Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Sword and Fairy: Together Forever, or Chinese Paladin: Sword and Fairy 7, by developer SOFTSTAR and publisher EastAsiaSoft is the latest in the long running Chinese RPG series. Set in a mythical world with realms of Humans, Deity and Demons, life is about to quickly change for our protagonists as one’s failed mission sets off a series of other events bringing everyone and everything together.
Starting off with a bang, we are introduced to the latest entry of this series with a hands-on tutorial of hacking, slashing and dodging a variety of attacks as the deity Xiu Wu is being chased by a winged race known as the Garuda. Fighting their way out of this situation, it doesn’t take long for another of Sword and Fairy 7’s features to shine before switching gears and into the real adventure with our primary protagonist Yue Qingshu.
Slowing down the pace for a spell, this is where I probably fell in love with the latest in the Sword and Fairy series. Graphically, everything is stunning to look at. From the lush summer forests of the starting area to the more autumn, wintery and even desert-like areas later on, even the “blandest” of areas have details just waiting to be showcased. Now while graphics are never everything, as even the prettiest experience can be poorly designed, this is not the case with Sword and Fairy 7. Instead, these elegant visuals help immerse yourself into this world filled with people, monsters and plenty of lore to help you better understand everything going on around you.
Only helping this immersion are the stellar musical tracks that accompany every cutscene, battle sequence, town and field explorations. This music has range and while there may have been a track or three that I didn’t personally enjoy, that’s more from personal taste than it was from how well the music itself was. Continuing on, and only adding more to the experience, each of these musical tracks can not only be listened to within your in-game glossary, but these musical tracks are also accompanied by descriptions of the music and the styles used in order to compose them.
While the rest of the experience does hold up on its own, the above graphical and musical elements really help to bring this adventure together. Having moved away from a more turn-based RPG approach, Sword and Fairy 7 is handled in real-time and in a few ways made me think of the latest in the Tales of series with Tales of Arise (Richard’s PS4 review). What makes this adventure a bit different though is that there are no shifts into a battle sequence or overt results screens, everything is done in real-time and there’s never a need to stop and be taken out of where you are currently exploring which keeps the immersion running.
Starting with exploration, Sword and Fairy 7 always has something to look at on screen and the world never feels empty which is a big thing when you have large areas to explore. Towns have people and vendors that can be talked to. Fields can also have people to talk to which can result in side quests. Also out in the fields are fairies that can give you items and monsters can be fought for experience points and money. This can be done either because they are on your path or because it’s part of a sidequest and while not an open world, there are still plenty of fairly large areas that you’ll be visiting a few times over the course of the adventure.
Only helping to make the world of Sword and Fairy 7 feel more real are the cast, main or supporting. Each character brings a little something to the table helping you stay in the adventure wanting to know more. What are our protagonists’ stories? What are they hiding from you? Each other? Best of all? Unlike a lot of western or Japanese RPGs, there were no character archetypes where you basically roll your eyes and are like, not another one. While some characters may have a trait or two in a certain direction, and I won’t say anything as to not spoil anything, there’s a depth to everyone that you meet and adventure with. I wish we could see more of this across the board instead of relying on the same old cast molds which have gotten fairly old in a lot of cases.
This leads me to perhaps one of the less shiny moments of the adventure, the amount of time that you’ll spend backtracking through an area. Whether due to a main storyline quest or a side quest, some of these areas will see you running through them dozens of times which is softened a bit by how pretty they are to look at. That said though, these areas only really have a couple of quick travel points and as the adventure goes on, these points are VERY far from where you need to go and when you have to go back and forth? It does become a bit of a slog especially when it’s a fetch quest and it takes longer to “quick travel” between points than to simply walk.
So while the back and forth can be a slog, I was happy that the side quests, whether fetch quests or monster dispatching, didn’t feel like an add-on. If they did? It was only a matter of time before they yielded a bit more of this world’s lore. Whether big or small, each of these mini-adventures to help people out made the world feel that much more real and lived in which is something that I appreciated. Could it sometimes get in the way of the main story? Definitely. Was this a problem? Not really as we come to expect these worlds to come with their own bits of flavor outside of the main quest. Finally if the side quests feel like there are too many and you simply want to move on? Nothing is stopping you!
Finally in terms of gameplay there is the element that I thought was an absolute treat, the combat. From running around the fields with weapons sheathed to having weapons drawn, the switch is effortless allowing you to smoothly transition back and forth as needed while exploring. Holding to many of the same mechanics as exploration, you can run around, you can jump, you can dodge and finally kicking it up a notch, you can attack with combos or abilities. Combos can be performed by attacking with the default button “X” and then hitting the “Triangle” after a certain amount of hits. These don’t cost anything and can be fairly useful in their own right.
From your standard combos to abilities though? While they needed magic points (MP) to cast, they fit in with the rest of the visual presentation and were generally amazing to see in action. What I also appreciated with both these abilities and the above combos is that no two characters felt the same. Each felt as individual as they were presented and it made for an interesting to figure out who worked best in which situation. From the initial character of Xiu Wu who uses a larger sword and has long range magical blade attacks, Yue Qingshu by contrast has a slimmer blade and uses spirits in combat for lightning and ice attacks. Adding in the two remaining characters, Bai Moqing casts magic and should never be up close in combat while Sang Yo uses a crossbow and status effects which were always something to count on especially in tough boss battles.
From start to finish though, Sword and Fairy 7 isn’t perfect as there are some issues that sadly I can’t let slide. Technically appearing together, my issues came from both the localization text and how it was presented on screen. Starting with the localization text, there are some moments where the words just don’t fit and without knowing the spoken language, I really have no idea what should have been said. Adding to some of these instances are some very limited typos and some cases of just the wrong tense being used.
The second issue is that the text appears directly on the screen. There are no available backgrounds, whether solid or transparent. It is what it is and it’s always written in white making it really hard at times to keep up especially when the text is moving forward with you without you in a giant block. It may not be as big of an issue for someone that knows the language and can simply follow along by listening, but for others? I can honestly tell you that I’ve missed certain parts and depending on how far along a cutscene I was? I wasn’t going back to find out…
Overall though? Sword and Fairy: Together Forever was a pleasure to experience. From the richly detailed environments and musical accompaniments to the solid storyline, great characters, exploration and combat design, it was hard to believe at times that this was a sequel to Sword and Fairy 6. This latest entry to the series has made a massive jump forwards and I’m looking forward to what comes next.Score: 8 / 10