Stranger of Sword City is the latest dungeon crawler to hit the Playstation Vita, a system that’s had its fair share of similar games over the past 24 months or so. Stranger of Sword City is different from other games we’ve played though, because the art style is much less inspired by Japanese anime and/or some of the visual novels that we’ve seen on the Vita. This gives the game a distinctly different feel and atmosphere, setting it apart from other games in the genre.
It’s also the closest any of the Vita games have come to the granddaddy of all dungeon crawler games: Dungeon Master, which older gamers might have played on an Atari ST back in the late eighties. Just as in that game, Stranger of Sword City has you assembling a party of characters, with plenty of options to balance your party through the use of weapons, clothes and other gear. The combat is quite different though, and so is the setting.
In Stranger of Sword City, you wake up after a crash as the sole survivor of your flight – a crash that was caused by a mysterious force that transported you to the land of Escario. You’re a stranger in a strange land, and you’re looking for a way home. Standing between you and that goal is a multitude of dungeons that you have to traverse, but you don’t have to do so alone. As mentioned, you can gather others around you – and you’ll need strength in numbers if you are to survive.
Combat is very familiar – as long as you’ve played a JRPG before that featured turn-based combat. Your options at first are limited, but once your characters level up and you find new loot along the way, your attack and defense options greatly increase in number. This might take a while though, since Stranger of Sword City is a slow game to get going, both in terms of gameplay depth and story development. This, funnily enough, is something that’s also similar to Dungeon Master – a game where players would spend hours drawing their own maps of dungeons while they carefully moved forward. It’s not a weak point, but perhaps something present day gamers aren’t accustomed to.
What made the game really stand out for us, aside from the setting and art style, is the amount of customization that gradually unlocks for the player. Even after ten or more hours of play, you’ll still find new strategies to tackle monsters with – and story line arcs branch out according to the choices you make as well. We’ve only had one playthrough so far, but in terms of potential for replayability this is the most promising dungeon crawler we’ve played on the Vita so far.
The genre is an acquired taste and the game’s not for everyone, but it’s an excellent example of how entertaining a dungeon crawler can be. It’s a touch on the difficult side which might scare off newcomers, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded.