Softstar’s epic hybrid of Chinese mythology and deep roleplaying continues with Sword and Fairy 7. While the game isn’t so closely related to its predecessors that they must be played to enjoy this newest entry, having some experience with the franchise will let you see just how far the series has come with Sword and Fairy 7. While this level of lore and depth might not be every RPG fans’ cup of tea, there is no denying that Sword and Fairy 7 is a towering improvement over Sword and Fairy 6 in just about every discernable way, and might just be the answer to those who want a little more story and world-building out of their RPGs without sacrificing too much in the way of combat and exploration.
As you might expect, the graceful blend of ancient Chinese mythology and genuinely well-crafted video game characters is pulled off in Sword and Fairy 7 to an impressive degree. Everything from the game’s various locations, characters, and deep lore that surrounds everything is portrayed with elegance and style. Despite not knowing much about Chinese mythology myself, and only being passingly familiar with the last couple of games from the series, I immediately felt at home in the game’s villages, while also feeling adequately trepidatious in its more sinister areas. I also felt an immediate sense of comradery with Xiu Wu and Yue Qingshu as they grew their sect and reckoned with matters both past and present. It’s a story that takes you in a lot of directions, but ultimately feels more focused on providing a fun journey than anything else.
“Sword and Fairy 7 might just be the answer to those who want a little more story and world-building out of their RPGs without sacrificing too much in the way of combat and exploration.”
Granted, many of the text-based conversations can threaten to drag the game’s momentum – especially if you partake in the game’s many, many side quests and optional conversions that can – and will – escalate the amount of text dialogue you encounter to preposterous levels. It’s not uncommon for Asian-developed RPGs to be like this, so veterans of that space should generally know what to expect, but if you’re coming from a western-style RPG to this game then prepare for a bit of a shock. Once that initial shock passes though, you’ll often feel like you’re being treated to genuinely well-written conversations that span all across the spectrum of endearing to malevolent. It also does a pretty good job with knowing when to pepper in some rather well-done cutscenes that break up the long sections of talking just before they get too dry. They also have the additional benefit of reminding you that you are in fact playing an action RPG. Aside from a few minor typos in the translation here and there, if you’re in the mood for it, Sword and Fairy 7’s story is truly an excellently portrayed full-throated fantasy epic that is at its best when taken slowly and thoroughly.
Grand story-telling is aided by fantastic visuals in Sword and Fairy 7. The various color palettes of different areas are vivid and bring out the flavor of each location wonderfully. This isn’t done any favors by the game’s lack of optimization, though. Despite the fairly basic graphics and lack of demanding effects, Sword and Fairy 7 seems to struggle to hold on to a stable framerate in a consistent way. There’s no denying that the graphics of the main characters and the more important locations in Sword and Fairy 7 are often sublimely rendered, and most modern rigs should be able to run things well at medium settings, but it should really be better than that considering the art style here. There’s not a lot of detail on any one thing, which fits the game’s tone just fine, but because of that there’s really no reason for it to struggle to hang on to 45-ish frames a second when I can easily play far more demanding games with a lot more going on at a solid 60.
I won’t tell you that it was a major problem throughout, but I did find myself fiddling with settings more than I would have liked. A few times I found myself bringing them up during calmer sections to appreciate the graphics only to be forced to take them back down during combat – but eventually I just settled with medium settings. Obviously, your mileage will vary depending on your rig, but a more even-keeled approach would have helped me avoid multiple frustrating moments when I would take a devastating blow, that, had the game’s framerate not suddenly plummeted, I probably could have avoided. That said, the sacrifices you might have to make in terms of ray tracing or resolution to get the framerate to hold steady are undeniably worth it to see some of this game’s absolutely gorgeous locations and enchanting combat during battles when it’s performing well.
“Grand story-telling is aided by fantastic visuals in Sword and Fairy 7.”
Some Sword and Fairy fans might be a bit miffed with the decision to drop the turn-based combat that defined so much of the previous game, but I implore those fans to give this one a shot regardless. While the combat has certainly taken a deliberate turn towards a more mainstream sensibility, it’s not without depth and strategy. At its basic level, you have a fairly typical action game combo structure, light and heavy attacks, the ability to mix them up for different combo results, and holding down a trigger also gives you access to different special attacks and abilities that are unique to each character. It’s a familiar system that we’ve seen different shades of in games for a long time, but that’s because it works.
Overall, I liked combat a lot. It’s easy to pick up and play but also incentivizes experimentation. Sword and Fairy 7 also makes assigning different buffs to your party members and switching between them in real-time is a breeze thanks to the streamlined, instantly-understandable gameplay language. This is something that the last game struggled with a bit and sometimes made that experience feel somewhat unkempt, so I’m glad to see that so acutely addressed here. Whether you prefer the old style or not, there’s no denying that Sword and Fairy 7’s combat is perhaps it’s strongest element. The game also smartly breaks up its various environments into disconnected sections that still feel vast and explorable but without the time-consuming traversal of a true open-world.
That’s not to say there aren’t some issues here – namely in the combat’s general balancing. For the first couple of hours, most enemies range from being barely a threat to a complete doormat. Obviously, enemies should start out being somewhat easier to give the combat a sense of progression later on, but Sword and Fairy 7’s earlier enemies can often be completely wiped out before they even make an attempt to strike you. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a strong enemy encounter will seem like it expects you to have been diligently upgrading your abilities this entire time – despite being given no real reason whatsoever to do so up to that point. Thankfully the game’s combat is flexible enough that it allows you to adapt to things like this after a little bit of trial and error, but that doesn’t make sudden spikes and plateaus in difficulty any less jarring.
“When viewed through its own lens, Sword and Fairy 7 also an exceptional example of what can happen when a talented developer takes feedback to heart, time to sharpen its approach, and balances out their original vision with just a dash of universal palatability.”
A game like this would be sorely let down if the soundtrack was just a collection of unremarkable, vaguely Chinese-sounding tracks. Thankfully, not only does Sword and Fairy 7 not struggle in this area, this is one of the better RPG soundtracks I’ve heard in a while. Powerful melodies soar over important battle sequences while intense bass and brass rumble underneath them. Thoughtful conversations with the elderly or children are made all the more endearing with authentic music backing them up. But just as well, when a moment is suited best by minimal background music or even silence, Sword and Fairy 7’s soundtrack wisely backs off and lets the moment breathe. While no one track or melody completely swept me off my feet, it’s a masterfully handled arrangement nonetheless.
Sword and Fairy 7 isn’t going to be everything to everyone, nor should it be. Comparisons to Tales of Arise and the like are bound to happen, as unproductive as they are. Compared to most mainstream RPGs of today, the lore and storytelling might feel a bit excessive, it’s difficulty spikes might feel clumsy, and the performance could be a turn off. But when viewed through its own lens, it’s also an exceptional example of what can happen when a talented developer takes feedback to heart, time to sharpen its approach, and balances out their original vision with just a dash of universal palatability. It improves upon its predecessor in meaningful ways while taking the franchise into a direction that should help ensure its survival in an increasingly crowded genre.
This game was reviewed on PC.