Saviors of Sapphire Wings/Stranger of Sword City Revisited Review – Dungeon RPG Masterclass

    Title: Saviors of Sapphire Wings
    Developer: Experience
    Release Date: March 16, 2021
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: NISA
    Genre: DRPG

Dungeon RPGs are an intimidating foray, but developer Experience has bundled two of their best into one package for those willing to step into a textbook example of this subgenre. In a market where there is no shortage of significant JRPG releases, Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City Revisited is a welcoming package of something entirely different, given that you’re not going to find a no-nonsense dungeon crawling grind anywhere else right now.

Let’s begin with Stranger of Sword Revisited; this is an enhanced version that was initially localized for PS Vita and, still to the surprise of many, initially released for Xbox 360 and Xbox One in Japan. Of interest is Saviors of Sapphire Wings, which was released for Xbox 360 in Japan under the name Students of Round; it would be remastered under its current name and guise for PS Vita before finally making its way to a worldwide audience on Switch and PC.

Needless to say, it has been a long journey for both these dungeon crawlers to finally achieve some measure of global recognition, especially given how they were released. Xbox exclusive? And in Japan? What were they thinking!?

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Despite both titles belonging to the Dungeon RPG genre, Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City Revisited are entirely different from each other. Both games may share similar monster designs, graphical engines, and battle systems, but they are unique in their overall mechanics and execution of RPG systems. Although developer Experience has a few DRPG projects in their resume, it’s impressive to see how they can diversify the formula with each release.

Saviors of Sapphire Wings is likely going to be the game that genre fans are most eager to try, and for a good reason, too, because this is a beautifully paced and structured adventure. Unlike the developer’s other RPG efforts, this game actually has an interesting premise that sets up an engaging story with a cast of developed personalities. Compared to most dungeon crawlers where characters are arbitrarily created, Saviors of Sapphire Wings builds up its cast and tells a story with real substance.

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Saviors of Sapphire Wings has everything from ancient prophecies to a Dragon Quest-esque reincarnated hero and the usual fate of the universe hanging on a fortress that happens to be built on a giant flying whale creature.

A lot is going on here, and surprisingly the game gets players as invested in its storyline as it does in its deep DRPG systems. There’s a real sense of level design tied to the story here, and there’s an exciting variety in the quests, too, such as laying down baits to hunt monsters and capture territories.

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Stranger of Sword City Revisited is an enhanced port of the PS Vita release. It is essentially the same game as before, with some updated artwork and other minor gameplay modifications. The game was always notoriously difficult, so being able to control difficulty settings is undoubtedly welcome.

Here players find themselves in a mysterious airplane crash site where they create arbitrary characters as part of the Strangers guild. They try to navigate a treacherous dimension filled with creatures called Lineage. Players need to navigate through trap-filled dungeons and monster battles in a game that is a little vague in its level design and progression.

The DRPG systems here are much more profound than Saviors of Sapphire Wings. Players can expect to spend more time meddling with different stats and character classes and developing a particular skill tree as they hunt Lineage creatures.

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Although different in their presentation and pacing, both games feature extensive DRPG systems with unique twists of their own. The core combat is turn-based, and battle formations play a crucial part in strategy. Beyond battles, a great deal of time is needed to carefully upgrade and develop your party of warriors. This is a little more streamlined in Saviors of Sapphire Wings, as you gradually meet the cast who are part of the narrative, and they each already have a recommended job class (although it can be changed). Still, Stranger of Sword City Revisited players need to figure out the right combination of classes for their arbitrary party. In the end, it all comes down to preference, but both games are polished DRPGs in their own right, both offering challenging gameplay and hours of grind-heavy dungeon crawling.

On top of that, they each feature excellent artwork, and this compensates for the limited graphical prowess. It’s easy to forgive how both games basically use the same monster designs since the same creatures are executed quite differently. On that note, why do goblins look like chipmunks in these games? The 3D dungeons are simple but are varied enough in their design and presentation, filled with traps, secrets, and other cool gimmicks. These games are a great example of how unique artwork, music, and stylistic menus can make up for a dated engine. Plus, there are in-game achievements to hunt too.

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Saviors of Sapphire Wings is a great introduction to the DRPG genre and games from this developer. It’s worth playing for the base game alone for its enhanced features and engaging narrative, but genre veterans might prefer the challenge and freedom of Stranger of Sword City Revisited. Sure, these games are an output of modest production values and can be quite the grind. Still, the stylistic presentation and satisfying challenge go a long way to reel players into what is generally an acquired niche. Irrespective of your preference for RPGs, this is a welcome compilation among the big JRPG releases of 2021.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!