Sometimes nothing can be more satisfying than a great strategy game. The Swordman Studio have put a lot of love and effort into their PC release for Wandering Sword, a wuxia romp that aims to deliver an experience with its deep combat mechanics and stunning pixel-art presentation. Does this release measure up to similar titles, or is it one that still needs some time in the oven? Let’s find out.
The Chinese “wuxia” setting has appeared in games before, but not too often compared to other eastern locales. Wandering Sword embodies this, with players taking the role of Yuwen Yi. After being poisoned in a skirmish, our hero begins to recover in Jianghu due to the help of a new mentor and his loving but rebellious daughter. Soon, his mentor/healer is killed, with his daughter being kidnapped. It is Yi’s job to save the girl while taking out rivaling groups who plague the land with evil. Sure, its a bit tropey, but the narrative is actually quite nice and well told, so most should be able to find these characters likable as the script is stellar and genuinely interesting. I do think some things in the world could use some fleshing out as a lot of side characters are a bit one dimensional, but alas – what here is serviceable and most should still find the over-arching story quite charming.
In some ways, the gameplay here is both the best part while still being the biggest opportunity for Wandering Sword. The game is a traditional strategy RPG in the same vein as Final Fantasy Tactics. Players do battle in a grid format, where their placement is pivotal in terms of survival. Party members can be recruited often, and must be arranged accordingly or face greater danger, so the player must pay attention to projectile attacks and who may align behind them to reduce the odds of a critical hit that may be their demise. Yeah, nothing too new, but the battle system does work, outside of some minor takeaways, like not being able to heal while in combat.
This world is quite expansive and interactive to boot, making the exploration the greatest highlight within this package. There are tons of areas to trek through, and decent rewards for poking and prodding within this lush landscape. A leveling system tracks progression, with a skill tree that can level the player’s stats up as they gain experience from battle. There are different types of classes and attacks that can be unlocked, but I feel most don’t offer too much of an advantage, as most of these seem to be light on benefit, as the skill tree while deep, can feel a bit shallow due to the lack of substance as you progress in later hours.
If I had one main issue with Wandering Sword, it would be the way the game is put together. Listen, I get it – PC games deserve to be played on a mouse and keyboard. That said, this title feels very clunky and non-responsive with a controller, and the optimization just isn’t there. Even with playing with a mouse and keyboard, the menus feel cumbersome and chaotic at times, as simply finding the right technique or item to use can be quite tedious. There really just needs to be more streamlining of menus. Every option has to be confirmed before selecting, and that just feels dated as even 2D RPGs from years ago dropped a lot of these nuances as the genre became more accessible.
The soundtrack is pleasant, with music capturing the setting well to bring us some needed atmosphere. There however is no voice acting and the sound effects and snippets come off as sounding like stock effects, which can be quite intrusive within the game. Its the inconsistent audio that makes the game feel a bit under-baked, as it almost feels like an RPG Maker game from years ago due to the lack of cohesiveness of the sound overall.
At times, the visuals are amazing. With 2D sprites and beautiful environments featuring lovely animation, you can tell this team put a lot of effort into the graphical design. That said, the lack of facial expressions or ways to convey emotion from the characters themselves kind of makes sentiment fall flat, leaving us with yet another opportunity that the game seems to have. Sure, it looks great when it wants to, but Wandering Sword‘s beauty is usually forgotten quickly due to the mess of menus and lack of character design outside of the 2D style it holds dearly.
Wandering Sword is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s a decent enough strategy RPG, and the story works well enough to keep you progressing. However, the lack of polish or optimization makes it feel dated and as if the game simply got delivered when it was functional, rather than fully complete. For wuxia fans, there is a lot to enjoy here, but other RPG lovers looking for their next great adventure may want to await some updates as this current version just feels a tad too clunky and dated compared to similar titles on the market.
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