Along with Xuan Yuan Sword, The Legend of Sword Fairy (also known as Chinese Paladin) is one of the most beloved and longest-running RPG franchises in Taiwan and China, even spawning an MMO alongside a few TV adaptations. With the English release of Xuan Yuan Sword 7 last year (read about it here) and now Sword and Fairy: Together Forever, it seems like Softstar is getting serious about bringing this classic franchise out West! Luckily, Together Forever is the 7th entry of the series and a standalone title, meaning you need no knowledge of the previous entries to enjoy it. With its beautiful landscapes and gorgeous traditional Chinese aesthetics, Sword and Fairy 7 sure does paint a pretty picture: but how does it play?
The game is off to a promising start when players are thrown into the role of stoic swordsman Xiu Wu as he makes a daring escape from the demon realm in a chaotic, tutorial-laden scene full of cool gameplay like dodging barrages of flaming arrows, flashy QTE events, and then culminating in a short chase and showdown against the Garuda King. After teleporting to another part of the realm, the action slows down for a bit of exposition as you trudge through a cave with highly informative murals splashed about the walls. You learn that there was a large-scale war between three factions: humans, deities, and demons. After a vicious battle, the humans and deities finally subdue the demons and forge a truce stating that each group will stick to their respective realms. Before he can make a quick escape back to the realm of the deities, Xiu Wu comes face to face with the King of the Demons himself and falls through a portal to the human realm.
With the prologue over, you take control of the main protagonist of the tale: the beautiful sword-wielding Yue Qingshu and her spirit bird companion Qiaolong (who sports a hilarious pair of angry-looking eyebrows despite its cheery nature). You now find yourself in the idyllic Sparrow Valley, a small, lush valley with meandering rivers winding throughout. This is where Together Forever begins to showcase one of its greatest strengths; drop-dead gorgeous visuals and beautifully designed environments. Throughout the game I was absorbed in the visuals. One of my favorites was Mt. Emei. Walking up the ancient stone steps to the temple is a feast for the eyes with all the Chinese maple trees covering the mountainside in a variety of autumnal colors, with leaf piles littering the ground and paifang marking your path. Thankfully the game includes a photo mode, although regrettably, it does not work during combat. Much like the other entries, the soundtrack is made up of excellent and relaxing tracks featuring traditional Chinese instruments like the xiao and the pipa. Honestly, sometimes the music is so relaxing that I would start drifting off to sleep if I was playing late at night!
While the previous Sword entries were traditionally turn-based, Together Forever has made the leap to a full action RPG. There are no battle transitions so whenever you see a monster roaming around you can just run up and start whomping them at will. The basic combat gives you two buttons for stringing together light attacks with heavy attacks mostly being reserved for combo finishers. You can also jump into the air to unleash more combos. For defense you only have two options; dodge or stay out of attack range. You have a lock-on function for targeting enemies and while it succeeds in homing your attacks in, it doesn’t lock the camera onto the target, which I found awkward in a few cases when the enemy would run off the screen and I would lose track of them. When you want to put the extra hurt on monsters you can spend MP to unleash one of your hotmapped special attacks, which for Qingshu, mostly comes in the form of her spirit companions.
As a disciple of the fading Mingshu Sect, Qingshu has the power to control spirit companions to help her out in battle. She starts off with her old companion Qiaoling but can encounter and recruit a handful more during the game. There is no fancy summoning sequence when using a spirit special, you just hold R2 and press whatever button the ability is hotmapped to, and away it goes. It keeps the flow of battle nice and tight. Spirits have benefits outside of battle, too. In the spirit menu, you can assign one to follow you around and grant you perks. Like Qiaoling’s ability to give you an HP bonus, they can be useful in battle, or in the case of Gubai, they can increase the quality and quantity of items dropped. Feeding spirit fruit to level up your spirit buddies gives you gift points to invest in these perks as you see fit, but you won’t gain any bonuses unless the companion is assigned to follow Qingshu. It should be noted that the same rule doesn’t apply to special abilities; you can always use them regardless of your set spirit. Later in the game, you will be able to fill up a meter in battle and summon deity. If you were looking for a big, flashy summon move; this is it. For a limited time, you take control of this invincible deity and attack with impunity before unleashing a devastating area attack when time runs out.
Qingshu has more than just spirits for companions. She will eventually join up with deity swordsman Xiu Wu (from the prologue), her old friend Bai MoQing, and wandering doctor/kind-hearted troublemaker Sang Yo. You can swap between them on the fly and they each have their own sets of combos and special attacks. Truth be told, Sang Yo is the only interesting character. Everyone else is boring, especially Xiu Wu. He takes stoicism to the point where he seems to be a bit of a dim bulb. It doesn’t help that he is from the deity realm and out of touch with humans. As a matter of fact, the whole story is boring and told in such a way that the pacing gets absolutely murdered. First I need to point out that the game is in Chinese, which means that even during the fast-paced action scenes where all the cool stuff is happening, you will be reading tiny white letters at the very bottom of the screen. Together Forever uses a very bright color palette for almost everything; combine that with white subtitles with no text box or background, just imposed directly on the screen and it gets very uncomfortable to stare at for long amounts of time. Second problem is poor translation which sometimes has spelling errors and often has dialogue that sounds completely unnatural. One example of many is when Sang Yo is complaining about how long it will take to gather ingredients to the elder, he replies “With the time messing up with me, you can already get those herbs back.” It may sound like I’m nitpicking but if I’m playing a game genre where storytelling holds the primary focus; the language has to be down pat.
Now the biggest issue with this game is the copious amounts of cutscenes and endless talking. Also, if you pick this game up, prepare to hear the word cultivation a whole lot. Cultivation: all the cool kids these days are doing it. Unless you stop to do sidequests or really go out of your way to fight some monsters, most of your time will be spent walking to point A, watching a long cutscene, talking a little more, watching another cutscene, then get on your big bird and fly away...to another cutscene. Even when the scenes end and you’re running around, you should be watching all the beautiful scenery but these damn people never stop talking, forcing you to glance at the bottom of the screen in case you miss something. Often the game will put a barrier up, herding you to the next barrel of exposition. There are at least some very cool fight scenes played out, but they are far in between. Oh and I forgot to mention the best part: I’ve had to actually skip a few cut scenes because they wouldn’t play properly, either desynchronizing the sound and video or cutting off the video completely, No amount of restarting would fix it.
The story and hype-killing pace mar what could have been a fantastic game, dragging it down into mediocrity. It’s a fantastic game when it allows you to play and do your own thing, which unfortunately is not often. Sword and Fairy: Together Forever has all the trappings of an excellent game but ultimately gets knocked down a peg or two thanks to its awkward presentation.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 6.5/10
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