It’s here, Xuan-Yuan Sword VII at long last, and thankfully you don’t need to have played the first six to know what’s going on. At its most basic, this is a fairly generic action RPG with linear storytelling and something adjacent to skill based combat.
While Sword has plenty of mediocrity about it, it still does have points that make it enjoyable enough to consider playing. Everything story related about the game ends up being fairly decent- it has a solid motivation for the main character, bits of character development, good voice acting and some interesting focal characters. On the other hand, it’s subtitled and the dialogue doesn’t have a chatbox or shading which as expected causes text to get lost frequently. The story while cutscene heavy doesn’t have large amounts of fluff, I cannot say the pacing between combat and dialogue is good but at least you will always be doing something between the three main portions of the game.
The weakest of those portions being the exploration. While the setting itself has some variety between castles, villages, mountains and swamps that build a well fleshed out fantasy setting, it’s not particularly well utilized, and there’s large portions of time spent just walking. This is almost like an amateur tabletop session, where you go down a long hallway between encounters that are either a fight, a scene with NPCs or more rarely a clunky puzzle.
Puzzles are fairly easy, but it is noticeable when they require something like slowly moving a pillar or battering ram as it ensures you will always solve the puzzle long before you complete it. It’s as if someone took a look at a Zelda puzzle and wondered what it would be like if there were far fewer steps to complete it, but it took five times longer to push anything. This is a fairly small nitpick just because there’s not too many puzzles, but I feel like nobody’s going to come out saying this was one of the more memorable parts of the game.
Combat has three difficulties you can switch in game, while it is nice having this for those who just want to see the story, they definitely could have moved each one up a rank- easy is effortless, and normal is still very easy with only bosses providing any sort of mild challenge.
Don’t expect any complexity, there are a few stances you can switch and some set companion abilities, but for the most part this is very basic dodge, block and attack spam gameplay. It is fluid and functional, yet easy to forget. Enemies at first are repetitive; even most bosses lack mechanics and are just deadlier with a bit more attack variety. Regular enemies are largely trivial, and made far more so when you get allies, yet boss enemies dish out so much damage that allies get knocked down immediately in the only fights where they’d be necessary. This mix of trivializing already trivial fights yet doing nothing to make the hard ones less so, makes the game on the highest difficulties very spike prone. There is a lackluster crafting system, one part of which involves using a fairly unreliable soul capture ability that can boost passives.
If there’s one part of the game which is better than average I’d give credit to story and presentation. Character interactions are fairly solid, the main character isn’t a single personality trait but adapts to each situation, while consistently looking out for his sister above all else. Within the first series of cutscenes it shows his motivations between protecting his sister and revenge against those who wronged him, reveals most major characters, and indicates greater supernatural dangers arising.
It does have some flaws. While the game does a good job of keeping you on track, the game is littered with obstacles that take you away from your main quest more than you are on it. Imagine doing a maze with zero branching paths; while introducing a war in the region with some shady characters on each side of it, a plague, monsters and a hidden group of clockwork engineers. It might not be too uncommon for an RPG to spend five hours introducing all the plot points when it is 40-60 hours long. In this case though, it’s 10-15, and the plodding nature of the first half mixed with the rushed second makes the story feel both too slow to develop and too quick to resolve. If you find yourself liking the combat enough, there’s an arena tower to challenge yourself with and extend the game’s length. Even so, I found each aspect of the game was just good enough to keep me invested and I enjoyed the game subjectively more than I’ll rate it objectively. While this isn’t a must play game by any means, it’s a nice short story which does a good job of keeping you on track. The cultural backdrop will feel different from most games, and it doesn’t do anything particularly poorly, feeling bug free and well put together. It also has a chess-lite minigame, since RPGs generally have minigames… and that’s about all I have to say on that.