Stranger of Sword City is a first-person dungeon crawler - an "old school" style genre if ever there was one - in which you explore winding labyrinths, battle with monsters and search for treasure. The story here is that you're a lost soul known as a Stranger, and you find yourself in another dimension after a particularly nasty plane crash (it happens to us all). Drafted up by the local villagers, it's up to you to work together with fellow Strangers, and make use of your newly granted special powers (a handy benefit of the dimension jumping) in order to root out all the evil "Lineage Type" monsters that have been terrorising the town, and eventually return home.
In order to survive the dangerous Labyrinths, you'll need to create your own party of adventurers first, creating characters with a mixture of different skills, classes and abilities. With your party in tow, it's up to you to venture into the game's labyrinthine dungeons, as you take on the local enemies in turn based battles, and gain experience to grow your party in strength. And there are a lot of battles.
As you wander your way through the twisting and turning corridors of the Labyrinths, you'll get ambushed by unseen enemies from time to time, triggering battles. With you and your opponents taking it in turns to attack, defend and sling spells, you should have plenty of time to decide the best strategy - strategy which can generally be the difference between life and death in many of the game's more unforgiving face-offs. How you have your party set up is important, as you'll want to keep your stronger folks on the "front row" where they can act as damage sponges, protecting your weaker wizards, clerics and rangers in the rear. Likewise, you'll want to play it safe with your magical attacks as you don't have vast amounts of magic points to fuel them, and restorative items are both costly and rare. When your health and magic start to run low, it's better to backtrack to the entrance and return to town too, where you can recover and stock up on supplies - which means your progress through the dungeons can be painfully slow at times.
Arguably the trickiest part of the Stranger of Sword City learning curve comes when you fall in battle - characters can be revived, but it's not without a cost. Although it doesn't tell you at the time, the age you pick when creating a character plays directly into the revivals system, as defeated characters need to be hospitalised to recover, and younger characters take less time to bounce back than older ones. Time plays out in game 'days', which only pass when you're exploring dungeons, so you have a choice of either exploring with a smaller, and therefore weaker, party or drafting in a substitute or two instead. It's also worth noting that each character has only a finite number of revives in them, again with more for the younger folks, so you're better off making all of your team as young as possible just to be on the safe side.
As with many games aimed at an older audience, Stranger of Sword City has a number of somewhat mature elements. The battles themselves are relatively tame, as you face off against 2D drawings of various fantastical enemies (fairies, goblins, dragons etc), with the on-screen enemies simply flickering and flashing when struck by unseen attacks, before fading away when defeated. However, cutscenes and still pictures are a bit more gory and violent, with one showing a female character lying in a pool of blood, or a dragon-like hydra being decapitated, complete with a few blood splatters.
In terms of other mature content, sex scenes and innuendo aren't really an issue, although as with most fantasy-inspired games, everyone seems to wear less, and therefore more revealing, clothes than usual - which means there's a few cleavage shots and bare-ish breasts sans nipples, but that's all. Bad language is relatively few and far between too, although words such as b*tch and b*stard do crop up from time to time.
Format Reviewed: PC