So, you’re an RPGFan who also loves to lose yourself in the martial arts action of a Wuxia tale. But do you ever wish they could be interactive like your favorite game genre? Well, the upcoming RPG Wandering Sword might be right up your alley! A demo of a couple of early story missions for the title by developer The Swordman Studio and publisher Spiral Up Games showcases quite a lot of promise.
I’ll preface this preview by saying my knowledge of Octopath Traveler is sorely lacking. I can see how Wandering Sword draws inspiration from the RPG, especially in terms of its eye-catching visual presentation and graphics. However, I cannot say if those similarities run only skin deep, so I’ll focus my overall impressions of Wandering Sword on how it stands as a game in its own right.
The game’s plot centers on ancient China, where individuals genuinely proficient in martial arts are capable of nigh-superhuman feats. Yuwen Yi is an average caravan member tasked with escorting a vital client through a dangerous valley pass. Unfortunately, the caravan gets caught up in a turf war between bandits, and a poisoned Yi is one of the only survivors. This tragic beginning sets the young man down a new path that could have longstanding repercussions for himself and the nation at large.
The demo for Wandering Sword is roughly five or so hours and only scratches the surface of the main storyline. However, the narrative promises to be quite expansive in scope if what we see in these early portions is any indication. I’ll refrain from saying too much about it to avoid spoilers. However, the main character Yi goes from a recuperating survivor to a formidable rescuer throughout the demo. Aside from the main storyline, which is already rather meaty in just the short time you experience it during the demo, you also have numerous side quests you can undertake for villagers. I liked the additional storylines these optional quests presented. In addition, I was impressed by the amount of dialogue choice given to you, even as the demo guides you in the main quest’s direction.
Since the demo only covers Wandering Sword’s early stages, many helpful and manageable tutorials exist. The game’s first fight is a martial arts master that you take control of versus a handful of somewhat outclassed bandits, and it is a rather entertaining way to let players see what could be in store for them in terms of skills and character builds once they get going. Once you regain control of Yi, you get introduced to the proper basics and minute details of gameplay, with different aspects of the title and its battle system gradually being revealed.
Yi can move freely around villages and a relatively open world map, chatting with NPCs and perusing vendor wares should he choose to do so. If you stumble across glowing items of interest, you can gather resources with a separate experience point gauge for collecting to keep in mind. After that, buying and selling are relatively straightforward affairs.
What makes several NPC interactions stand out is your “observe” option. Selecting this option brings up a status menu for the character in question showcasing their gear and inventory alongside a profile and skill list. Any NPC with this option also has an affection meter to consider, which always starts at zero. Yi can improve his relationship with an NPC by gifting them items they like. Reaching an affection score of twenty or so ensures that the character will be open to sparring with you. Choosing to spar nets you more martial points, money, or items. NPCs with an affection score of sixty or more may accept an invitation to join Yi’s party.
This party-building system, at least in part, bolsters your forces for the challenges ahead. Yi does encounter some high-level guest party members who join him for specific narrative points. Still, you’ll need the two fighters willing to aid you in combat from the two villages you visit in the demo to help ensure Yi’s survival during the portions of the story when he’s on his own. The affection system and optional party-building mechanics are interesting and helpful. However, I wish the party members who joined this way had more story presence after recruitment. They exist to fill slots in the roster, provide you with more units for fights, and become virtually ignored in story scenes.
Battle-wise, Wandering Sword has a unique tile-based combat grid reminiscent of SRPGs. You move your party members over the grid, choosing from various combat skills with differing ranges and effects. You learn new skills by equipping different weapons to your person and reading books that supply you with a new skill or ability. I stuck with the sword route for Yi during my demo run, though you have a variety of weapons to choose from and can switch things up at any time.
You earn martial points for defeating enemies, which you then use to level up and strengthen the skills you’ve currently learned. Each skill gets maxed out at level ten. In addition, there are unique, powerful abilities called Cultivation Methods that not only provide helpful boons during combat but also net you what are called Meridian Points. These points can unlock hidden inner strengths of one’s mind and body. Each facet of the meridian skill tree strengthens a stat for a character, such as increasing their attack, movement range, or health pool.
While you initially start as a novice with laughable martial arts skills and even have a hard time surviving fights at the beginning of the game, the more martial points you accrue, the stronger you become and the more versatile your abilities. I’d just opened up all of Yi’s movesets by the time the demo finished, and it was fascinating to see him already on the road to becoming a powerhouse character. Of course, you can teach party members new skills too, and if they acquire Cultivation Methods, you can also start leveling up their meridian skill tree.
Characters equip armor and weapons of various ranks and classifications, though consumable item usage is limited outside combat. Fortunately, you’re given some other restorative means during battle, but it’s a head-scratcher as to why you can’t use a healing item inside of one. I found myself saving whenever possible since you restart from your last save point should you get a game over.
Battles in Wandering Sword use a turn-based or real-time system, depending on your combat preferences. Because I needed to become more familiar with the keyboard control schematics, I went with the turn-based system, which I still found quite engaging. It’s fun to activate a special move and see the name flash across the screen, and I like the tactical edge that moving characters around the grid gives you.
Visually, Wandering Sword is gorgeous, with impressive backgrounds and colorful sprite work. I love the character artwork used in the game! The soundscape fits what one expects from a Wuxia epic, particularly the sweeping, epic battle themes. The script work and English localization are also well done, with only a few minor errors here and there. Unfortunately, you can only play the demo in a smaller window and use keyboard and mouse controls. Though I’m hoping for controller support in the full game, I found the keyboard controls intuitive and easy to pick up.
Wandering Sword promises to tell a grand Wuxia-inspired journey, and I was incredibly impressed by the game’s early stages through this demo. I feel like I was just coming into my own regarding the game mechanics by the time the demo finished, but what I encountered throughout was quite enjoyable. I’m enthusiastically looking forward to seeing what the game’s full version provides later on, sometime in 2023!