Xuan-Yuan Sword is not a popular series. At least, not in the West. It’s an Action RPG rooted in ancient Chinese mythology and beliefs and this is the seventh in the series, succeeding the 2013 game Xuan Yuan Sword VI. I didn’t have many expectations for the game, as I hadn’t played any of the previous games, but I found myself to be pleasantly surprised by what a seemingly unknown game for a western audience was able to offer.
A lot of people seem to be put off by the fact that the game is almost strictly linear, and that you can’t delve into an places besides the main story. Sure, there’s a few sidequests here and there but the biggest focus is the story. The game strongly benefits from this approach, in my opinion. Its story is one of the best parts of the game; there’s a ton of cutscenes, at least one every five or so minutes, and I found myself never skipping them at all when usually in games which are pretty story hefty I tend to skip. Although the facial expressions in the cutscenes aren’t exactly cutting edge or show a huge amount of emotion, I feel as though the excellent voice acting and worldbuilding for a first time player does a lot to make up for that shortcoming, especially since the game is disconnected from its previous iterations that you don’t need to know prior story.
There were quite a few times where I found myself being sympathetic for the characters, happy that something happened or sad at an event that just conspired. The approach to make the game purely linear allows this story to be emphasised and have much more of an impact than if the player wandered off and did other things. Even the inclusion of Chinese mythology and magic, which I had no knowledge of, made the story that much more interesting and had me wanting to look deeper into its history.
Combat. It’s fun. It’s not too hard and it’s not too easy either. There’s a wonderful balance between the abilities you unlock to make fights more fun and being given the freedom to just spam the attacks you feel most comfortable with. Even on the hardest difficulty I still found pleasure in the littlest of fights in the game. Seeing a lot of people criticise it for being too simple puzzled me because there’s a lot to enjoy about the combat system, and it definitely makes full use of what’s available within its settings to make every fight worth fighting.
For the first few hours you’ll be doing all the fighting alone but as you progress through the story you’ll gain allies in your party that’ll assist you and that’s when it becomes more fun. My biggest issue with the combat system is rooted mostly within the soul capturing spell (Elysium Rift) that can be used. It’s main purpose is to gather souls that go into your inventory to be used to craft items that can improve your characters. The only issue is, allies that you gain throughout the story can also kill the enemies you’re trying to trap, which means you’ve wasted a trapping spell for nothing. This can become frustrating very quickly, but at least the spell is consistent enough to not be a huge worry. Despite this, the trapping spell is useful crowd control and keeping enemies in place, and is worth using if you can’t seem to keep eyes on everything going on in a fight.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an RPG game without crafting. Xuan-Yuan Sword VII’s crafting system is very unique in the sense that you have to upgrade buildings in Elysium (the safe zone) to be able to craft bigger and better items. Some of these buildings will upgrade as you progress through the story, but some will require you to get the appropriate materials in order to improve your characters. Elysium has around five buildings that serve different purposes; one will upgrade weapons, while one may upgrade armour and another will be a general crafting table for recipes such as health potions. It’s a fun system and doesn’t need too much of a grind as you’ll be getting most of the materials naturally as you play through the game which helps keep its linear story engaging as opposed to going down the deep end.
In terms of world design – I was astonished. The game is beautiful. Every part of the game looks and feels amazing to run around in. Maybe it’s not the perfect breath-taking environment that others are looking for, but I love the feel of this game.
Take a look at the beginning of the game, it’s filled with incredible sun reflections and towns that look like they could pass off as authentic Chinese homesteads. Quickly, you’ll find yourself venturing outside of the protection of man-made walls and buildings, having to navigate through jungles and huge open areas, that’s where the environment shines the best; a lot of green and vines, abandoned villages and gaps that spread across the land.
It reminds me of Tomb Raider – but that’s not just because of how the world looks.
Puzzles are frequent, and mostly isolated in underground places or dungeons that you have to navigate through to continue the story. I’m not great with critical thinking myself, but I managed to get through the puzzles simple enough despite the game giving the opportunity to skip them, like Uncharted does. The ambient noise in the dungeons can get annoying fast if you’re not a quick thinker like I am.
Since I’ve mentioned noise, the soundtrack in this game surpassed my expectations. It’s better than I hoped and nails in and enforces the narrative that much more; it’s music perfectly fits the tone for situations that require it like sad scenes, times of triumph and moments of revelation.
There’s an abundance of great storytelling not only from main characters but to side characters too, the story is engaging and through my entire time playing I wanted to keep playing just so that I could continue the story. The soundtrack is on-par with most AAA western titles and the gameplay is fun, engaging and the combat is one of the biggest highlights of it all, even if the story is the biggest part of the overall game.
All in all, Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 is an underrated gem when it comes to Action RPG games. And my playthrough of the game only solidifies my belief that more people who haven’t played this game need to give it a go – it may be one of my favourite games in the genre and definitely deserving of high praise for what it accomplishes within its storytelling and plot.