Review by Sam Gittins
When it comes to long-running recognisable RPG series, it’s unlikely that anyone mostly interested in the Western videogame market will remember the Xuan Yuan Sword series, despite its history which dates as far back as the mid-Nineties, as detailed in the following quote. “The “Xuan-Yuan Sword” is an epic oriental RPG series with 25 years of history. It elaborates on the very heart of this series, the idea of “one, looking at the same thing from different angles, may come to different conclusions.” through a variety of historical incidents in different times.”
It’s certainly an interesting premise for an RPG series, especially as many better-known RPG’s tend to focus on the rather generic “Good versus Evil, let’s save the world!” mantra. This series seems to take a more philosophical or introspective approach, analysing from multiple alternative viewpoints, rather than applying “Good” or “Bad” labels to everything, which is refreshing, not just in the context of videogames, but in general. If this series seems like it might be of interest to you, there are various earlier entries in the series available on Steam, though some are only in their original Chinese language, such as the first few games which are essentially 16-Bit titles, though there is a more modern entry titled “Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Gate of Firmament” which is closer to this latest title, and at least has English subtitles, making it more accessible.
Though this latest entry represents the first time that a game in the Xuan Yuan Sword series has been properly localised in English (plus other languages) by eastasiasoft (the publisher of this console version) and it’s really fantastic to see this unique Action & Adventure orientated RPG being brought to a wider audience. The following quote will give you an idea of what to expect from the narrative and general style of the game. “Xuan Yuan Sword 7 is an action RPG with frenetic real-time combat, visceral 3D presentation and a rich cinematic narrative. It is a celebration of ancient China’s landscape, civilization and culture, infused with the mystique of its own legends in stark contrast to anachronistic technological designs. It is a world that is both familiar and mysterious, one of both science and spirituality, one that is waiting to be explored.
Take the role of the calm and reliable swordsman Taishi Zhao as he fights to protect his family and uncover the truth of a blight threatens all of China. With a story deeply rooted in ancient Chinese history and mythology, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 reimagines both as one fantastical and chaotic realm under the governance of a new Xin Dynasty. Near the end of Western Han rule, the powerful prime minister of China superseded his Emperor, promising an era of peace and prosperity. But ten years later, that promise has never been fulfilled. Instead, a decade of war and famine has left China in ruin, and its salvation seems to lie in the hands of a Mohist swordsman who gains control of a fabled artefact called the Elysium Scroll. Can the science-seeking Mohists revive their former glory, or will they fade into the pages of forgotten history?”
You can expect a rather linear experience from this title, which works to its advantage being that it’s an action-orientated RPG, as opposed to many open-world offerings which can appear expansive, but often end up exhausting the potential level of intrigue once you realise the wide world is quite uninspired. Yet here, your interest is maintained because although you won’t be wondering far across a land in all directions, instead you are taking a linear path, but it’s one which will always show you something of interest, allowing you to settle into the world, knowing that your next task isn’t that far away.
That illusion of exploration is still there however, and these is plenty to see, as you traverse through towns helping people who you encounter on your travels, learning more interesting segments of story along the way, before delving into dungeons. It’s in these areas where you’ll engage in some very light platforming, merely used to add a bit of variation, and you’ll also find some particularly well-paced puzzles, which will make you think, but not enough to frustrate the mind, just enough to actually put it to use. But if you’re finding any of them too bothersome, you can opt to skip them, or look up the answer, though I don’t think the average player will have too much trouble with them.
Getting into battles is where most of the gameplay resides, the combat system is robust and enjoyable, seemingly taking cues from the more highly regarded hack ‘n slash titles, mixed in with a light Monster Hunter influence, as your opponents can be beaten by simply reducing their life force, or by way of filling up a gauge which will make them falter. Once your opponent is in this vulnerable state, you can opt to use a instant-kill move which will end the battle in a spectacular manner. There is a suitable amount of nuance to the combat as well, being that you can slash, block, dodge and riposte in combo-based real-time combat, which may bring back memories of titles which have a similar system, that were released around two decades ago, such a Ninja Gaiden and games of similar ilk.
You’ll have the option of upgrading your equipment and crafting lots of interesting items, developing passive skills as you play and learning new techniques, which are similar to magic spells and are useful for dispatching foes, these include using a scroll to slow down time, allowing you to get more hits in, and an ability which will let you capture the enemy inside the scroll, but not in a “Gotta catch ’em all” sense, more like a permanent prison. None of it ever reaches the challenging heights of three-dimensional hack ‘n slash games, but you’ll find yourself engaged in every battle.
A great amount of lighting brings the world of Xuan Yuan Sword 7 to life, as there are many areas which have some wonderful effects, helping to set the scene nicely with some spectacular sunbeams shining through the leaves of the trees, plus some decent reflections in the pools of water on the ground. There isn’t a great deal of variation to each area, and although there are clear differences so that you know where you are in the virtual world, it’s easy to see where certain elements have been repeated, though for a game of its budget, it still feels like a decent accomplishment, especially as it’s an Unreal Engine 4 developed game which doesn’t feel like it was made in a heavily scripted way.
All of the accompanying music is as you’d expect, serene while you’re exploring, and high-tempo when in the heat of battle, or during a particularly intense cutscene. Think along the lines of such titles as Ninja Gaiden, Sekiro, or even Ghost of Tsushima; and you’ll have an idea of what to expect, though perhaps not along the same high level of expectation. The sound effects are very solid, grounding you in whatever moment in the game you happen to be in.
If you’re looking for an action-orientated RPG with a heavy emphasis on Chinese culture, with all the mystery and intrigue that its history brings with it, wrapped up in a tale of revenge, but one that has more thought put into its plot than you might expect, then you really can’t go far wrong with Xuan Yuan Sword 7 as it delivers what it sets out to do. In this case, to provide an enjoyable entry into a long-running series, which anyone can enjoy, so long as they temper their expectations at a quality over quantity, twenty hour or less title, which will provide you with an experience either equal to or arguably better than anything a “Triple A” studio can provide, due its focus and passion which shines though despite the few flaws which are all production-based blemishes that you’d probably expect from such a title.
There’s more to love than there is to loathe just for the sake of it, so why not choose to enjoy a title which is decidedly different, while remaining respectably true to its original intention?