No matter how old or obscure, regardless of whether its been ported or remade already, the Nintendo Switch will happily accept any JRPG into its ever growing catalogue. And that is certainly not a bad thing, especially for fans of dungeon crawlers from Experience Inc that come with such an interesting history.
Originally developed for the PC and released in 2010, Students of the Round has been ported twice: first to the Xbox 360 in 2011 and then to the PS Vita in 2012. These ports added a host of new features including new monsters, items, dungeons, music and story segments. Jump ahead to 2019, Students of the Round got a facelift when it was remade for the PS vita and given a new title, Azure-Winged Chevalier. This remake included new character visuals, a new character creation editor, and revised the story along with the addition of new dungeon events. This version of the game initially never left the Japanese market but it would eventually earn an english localization and a new title, Saviors of Sapphire Wings.
Not to be outdone, Stranger of Sword City has its own interesting backstory. This title originally was titled the Stranger in Alda and released on the Xbox 360 back in 2014 only to then be ported on the PS Vita in 2016 as The Stranger of the Village of the Sword: Black Palace. When it came time to port it to Windows, the latest version of the game was given a new subtitle: White Royal Palace. All this to say that each of these two titles have taken quite the journey to get to where they are today.
This mini-history lesson does have a purpose, as it illustrates that this pair of JRPGs from NIS America are from a much older era than one might think. Though each game has its own unique story, most of the structure and gameplay feels the same across each title. Both rely on dungeon crawling exploration via a grid based map that is typically attributed to classic Shin Megami Tensei. Both have character creation that allow the player to tailor their party based on classes and abilities. And finally, both utilize a trap-based mechanic in which the party ventures into the dungeon and sets up traps in order to catch higher tiered enemies.
Existing fans of these games will find a lot to like here. Loading times are quick and quality of life improvements such as fast actions allow you to breeze through combat in a flash. As an avid JRPG fan it didn’t take long to figure out movement and combat and between quick travel on the map and a command that repeats the previous attack instructions, I was flying through at breakneck speeds. Most JRPG fans have become accustomed to some sort of speed up mechanic and it’s good to see that both of these titles are no exception.
As far as the stories go, Stranger in Sword City is the more compelling of the two. As the lone survivor of an airline crash on a stranger island, the player quickly learns that they’ve entered some kind of strange nexus world where normal humans achieve superhuman powers. The strangers as they become referred to, lead groups of hunters into the dungeons on said island to hunt for Lineage Monsters. By laying traps and ambushing these creatures, the player gains blood crystals that increase the power of the character and basically are the center of activity. Saviors of Sapphire Wings picks up 100 years after the defeat of the chosen hero by the main bad guy with one of the strangest names I’ve come across. The defeated hero is resurrected in a part of the world that has yet to be tainted by the evil of the dark overlord and is found by a woman named Merlin. The story takes on a very King Arthur-like arc in which the protagonist assembles a team of fighters to complete the quest first started a century ago.
Neither story necessarily stands out, they do a well enough job setting the backdrop but the real draw is the turn-based combat. Characters have a high degree of modification and a broad range of classes that can be tailored to your play style. None of the mechanics really jump out genre breaking or revolutionary, just good old fashioned dungeon-crawling in a turn-based setting.
As far as traditional JRPGs go, Both Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger in Sword City provide enough turn-based strategy to satisfy fans of the genre. With a fairly skippable story, not much attention is needed to grind out a few dungeons and level up characters for a couple hours each night. These PS Vita era games are perfect for the portability of the Switch in the sense that they can be played in handheld mode while watching something on the television. Sometimes there’s nothing like turning on some anime, and heading into cruise control while clearing dungeons to clear your mind after a long day at the office.
- High degree of character customization
- Game speed up quality of life
- Solid traditional dungeon crawling
- Stories are fairly generic
- Gameplay feels dated