- Developer: Codeglue, Experience Inc.
- Publisher: NIS America
- Genre: Role-Playing Dungeon Crawler
- Released: March 16, 2021
It’s been out for awhile now… a month or two in advance would’ve been nice for this massive collection. Jesting aside, what a collection. Prepare thyself for a torrential downpour of words…
Welcome to the dungeon.
This title is a collection of two games, previously never released outside of Japan, both from the small developer Experience. The first game, Saviors of Sapphire Wings, is a remake of one of their oldest titles way back in 2010: Entaku no Seito: Students of the Round. It was never released outside of Japan, so this remake sees the game’s first international release. The other game, Stranger of Sword City, was a more recent title breaking ground on 2014. It got an update and was released as Stranger of Sword City Revisited on PC, Vita and Xbox One on 2016 worldwide. This collection are both games’ debut on a Nintendo system, and they are in very good company looking at the Switch’s growing RPG library.
A quick preface before we go any further. My favourite dungeon crawling RPG would have to be the Etrian Odyssey series on the 3DS. The vast amount of hours sunk into exploring the varied dungeons, mapping each one out as I went along. Ah memories (Atlus! New entry for Switch when?)… Other dungeon crawling titles (will take the first person ones here mind) you might have come across or heard would be Deep Labyrinth for the DS, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux for the 3DS, and The Legend of Grimrock for PC/IOS (this needs a Switch port), just to name a few. If you played any of these or similar, it’ll serve as a good bedrock of reference for this review. If not, well… check them out if you can (insert shameless plug for RPGs here).
Spread your Wings.
Let’s tackle this bundle one game at a time. Some people would ask which game to start off first? Honestly, the two games have little to do with each other apart from some Easter eggs in Strangers referencing Saviors, so you could start with either one. I went chronologically and chose to start with Saviors of Sapphire Wings (man this way of spelling the game’s title is starting to feel really off just 3 paragraphs in…).
Saviors of Sapphire Wings begins in medias res dropping you and two compatriots right before the demon lord Ol=Ohma. Yes, it’s really spelt that way and oh my lord I just now realised why it might be so right when I’m typing this. Anyways, you go fight the overlord of darkness who introduces the game’s primary mechanic: the fact that certain bosses can charm the entire party. This of course doesn’t bode well for you, as you get offed quickly only to be reincarnated years in the future when evil has corrupted most of the land.
You find yourself outside a small village beset with goblin problems and end up helping them. Before long you’ll find companions to aid you in your journey and your ultimate quest to avenge the humiliation you faced at the hands of Ol=Ohma and bring back light to the land. The plot may not be as complex beyond a redemption saga, but the party characters are fun enough to make the journey last and the artwork… oh gosh. Let’s talk about that shall we?
A feast for the eyes.
There was one thing that leaped to my eyes the first time I booted the game up, and that would be the gorgeous art it boasts. Cutscenes and environmental shots feature meticulous and intricate paintings for the most part. I found myself pausing at times just to admire the absolutely jaw-dropping visuals on hand.
Enemies too are drawn with finesse, exhibiting grotesque and sometimes rather unique shapes and silhouettes. Bosses in particular are given exquisite detail and some look downright nightmarish.
Character art meanwhile sees an update from it’s original inception. You do have the choice of selecting the original artwork, if that’s what you like. It can be sometimes jarring though, especially for the newer portraits, to see the characters in front of enemies and backgrounds that differ in art style.
As for music, it is generally appropriate, though not wholly memorable. Victory music is victorious, explor-y music is adventurous, that sort of thing. I will admit that the occasional use of minimal atmospheric ambience in a handful of dungeons actually made them stand out more to my mind. It can be creepy trekking down a corridor when all you hear are your footsteps echoing.
Time to get into the P in RPG.
So, Saviors of Sapphire Wings has a typical plotline accompanied by lovely art. How does it play though, I hear you ask.
The essence of Saviors of Sapphire Wings is its statistics and character customisation, a mainstay of RPGs. You are able to customise, or rather ‘reincarnate’ your party members allowing you to reassign points into various attributes, as well as changing classes and sub classes. Best part is, there really is no restriction to reincarnating. Made a mistake in assigning stat points? Want a different look or even name? Just do it! Only thing to keep in mind is that your character’s level is tied to their main class, so changing that will also change the level and benefits that go with it.
The flexibility of the reincarnation system allows players to explore and experiment to their hearts content. Will you choose a tried and tested mix of wizard and cleric, or mix it up with a bit of alchemist quirkiness? The various classes have their respective traits and skills that you will have to keep in mind when doing so. Additionally, you’ll be able to attach different kinds of souls to your characters, boosting stats where necessary. For example, selecting a Sage’s soul will raise one’s intelligence rating, while a Fairy’s soul will pump your agility and luck up. All these will aid the player in making powerful companions to enter the dungeons with.
