Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
For those that may not be familiar with Experience Inc.’s work, they are designers of some fairly intense wizardry style first person dungeon crawlers loved by many on the team. Having designed titles to make you cry such as Stranger of Sword City which originally released for the PlayStation Vita and Microsoft Xbox One, they are back again for both a remaster of that brutal classic and a brand new challenge with the Saviors of Sapphire Wings.
Note: Because of the amount of time investment required for just one dungeon crawling experience, the following review is solely for Saviors of Sapphire Wings as The Stranger of Sword City – Revisited deserves its own forthcoming review.
Taking it from the top, Saviors of Sapphire Wings is the story of a knight who falls to the evil overlord and dies in the first act. Fast forwarding one-hundred years into the future, our hero makes a return by reincarnating to a new form of their choice for another chance to face off against the evil that won a century ago. While this is nothing new in terms of RPGs, it allows for both an easy setup to the premise without having to go into too many upfront details. Those details will eventually come to us when our protagonist finds out for themselves the current state of the world as they move from region to region while preparing for their rematch.
Getting a “crash course” in your new body, it doesn’t take long for you to get roped into what can only be the start of your rehabilitation quests! With the influence of evil having spread, not even small quiet and remote towns are safe anymore and as such, a young man hot headedly rushes to rescue another of the locals who was snatched away and being prepared for a sacrifice. It’s a bit of a trope in terms of a setup but it launches into one of the main systems that Saviors has to offer, “character customization.”
Unlike the Stranger of Sword City, Demon Gaze (Demon Gaze 2 PS4 / Vita), and the Operations Abyss (Vita / PC) and Babel (Vita) where you build your crew from the ground up, Saviors gives you your party members in a story based approach. While working well enough from an RPG’ actual role playing perspective, it was also a bit on the harder side at first as this is still a dungeon crawler designed to put you against tough foes and not having a full party at first makes grinding for experience points almost necessary.
In a bit of a twist from your general, here’s person a, they do this. Here’s person b, they do that. Here’s person c, etc., persons a, b, and c can be whatever you want them to be. While their personalities won’t change from a story perspective, as Saviors relies on your party members for the story’s flair, how you get there is entirely up to you. Human, Elven, Dwarven, Migmy, Fairy, etc, each of these characters can have their base stats swapped for a soul of another race and allowing them to properly be any class they want. This keeps things fairly in line with the rest of Experience Inc.’s dungeon crawlers which lets you fully customize your party for what you see fit to dungeon crawl through with.
While it can seem a bit odd at first that you are given these people with potential palette swaps, it adds a bit more depth than what can normally be found. Channeling its inner RPG, it felt more natural to have your party members chatting along instead of it always being someone from the outside. Sure, others can drop in and say hi, but overall, it creates a tighter knit connection to those that you’ll be spending hours upon hours traveling with instead of them just being a selected face, name, and imaginary backstory they you made up in your mind that has absolutely no bearing on the actual events in question.
While the direction for the characters is new from Experience’s Inc.’s standpoint, there’s unfortunately a lot with Saviors of Sapphire Wings that doesn’t quite meet the mark. If you’re coming from Stranger of Sword City or started with Stranger of Sword City – Revisited there’s a lot of elements in Saviors that you’ll say “didn’t I just see that”? Character sprites, enemy sprites, environments, there’s a lot that has basically been reused and there’s a few times while in some of the environments I thought I was in a reused map making me wonder if it was the same world. It’s not. So while there’s a bigger emphasis on actual character interaction with your hero, there’s a lot that’s just been reused and it doesn’t feel new or even fresh from a visual standpoint.
Now I know what you’re thinking, you love Dragon Quest. And I do. But going from one Dragon Quest to another, while enemies are reused they’ve always been revamped to a degree in the main cast were always unique not just an anime sprites sub pallet option in the third tab of four that were available in Stranger of Sword City. I know this isn’t something to actually be hung up on, but it made the adventure feel a little more lazy than it should have because of the massive amount of the reused work.
The other portion that doesn’t quite seem to line up, and this isn’t just comparing one title to the other, is in the execution of the dungeon crawling. Normally, there’s a manner in which “loot” can be acquired in order to make life a bit easier especially when everything is out to kill you. That and the shops that seem to think somehow you’re super rich for some reason as the prices alone could kill even the most robust of adventurers. For the loot though, some of it can be found on enemies, some within chests, but generally with Experience there’s a “way point” of sorts that exists to help out.
In Saviors, these points are points in which you have to place something down, most often food, and then either walk away for a certain amount of steps or get into another battle in order for something to take the bait. Or hopefully take the bait as even if you drop something that enemies may be interested in, they may just like fishing, take the bait and get the hell out of there. Thankfully while acquiring the loot may be a bit more difficult, the loot that is given is generally decent enough to start making a difference one dungeon crawling adventurer at a time. I just wished that the process had been a bit easier like being able to use it “X” amount of times per dungeon run instead of having to use items to get items as sometimes with the limited inventory space what you need is something that you’ve just stored away.
Loot aside though, the rest of the dungeon crawling is as robust as it’s ever been. Moving either forwards, backwards, or strafing from side to side, your map will auto-update itself with everywhere you’ve been and tell you if there’s something of interest such as traps, doors and whether they are one-way passages or not. Actually one thing that I really enjoyed was that often enough your party members would call out if they’ve spotted something of interest that could be anything from an item on the ground for your inventory or a secret passage meaning that as long as you’re walking by you don’t always need to check every single surface hoping that one of them will lead you into the next passageway forward.