With its point-and-click turn-based combat and beautifully detailed HD-2D depictions of feudal China, Wandering Sword is an endearingly retro-like RPG. It features an interesting mix of the Final Fantasy-like ATB system and Fire Emblem tactics, and its upgrade system has its roots in the meridian system of Chinese medicine. However, its wordy tutorials, grueling difficulty, and fast-paced story-telling can leave some of its players in the dust in this early build.
The story of Wandering Sword follows Yuwen Yi. He is a sweet and kind young man who is the sole survivor of his caravan of friends. They all died following an attack from the Tianlong Gang. His client, a martial arts master, manages to save him. Yuwen Yi then recuperates under the care of the gruff Jiang Yinfeng and his peppy daughter Jiang Xiaotong. Upon recovering from the venom coursing through his body and encountering the various factions within China, Yuwen Yi sets out on a journey to master martial arts and fulfill a promise that he makes with Jiang Yinfeng.
Wandering Sword ping-pongs between explaining way too much too fast, and explaining too little. Since I played the demo, I can understand if there is not a lot of time to spend on exposition. But because it’s a demo, I thought it would be a bit more welcoming to its new players. It throws a lot of new terms and characters at you, and the tutorials are so quick and prevalent that it is really easy to forget what you just learned before you have to learn something else. Thankfully, the systems in the game are fairly simple. You can upgrade individual techniques, or unlock meridians to permanently boost stats.
Even with my rudimentary knowledge of wuxia films, I could definitely tell that Wandering Sword is trying to emulate that sort of feel. It definitely succeeds in that aspect! Everything from the plot and story beats to the character designs are reminiscent of the genre, and it plays all of the tropes with an earnest and infectious enthusiasm. Wuxia flicks and shows were never my thing, but playing this makes me want to explore what the genre has to offer. Its unique world comes to life in such a vibrant way thanks to the HD-2D graphics. Even idling about the various locales is a visual treat. However, the story definitely assumes that the player is familiar with common fictional sects. Characters pop into screen accusing so-and-so of being part of this Sect or that group that it was a headache trying to keep track everyone and their relationships.
Wandering Sword’s demo is jam-packed with content, as well as promises of more. There are lots of side quests, and Yuwen Yi can also learn a variety of martial arts styles. I will say that the difficulty level of this game is surprisingly high. But I will add the disclaimer that I could have just been making the wrong decisions with how I chose to upgrade and equip my Yuwen Yi. Yuwen Yi has the HP and defense of a wet paper bag. It was a bit of a shock to see him get a power-up in the story that lets him damage enemies AND heal, only for the random mobs to kill him in the next turn because he straight up cannot take hits. The game’s auto-save also does not kick in that often. So you have to make a habit of saving a lot.
Between its beautiful graphics and environments, and an intriguing plot, Wandering Sword is a fun turn-based RPG. It is reminiscent of more old-school Chinese games I’ve seen in my youth. Granted, as a demo, it’s still rough. There are some untranslated strings of text, for example. I also think an in-game glossary to keep track of everything would be useful. I refuse to believe that I’m the only person who cannot keep up. Even so, Yuwen Yi is a fun protagonist in the sense of he reminds me of a pathetic puppy, and seeing his journey through to the end is great motivation to push though. I am excited to see him develop from a weakling into China’s most peerless martial artist.
Wandering Sword will come out on Windows PC via Steam some time in 2023.