Have you ever had a genre of games that you always wanted to try, but you just never do? In fact, you just kind of forget that they exist? Well, Dungeon RPGs are one such genre. The whole idea of turning a table-top style RPG into a video game has always appealed to me! You know, exploring damp, dark, dungeons, unveiling shiny treasures, fighting gruesome monsters, and watching those numbers tick up to your heart’s content. All with the added benefit of fancy graphics, and not having to write those numbers down yourself!
Well, NIS America has teamed up with Experience Inc. to bring back their classic DRPG combo Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City Revisited! But will we be ordering a dozen pizzas and pulling an all-nighter as we dive into these RPG blasts from the past, or will we be voting for a re-roll?
I’ve played a few dungeon RPGs in my day and my feelings are generally pretty variable with regards to them. If a game like this can keep things lively and fresh then I can definitely sink quite a few hours into one, easily. If, on the other hand, I’m presented with an onslaught of recycled enemies and monotonous exploration, I’m moving on pretty quickly.
Both Savior of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City fall kind of in between these two extremes. They both have very interesting stories, beautiful artwork, and a plethora of mechanics, but the execution left me feeling bored fairly quickly.
Truthfully, I’ve not had much exposure to many of Experience Inc.’s games, let alone the two bundled in their latest collaboration with NIS America. However, both Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City seemed to be deeply rooted in DRPG shenanigans, and being a long time pen ‘n paper RPGer, the appeal of that was real.
Combined with its fantastic art direction and the thought of uncovering labyrinthine dungeons block by block, really tickled my fancy, and I couldn’t help but want to give this collection a try. My only concern was that these types
Here’s the thing, each of these games do a fantastic job of me bringing back to hot summer days, grinding away at the latest and greatest RPG in a cool, dark basement. Honestly, they have pretty much everything you would want if hoarding experience points and watching your stats increase sounds like a good way to melt dozens of hours away.
There’s also something satisfying about filling out the map block by block, finding a treasure and acquiring powerful new loot, or disarming traps so your party can explore a brand new area! Honestly it’s the biggest draw to playing these games.
However, the lack of many of the conveniences and frills you’d expect from a modern JRPG, left them feeling like a bare metal experience. I guess you could say they’re the distillation of the core mechanics you’d find in an RPG. Which isn’t necessarily bad, especially if you’re looking for something chill, and mindless to play. But, if you need a driving force outside of just seeing what the next dungeon is, or what the new enemies will look like, then they become a little monotonous.
This tedium is broken up a bit by the various objectives you’ll receive, like hunting down specific monsters, or collecting loot to craft/enhance your gear, which I appreciate, but you can really only do that for so long before the core loop wears on you.
I was shocked to find out that these games weren’t as old as I thought they were. They are actually only from the XBox 360/PSP era which is surprising since they had such a 90’s PC game dynamic. I’m not entirely sure if that’s good or bad to be honest. Truthfully, I think it’s kind of awesome that they were able to pull off such an impressive homage to their much older predecessors, but in the same vein the developers knew what needed to be modernized in these types of games and decided not to implement it.
In both games, you move around on a grid, but the transitions as the panels change as you explore are not smooth at all, and I often found myself getting a little motion sick while I was watching Patrick play. Not as much when I was in the driver’s seat but still, the motion could be so much more smooth. Also, give me a reason to keep pressing forward other than increasing the numbers on a stat menu. Where monotony is the greatest killer of these games, and artwork is the draw, then you have to push that artwork for all it’s worth. More enemies, more character art, and maybe even animated cutscenes if your budget allows.
Oh and if you’re going to force me to trudge all the way back to base to revive a dead character, then PLEASE make it so they can’t be one-shotted immediately upon recruiting them. I’m looking at you for this one Saviors of Sapphire Wings!
The artwork for these games are both phenomenal, and while there were some exchanged assets between the two titles it doesn’t change the fact that the artwork was still on point. Stranger in Sword City did a better job of changing up the scenery and enemy variety with more frequency, so I got to see a lot more than I did from Saviors of Sapphire Wings. But again, there were a lot of reused assets so I can imagine that what I saw from one game wouldn’t be far off from what I would eventually encounter in the other.
