Despite being on its last legs and losing support from Sony, the PS Vita seems to just keep on trucking along. This has always been a great system for fans of niche games, so anyone who’s still interested in the PS Vita tends to know what they’re getting. We’ve seen plenty of solid and unusual titles released for Sony’s scrappy handheld in its twilight years like Trillion: God of Destruction and Tales of Hearts R; these gems are now joined by the fantastic dungeon crawler Stranger of Sword City.
Stranger of Sword City casts you as the titular Stranger, a refugee from our own dimension who finds themselves stranded in the fantasy world of Escario after a plane crash. Strangers aren’t an uncommon occurrence in Escario, which tends to end up with more than its fair share of interdimensional travelers. Your goal, naturally, is to get home, and you’ll do this with the help of other Strangers as well as a party of your own creation.
The journey home is handled in the traditional Wizardry style. Your party consists of up to six members, chosen from five races and eight classes; one of these will be your protagonist, who’s always in the party and who isn’t bound by the game’s permadeath mechanic. You’ll want a decent mix of talents to succeed, as always, though your traditional RPG knowledge will suffice for making a working team. You’ll need to be careful with your characters, since each can only die a certain number of times before they’re out of the game for good. It’s easy to bring up new recruits since they can inherit a certain percentage of your protagonist’s experience, but it’s even easier to just be careful and avoid the chore of re-gearing your newly reformed party.
Once you’ve got your team together it’s time to sally forth and get to slaying. Combat is handled in the traditional style as well, though you’ve got the unique option of Ambushing monster caravans to steal their loot as well. This is typically the best way to find gear upgrades and tends to be a lot of fun, as it makes the level and gear grinds just a bit less agonizing. The other big trick up Stranger of Sword City’s sleeve is the concept of Lineage Type monsters, essentially bosses that provide skill-boosting Blood Crystals when defeated. You can offer these blood crystals to the heads of three different factions to gain power, both for them and for yourself, and doing so allows you to advance down a skill tree containing unique boosts for your hero. These nasties serve as the central focus of the game, since collecting Blood Crystals is presented as how you’ll make your way home.
Make no mistake, this isn’t an easy game. Chances are if you own a Vita you’re familiar with this genre; early dungeon adventures are practically suicide missions and it’s going to take some work before your characters have a solid foundation to work from. Later, Lineage Type monsters use new mechanics, sneaky tricks and raw brute force to test your party’s skills. In a way, this is part of Stranger of Sword City’s charm. You’re carving out your own way in a world that stacks the odds against you. It feels nice, in the same way success in Dark Souls feels nice.
Stranger of Sword City owes a lot to the dungeon crawlers of old, and its most significant innovations are largely concentrated in its setting and artwork. I was especially fond of one of the earlier dungeons, a vast desert junkyard saturated with artifacts from our own world and crawling with monsters. The TV-set-dwelling hydras were a personal favorite. The game’s character designs are enjoyable as well, and (much like the very similar Operation Abyss) you even have the option of choosing from the default modern-gothic style and a new, anime-inspired style that clashes a bit with the rest of the game.
Fans of traditional dungeon crawlers simply can’t go wrong with Stranger of Sword City. It’s an unforgiving game that rewards cautious play and exploration while featuring just enough quality of life improvements to keep things going smoothly. The game is also available for Xbox One, but if you’re still clinging to your precious Vita – and it’s been getting a bit dusty – it’s time to wipe it off and drag it back out again – Escario is waiting.