When it’s time to descend into dungeons, the game switches to a first person perspective for exploration and movement. As you stumble your way through the game’s many labyrinths, you will uncover their layout which will be permanently marked on a map. Through the various levels, you will encounter increasingly complex
Here though, I miss the ability to make my own maps like that in Etrian Odyssey. There are quite a number of times where I lose track of the position of important notices or items. The game doesn’t mark these on the maps and it’s up to you to remember them. I wish there was some in-game ability to make note of such locations though.
That said, once you’ve uncovered a good portion of the map for most areas, you will be able to use the game’s auto traversal system. Simply go to your map, click on a location and as long as they can reach it, off your party goes running to that area. You also travel significantly faster using this, so it’s definitely an awesome feature to have. Just keep note of traps and your party’s health when you use this.
F O E!
Enemy encounters are for the most part random, with a few placements visible on the map, as well capture points where you can put food down to bait an enemy into appearing. These capture points are often used in the game’s story, as you’d be ask to clear an area by taking down all the capture points in a certain area for example. While it’s not difficult to get to grips with, it something to keep in mind while you run about as you may require certain foods (and quality of said foods) for the traps to successfully lure monsters.
When you actually get into a battle, the game shifts into a turn-based battle system where the faster (higher agility) your characters are, the more likely they’ll get to go before your foes. Combat strategies usually boil down to what skills or spells your characters happen to have, as well as their level. By which you may infer that some grinding may be required. For the most part, players should have little difficulty with typical encounters, with more confident players engaging the auto-battle system that takes the last recorded battle round and executes the commands given then.
Having said that, bosses and later enemies can take the unwary traveler by surprise. Bosses (as mentioned previously) use a charm mechanic that turns the entire party against the main character beating them into a pulp. Besides that, they are quite beefy and have other skills and spells they can use to wipe your party off the face of existence. Fortunately, especially if you decide to go exploring and hunting for secrets, your levels should be high enough that you won’t get knocked out within a few rounds and even have some tricks up your own sleeves. These boss fights tend to feel like bookmarks to your journey and facing them can be exciting as you get to unleash strategies that could mean surviving the fight with a sliver of health, or not at all.
Apart from dungeon crawling, fighting, and reincarnating your characters to be the very best; the other parts of the game plays a little like a visual novel. There is quite a bit of text, so if reading is not your cup of tea… how did you get this far in? I joking a little here, but the game does rely on text to impart important information. Should you fast forward through the many pages of text, it is very likely you will miss hints and information that will help you get through certain puzzles and progress onward.
At home base, there’s no time to relax as you take upon several roles including that of chef, storage organizer, and most notably that of counselor. Occasionally your companions will come to you in your room to talk about their various worries or just to contemplate on the doom and gloom the world is facing. Successfully navigating the conversation choices to suit each character will result in an increase in affinity with that character, otherwise known as their Soul Bond. This is quite important, as the higher the Soul Bonds of every character in your team, the more power you will have to use special skills that will turn the tide of any battle when used correctly.
Besides talking, your chef skills (alright, it literally just throwing things down an alchemy pot to see what pops up) will come into play in increasing Soul Bonds. Whipping up meals, you’ll then have to match them to each of your companions’ preferences. The Soul Bond will also rise as you fight and all, but having this option allows one to buy/make high end meals to feed your team with boosting their bonds quicker.
There’s quite a few mechanics to juggle, but simply put: cook food and feed until stuffed at home, then go out and kill monsters and level up. Occasionally advance plot, and rinse and repeat. It took awhile to reach the last boss, and after that… well. If you really enjoyed your time with Saviors of Sapphire Wings and you don’t want it to end, let’s just say that wish has been granted. Various post-game tasks, high level dungeons and… I should stop before I spoil any more. Suffice to say, post game content is abundant for those wanting to adventure further.
And now, for something similar…
Let’s change tracks and check out the second game: Stranger of Sword City: Revisited. There are similarities with Saviors of Sapphire Wings, but there are differences that make it stand out and ensures the players feel like they are experiencing a different game. Which is good considering you’d most likely be playing one title after the other.
The years after Saviors of Sapphire Wings must have hardened the developers hearts. Either that or they’ve been playing a lot of Shin Megami Tensei. The story in Stranger of Sword City: Revisited is dark, so much more than Saviors. If the story of Saviors embodied hope and redemption, Strangers would be more of self discovery and despair.
