Dungeon crawlers like Wizardry, Class of Heroes, Etrian Odyssey, and Demon Gaze don’t often have to put too much stock into their stories. Motivations are laid out and definite personalities exist within the games, but the primary focus is on the dungeons themselves. After all, you’re creating an original party of characters. They don’t exactly have character defining moments or grow beyond mechanical means. This is also true of Stranger of Sword City, but at the same time isn’t. It’s Vessel system adds more personality to a game where people don’t expect that sort of thing.
There are three Vessels in Stranger of Sword City, and a player will probably encounter all three within the first three hours of the game. These are Rui, the head of the Strangers Guild, Marilith, ruler of Escario and head of the Kingdom, and Alm, leader of the Medell Co. in the slums. They’re all NPCs, but ones with a strong influence over your character and the course of the game.
See, Stranger of Sword City is like the Shin Megami Tensei games, in that there are three possible endings to the game. Also like SMT, certain characters are identified with particular routes. Rui is neutral, which means she serves Oblis, the Dragon God of Neutrality. Her actions are fairly balanced, and she seems to get along well with both Marilith and Alm at the outset. Since she’s a stranger like the hero, and not a native of Escario, she’s dedicated to possibly helping all of the members of the guild go home.
Marilith, the composed, kind woman in charge of the city’s government, is the lawful and light choice. She serves Phoenix, the Spirit God of Light, and comes across as welcoming, but a bit uptight. At the same time, some of her behaviors may put someone off at Stranger of Sword City’s outset. Her follower, Helga, dictates who can and can’t see her. When she learns the hero gave Rui the first Blood Crystal, she almost demands the one you’ve just acquired because it’s fair.
Which leaves Alm to represent the dark storyline. Alm is a representative of Ol=Ohma, Overlord of Darkness. This Vessel certainly seems to fit the stereotype. Medell Co. is in the slums. Raineria, the Medell Co. representative, is very forceful and brusque, deciding what she can and can’t do. But being the dark representative doesn’t necessarily mean Alm is bad. The company is protecting the people of the slums, where the organization is situated. When you meet Alm, it’s in a fight against a Lineage Type trying to head into the area. Despite health problems, Alm is the one out there, defending the people. Also, Alm immediately trusts you with an important secret at your first meeting.
These three characters help drive Stranger of Sword City’s story. While there are specific storyline events that require you to give Blood Crystals to specific Vessels, the decision is mostly yours. Trusting in them gives you new Divinities to use in battle, help you learn more about the characters, and determine which of the three endings you’re going to get.
However, I would recommend being rather cautious while you play. You might unintentionally find yourself headed toward a particular ending, depending on the way you play the game. Divinities associated with Marilith tend to focus on support. There are various levels of Holy Light, which increase HP restored each turn, as well as Spirit Wall, which nullifies conditions and increases magic defense, and Light Veil, which increases ally HP by 30% and defends against enemy attacks from behind. Alm’s abilities focus on increasing damage output, with a Charge attack that ignores defense and a Giant ability that enhances magic effects. Rui’s Divinities focus on improving accuracy, with Dragon Fist reducing hit and avoidance, while also keeping enemies from escaping and Sky Dragon granting you initiative and improving the party’s avoidance and hit stats. Fortunately, it’s the one of the last decisions that determines which ending you get.
It’s an interesting way of helping people connect more to the world of Stranger of Sword City. By having these three people vying for your attention and offering more insight into their personalities and motivations, you’re getting more involved in the world than you would have, had it been a typical dungeon crawler. It’s all handled very well.
Stranger of Sword City will come to the Xbox One on March 22, 2016. The PlayStation Vita will get it on April 26, 2016.