. Unfortunately, that requires some grinding. Which also means, inevitably, losing one or two party members to injury. That, in turn, means that you have to grind through dungeons with a smaller party until they get better in order for time to properly progress…except with a smaller party, the damage becomes more concentrated. In other words, it kind of creates a feedback loop that can only be solved by — you guessed it — more grinding it it out.

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All of that’s not to say, however, that I can’t appreciate some of its better qualities. The combat is pretty straightforward, and if you’re into party management, you have plenty of options here. More impressively, the story and graphics are mature in a good way. Whereas the developer’s previous game, Demon Gaze, went pretty heavy on the fan service, Stranger of Sword City is a tale about death and the afterlife, and it has a sombre art style to match. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it gorgeous, but it’s certainly much more visually interesting than many of its peers (and there’s relatively little boob armor to boot).

Admittedly, since I’m down on many of those peers as well, you may want to take my opinion with a few fistfuls of salt. But even if I were much more into the genre, Stranger of Sword City does so many things so much better than its peers, I’m pretty sure it would still head and shoulders above most.

Grade: B