You start off in a plane crash. Great start huh? You wake up in some labyrinth in another world and stumble about before escaping only to be confronted by a dragon. Thankfully, you get saved and introduced to others who got ‘isekai-ed’ like yourself, before you go off to the home base of strangers like yourself.
You’ll eventually find yourself in a stalemate between 3 clans, each representing a deity that governs over Good, Evil and Neutrality. The game has multiple endings that are linked to your relationship between these three groups. As mentioned, the story is darker and heavier, though that doesn’t mean that the story is better. It’s just that: flavour. I will say however, that as a result of the choice of tone, Strangers’ story is less straightforward. It has more moments of contemplation and also some interesting approach to morality and such. Plus, since there are three paths, it holds some replay value, which the game kindly accommodates for.
Art Appreciation Club this way…
If the sub heading wasn’t already a giveaway, yes this game also sports jaw-dropping art. A picture says a thousand words, so just take a look:
Three thousand words later, let’s quickly touch on the game’s music. Like Saviors, the music used is appropriate, but again not very memorable. Except maybe the battle music, but in that case I listen to it a lot mainly ’cause I’m often in fights. And like Saviors again, there are moments where music is omitted completely in favour of atmospheric ambience and yet again, this contrast allows it to stand out even more. Sometimes less is more, it seems.
Before actually setting off, you will have to build up your character and here, it’s a little more involved than that in Saviors. First, there’s the age of your character, which does have quite a significant impact. The younger your character, the less bonus stat points you have to play with, but to balance that your character have more life points. Conversely, older characters will have less life points, but more bonus stat points. Life points represent the amount of times your character can run out of health points (HP) before they are gone permanently. Yes, this particular title has permadeath. Fortunately there are ways of recovering life points, but still something to keep in mind.
Your character’s race affects the starting attribute levels and class determines the skills that can be learnt. Talent imparts unique and potentially powerful abilities, and choosing a feature (you have the option not to) allows you to learn one skill from another class. Assigning your bonus stat points is… time-consuming. At least if you’re rolling for good stats. Yes, after choosing your age, you can further roll your stats to try add an additional 4 or 5 bonus points to your pool. It’s great to have for sure, but if you’re anything like me you would have spent at least half an hour re-rolling. Which is what I did. And then fate conspired against me and I didn’t manage to save (in Strangers, you can only save when you reach the home base, unlike Saviors where you can save almost everywhere), which resulted in another half hour of re-rolling. sob…
F O E! F O E!
Playing through both titles, I can say that the experience I had in Strangers feels more challenging. In addition to restricted saves and permadeath, a lot of the dungeons feel like they’re actively trying to take your life and patience out. Feel like exploring a dungeon that is permanently poisoned? How about areas where using skills results in health penalties? You underwater? No spells for you then (this specific mechanic was in Saviors too)!
Besides deathtrap dungeons, fights seem more taxing too, so much so in fact that the game encourages you to run away if things get hairy. This isn’t cowardly, this really is legitimate advice. There are a few ambushing bosses who will not only be several levels above you, but also summon enemies with the ability to cast a one-hit KO spell across your entire party. Situations can go sour very very quickly and there is no shame in running away, nor is there in tuning down the difficulty if you haven’t already. Only thing is that to change the difficulty in the middle of the game, you will need to buy an item that cost a pretty penny to do so.
There are skills and abilities that help mitigate the enemies’ advance and can make a player’s life that little bit more easier. The game also mentions the ability to switch classes (cost money), which in turn will allow characters the chance to bring over skills from other classes to make a hybrid that can help steamroll over normal enemies, as well as fend off tougher ones. It is an interesting process, if a little time consuming to explore all the possibilities. Fortunately the game allows you to retain half your level when you change classes instead of starting over at one, as well as keeping all your stats the same with the caveat of not being able to increase stats until you exceed the previous maximum level. Additionally, benched members of your squad will also gain some experience (unlike Saviors), thus facilitating the creation of a substitute party for when members of your main have to stay in the infirmary to recover.
The light at the end of the tunnel.
When all is said is done, this game contains a pair of great dungeon crawlers, one of which might not have seen the light of day outside of Japan (officially that is) if it wasn’t for this title. Admittedly, there is quite a bit of grinding involved, and there are a few obscure puzzles as well as some slight inconsistencies in mechanics (e.g. saving) between the two games, but ultimately I found these negligible when it came to enjoying my time playing through them. I’m not sure I could recommend these to anyone new to RPGs, but for more experienced players (especially for those within the JRPG sphere) these will definitely sit well on your libraries.
4/5 – or could that be 8/10? subtract a heart if RPGs aren’t your thing, but otherwise: strap yourself in for a ride!