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Wandering Sword Review - Can You Master the Art of Swordplay?


Wandering Sword Review written by Ophidian Mind


Wandering Sword

Steam/PC


Wandering Sword is developed by The Swordman Studio and published by Spiral Up Games and brings a fantasy tale of Chinese martial arts to life in the form of an HD-2D RPG. It is the story of a young swordsman named Yuwen Yi, who begins as a bodyguard for travelers, and through a tragic twist of fate finds himself caught up in a conflict between Taoist and Buddhist martial arts sects and an empire of organized crime. The writing is mostly decent with the occasional typo or odd phrasing. It’s pretty obvious that this likely wasn't translated by a native English speaker. This kind of thing doesn't bother me personally and it can even be amusing and somewhat charming, but your mileage may vary.


Over the course of the game, Yi will meet many martial artists from various sects and can learn skills from them by building up affinity. This can be achieved through dialogue choices, completing side quests, and giving gifts. These skills can vary from techniques that can be used in combat to skills that will make it possible to boost your stats with meridian points.


warriors doing battle outside
You'll meet many party members who are crucial to your success

Rather than using a traditional experience and leveling system, Wandering Sword has two different forms of experience points that can be put toward skill and stat upgrades in the form of martial points and meridian points. Martial points are obtained from winning battles and from receiving items. They are used to level up skills that have become available to you through training manuals you can obtain through story events, completing side quests, enemy drops, and finding them in treasure chests.


Skills are categorized in certain attacks which are available when wielding specific types of weapons, as well as Lightness skills and cultivation methods. Lightness skills and cultivation methods can give you stat buffs as well as HP and MP regeneration during battle. Because items that can heal HP and MP are not available for use in battle, these are very important to your combat strategy. Upgrading cultivation methods will also grant stat boosts and provide meridian points that can be used for upgrading character stats.


Meridian points can also be obtained through items found or gained in story events and are used on stat-building trees that will boost specific stats at certain locations. How you build up your character stats is crucial to your success, so choose carefully based upon what stats you think you need to improve.


Completing side quests is a useful source for gaining cultivation methods and items that will give you meridian points, so doing as many of these as possible will help you greatly in the game because only martial points can be obtained from most normal battles.


Combat takes place on a grid in which characters can move a certain number of spaces depending on their stats. Different attacks have unique areas of effect. The direction characters are facing when giving or receiving damage will impact the amount of damage done in an attack. Attacking from the front gives a no damage bonus, attacking from the side gives a slight damage bonus, and attacking from behind gives a large damage bonus. The direction your character is facing depends on the direction of the last action performed, so this is something to keep in mind for combat strategy.


full moon with warriors
Wandering Sword has lovely visual and audio design

Regular attacks are always available as an option when attacking, but other attacks will require the use of MP and will also have a cool down period. The strongest attacks also have a certain number of turns before they can be used, as well as also having a cool down period before they can be used again, so it is important to keep this in mind with your strategy and to plan to make sure you have enough MP, and that as many enemies as possible will be in the area where the attack does damage.


Additional party members can be obtained through story events and through building affinity with certain characters. You can eventually obtain the option to invite them to join you. Various party members will come and go depending on what quest you are on in the main story, and some might leave and then join you again later or will be open to joining you later if you build enough affinity with them. You can also choose to complete side quests, which is something players should take advantage of as many of these will be very difficult if not impossible to complete without multiple party members with you. If a side quest seems too difficult, then consider coming back to it once you have a stronger party at a later time during the main story.


In addition to combat stats, there are also stats in other skills that can be earned by collecting resources, fishing, or creating items through forging, tailoring, alchemy, and cooking. Blueprints and recipes can be obtained for item creation, and you can use resources to create these items at certain areas for each activity in towns. Created items can help you to get equipment, items to use to restore HP and MP outside of battle, and items that you can sell or give as gifts to boost affinity with other characters. Engaging in these activities will earn you experience points for the skill and certain items can only be created or collected once your skill is at a high enough level.


Some players might feel overwhelmed by the difficulty in Wandering Sword because Yi starts off very weak and will largely depend upon having stronger party members for many parts of the game. While you can eventually make him stronger, the scaling of the difficulty with the story progress seems a bit unbalanced so it is recommended that players do as many side quests as possible to boost your stats.


While some of this power imbalance can be overcome through strategy, it only helps to a certain degree, and you will likely be depending on a blessing of good fortune from the RNG gods if you aren't going out of your way to do everything possible to boost your stats at every point in the game. The difficulty in the game is very high, almost reminding me of The 7th Saga on the SNES. In that game, a localization error greatly boosted enemy stats and lowered player stats, so even if you were grinding as much as possible, it still felt like you were barely surviving and partially succeeding through luck.


battlefield with soldiers
The difficulty is absurd at times

While I am one of the few who still had fun with a game like The 7th Saga, that kind of experience is going to turn a lot of players away and they will probably have a similar experience with Wandering Sword. I have personally enjoyed my time with it, but I have more patience for this type of difficulty than the average player does so keep this in mind when considering whether this will be a game for you.


There are also a few other areas where Wandering Sword is a bit rough. The menu interface is awkward because the main menu is a screen with many panels that can be used for viewing stats, equipping items, or accessing items in your inventory. Sadly, these aren't separated for quick access. Players will manually have to press a direction multiple times on the controller to access a panel on the opposite side of the screen. The item panels do have an option to view items by type, but you still have to manually move the cursor to the right side of the screen to access this option. Obviously, this is very inconvenient and will make players spend more time in the menu screen than they probably want to.


The game can also be a bit glitchy at times. For example, if you get a game over and return to the title screen, you can no longer use the d-pad or the analog stick to select the different options and will have to use a mouse instead. While pushing a face button to select an option still works, it can only access the first option, which is to start a new game. This can be worked around but will likely be a source of frustration because this is a game where you will be dying often. However, you can save in any area that is outdoors, so make use of this and save frequently to avoid losing progress.


The visuals look very nice and adapt the HD-2D style very well. The character portraits are well-done and all NPCs that you can talk to will have one. While some of these character portraits are re-used for characters who aren't part of the main story, it is still a nice feature that adds to the visual appeal. The music fits the game well and is a nice mix of Eastern themes and an energetic electric guitar that is especially great during combat. Both the look and sound work very well overall and help to create a world that is interesting to explore.


Even with the lack of balance and some of the technical issues, I greatly enjoyed my time with Wandering Sword, and I recommend it so long as you go into it expecting a very steep challenge. The elements that are frustrating didn't always get in the way of how fun and charming it is at its core, and I think the developers have a lot of potential. I eagerly look forward to seeing what they release in the future because if they are able to give their next game more balance and a little more polish, they could go on to create some truly excellent titles. While Wandering Sword is rough in some ways, I still think it is worth checking out for those who won't be turned away by its flaws.




Pros

-Fun combat system

-Interesting character customization

-Great visual style and soundtrack


Cons

-Awkward menu interface

-Unbalanced difficulty that will be overwhelming for many players

-Some buggy issues


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