Title: Xuan-Yuan Sword VII
Developer: Softstar, DOMO Studio
Release Date: October 28, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Softstar, Yooreka Studio
Genre: Action RPG
I understand that the Xuan-Yuan Sword series has been regularly receiving numbered entries and spin-offs since 1990, but it has entirely escaped my radar all these years. The series itself may be as niche as they come, but to some, it is regarded as one of the best Chinese RPG titles and the longest-running. With its latest iteration, Xuan-Yuan Sword VII, coming west, I found it no better time than now to jump in and see what I’ve been missing the last 30 years.
Xuan-Yuan Sword VII is ultimately a living, breathing adventure in every sense of the word. Players are introduced to Taishi Zhao, a boy who escaped the destruction of his family’s manor as a child, along with his little sister. Ten years after the incident, his sister is sick, and he does things for money in hopes of curing her. This leads him to deal with escorting troops into a forest after reports of a strange quake.
It’s here that the group encounters a monster ambush, to which his sister became involved and wounded. We learn that Taishi is hiding a secret that the military might be on after he teleports to a different dimension to save his sister. The story becomes more grand following this scene as he is ultimately motivated by bringing his sister back to life even after transferring her soul into a wooden doll.
Xuan-Yuan Sword VII is very much like a fantasy Chinese drama. It’s slow-moving, and players will be reading through a lot of dialogue. This is taken a step further as you play through every second of the tasks at hand. All the monotonous traveling and interactions that an adventure may have will be played through, and the day slowly passes by. This provides you with an exact sense of time by viewing the sun-set and rise as you progress the narrative.
The story itself centers around themes of political injustice, loss, love, and determination. It takes you across this sprawling map of unique towns and interesting places as you do whatever it takes to complete your mission. The plot extends further than just the McGuffin of saving his sister, but it never loses sight of the several other story elements that it introduces.
I would say that if you aren’t up for a lengthy story, then Xuan-Yuan Sword VII will probably bore you. There is story cinematics in nearly every scene. You are constantly witnessing characters interacting through slow, drawn-out dialogue scenes. I’ve noticed this in Chinese fantasy dramas, but western players may not be used to this exposition.
Still, the drama in this game is real, and you’ll be witnessing overly dramatic scenes of character death, romance, political engagement, heroism, and even comedic elements. All of this and more has been turned up to 11, and I actually quite liked it. I was immersed in the twists and turned the story provides and even the moments where the characters sit by a fire and talk about what they just did earlier in the day.
Similar to the story, the battles are also paced slowly throughout the adventure. Encounters are action-based and have players combing a few different sword techniques together to take down enemies. I swear it felt like I was only fighting wolves for the first 7 hours of the game, but then things began to ramp up as companions joined my party, and I began unlocking new abilities.
This also gave me a sense of adventure as if I was truly becoming stronger and taking on tougher enemies. Boss battles are also unique, given that after you defeat them, they will provide you with a new stance. Up to two stances can be equipped at once and add a new layer to your strikes. These attacks can also level up the more you use them.
The list of enemies isn’t incredibly vast, but after the 10-hour mark, they do become more difficult. It’s totally possible to pass up many fights, but at the cost of missing out on Exp. Other elements, like equipment and companions, can also be customized over time by heading to Elysium. Here, players can use materials to rebuild structures and upgrade specific passives and other elements about their character. Still, it can be ignored for the most part until after about 10 hours.
I think Xuan-Yuan Sword VII is a gorgeous game with some wonderful set pieces and character designs. The high fantasy is masked around this ancient era, and it works incredibly well. You will find small towns that are well designed throughout the game, but there’s very little to do in them. Most NPCs have nonsense words above their heads, which limits town exploration.
Furthermore, the voiced audio is amazing. Everything is voiced here; even the random conversations characters have in the field. It’s all acted out through motion capture as well, so it plays out as if you’re watching a television show. Some of the translation work is a bit dry, but I was never lost during the exposition.
Xuan-Yuan Sword VII is an absolute gem of an action RPG. Its dedication to world-building and narrative does not go unrewarded as you find yourself entangled in the oftentimes overdramatized politically charged plot. It’s high fantasy in every sense of the world. Still, I wish something more was done to make NPCs more engaging, and the battle system could use some balancing. Regardless, it’s going to be tough for me to ignore this long-running series anymore.
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