There’s a lot of things I could suggest to change about these games to be honest, but I think in doing so they wouldn’t really be dungeon RPGs anymore. The only real change I think I can legitimately offer would be pacing. Instead of bombarding the player with all the mechanics and story nuances up front, save them for when they become necessary and relevant. Teach me how to play the game first, let me get invested in the story somewhat and THEN start introducing all the bells and whistles as they are needed.
Each game has merits, and its own set of gripes. For one, Saviors of Sapphire Wings is a beautifully rendered high fantasy world, with all of the trappings that comes with it. You’ll fight goblins, fling spells, and recruit beautiful elf ladies. But, it also leans hard into these tropes, which makes the game feel very vanilla and uninspiring. My biggest issue however, is the fact that if your characters happen to die on you, you’ll have to make the trek all the way back to town to revive them! I mean, come on, no resurrection items!
Speaking of items and equipment, managing your characters is a bit of a pain. When you’re in town, only the protagonist is technically in your party, so you can only see their stats and compare them to the new weapons/armor you’d like to buy. Meaning, you’ll either have to guess if the equipment is better for your other party members or write something down. Not a fan!
On the other hand, Stranger of Sword City makes some of the improvements that were missing from Saviors of Sapphire Wings. Party management is more intuitive and although you need to return to town to revive your party members, a more interesting “rest” mechanic is implemented, making the process feel a little more natural. Besides, you can always recruit more characters if needed, while those that need it, rest. Also, the game, from the get go, felt much more concise and got to the point in a timely manner. Plus it’s still a beautiful game that changes up the scenery for a dark fantasy/dystopian world.
With that being said, my issues arise with how slapdash the aesthetics feel. Since the whole concept was based around a mishmash of heroes being “transported” from other worlds to help this one, nothing, from the characters, to the monsters, to the environments felt like they fit together. Which could have been the point, but it honestly ended up feeling like the dev bought a JRPG resource pack and just used all of the assets to make their game. Which was only exemplified by the fact that both Stranger of Sword City and Saviors of Sapphire Wings shared assets for both character designs AND monsters!
I guess to sum it all up, what I would like to see is each game have more of an identity. Something to set them apart and make them exciting to play on their own. Gameplay-wise they’re very similar with only minor differences and aesthetically they share many of the same designs. The only thing that truly sets them apart is their story. That and I’d love to see a more streamlined party and item management system that makes it more clear how the items in your inventory affect your party. Especially in Saviors of Sapphire Wings.
This is honestly a tough game to decide on a recommendation. For one, if you’re a fan of DRPGs and everything they offer, then this collection is probably a perfect investment! It has dozens of hours worth of exploration, trap avoiding, and monster squashing, across two games! Plus, the artstyle does not disappoint, even if it might feel a bit rinse and repeat when you play each game back to back. So, because of that, I’d most definitely recommend you check out Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City.
Nonetheless, if you’re like me, and you need a bit more to keep you engaged in a game, especially one that will easily break the 40 hour mark, then you may want to look elsewhere. The tedium of the grind hits pretty dang hard, and pretty dang quick.
All in all though, great artwork will only get you so far and it was definitely not enough to keep me engaged for either game for more than a handful of hours a piece. That slow paced grind just doesn’t keep me interested unfortunately. Both had interesting storylines as well, but again, that will only get you so far. At their core they are still video games that need to have fun and engaging mechanics and neither of these games hit that mark sadly. Perhaps more modern day games have spoiled me because I miss having an open map to seamlessly run through and a character I can interact with more than just to increase their skill tree and stats values. Maybe dungeon RPGs just aren’t for me in general anymore.
I can of course see the merit in such games if you are a big fan of Dungeon RPGs. This is a great deal to get two titles bundled into one package. Both games are easily 40+ hours each and if that’s your jam then there is plenty to keep a person well and truly occupied.
Both Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City are gorgeous games, and great examples of solid DRPGs with deep rooted foundations that’ll keep any fan interested for hours on end! Unfortunately though, neither of us were really sold on this dynamic duo of DRPGs.
However there’s no denying the draw of this sub-genre of genres. The idea of delving deep into the depths of a mysterious dungeon is a fascinating one, no matter how you look at it! With that being said, we’re still holding out for one that grabs us and doesn’t let us go, and for now, we’ll just have to move on. Which is too bad, because we hate having to cut our time short with games.
If you’re interested in checking out the Saviors of Sapphire Wings/ Stranger of Sword City Revisited compilation, you can find it on the Nintendo Switch and Steam, March 16th!