As an RPG buff, I’m always on the lookout for something new and interesting, so when I heard Xbox was getting the latest entry of a nearly 30 year old Chinese RPG franchise it set my spidey sense a-tingling. Xuan Yuan Sword 7 is a fast-paced action RPG set in a hybrid version of ancient China that is grounded in both real history and Chinese mythology. I was super excited to dig into this title since Chinese mythology is not usually a setting you see much of. While elements of Japanese and Greek mythology are fairly commonplace in videogames these days, I can only think of two that use a Chinese mythological setting: PlayStation 1’s Saiyuki: Journey West and Jade Empire on Xbox. So needless to say, it would be nice to see more Xuan Yuan Sword entries in the future. For now, though, let’s focus on 7!
Taking place in China roughly 2000 years ago, Xuan Yuan 7 opens up with a quick scene where our protagonist, Taishi Zhao, walks out and battles a wolf during a quick gameplay tutorial. After that, you are immediately thrown into a flashback chapter. The story and its pacing are one of the few places Xuan Yuan Sword stumbles. After only the slightest taste of combat, you are forced to play through a large chunk of backstory. Once things start to get interesting, you end up in another boring lull in the story. The story beats are too unevenly spread over the 18+ hour runtime but things really pick up towards the latter half of the game. And the story itself is all over the place. Some things are never quite explained, such as the Elysium Scroll Taishi possesses that gives him his powers, or how he came across “his highness”, while other things are quickly glossed over. It’s like the player has no agency and poor Taishi Zhao just haplessly stumbles from one incident to the next. While I may sound negative, I did appreciate and enjoy the story by the end of the game: it’s just the way the story unfolded that I took issue with. I don’t like giving away the story in my reviews so all I will say is that by the time the game is over, things make a lot more sense. Well, most of it, anyhow. On a bright note, I enjoyed the way Taishi Zhao and the rest of the group banter and interact with each other throughout the journey. One hallmark of a great RPG is when the party has chemistry and frequently interacts with one another. It doesn’t make sense to me when developers make a game where a group of people embark on a grand adventure yet barely even acknowledge one another’s existence. I’m not naming names, you know who you are.
The gameplay follows a traditional action RPG format, giving you a light and heavy attack, dodge, block, and riposte technique to fight with. There is a whole slew of mechanics and systems that elevate the experience, however. The first is Taishi Zhao’s secret weapon: the Elysium scroll. When your meter is full, you can activate his Elysium Rift technique to slow down all enemies for a limited time. He also has an Imprison technique at his disposal. With the tap of a button, you can open a small circular vortex on a spot to capture the souls of your foes. Your success depends on the enemy’s remaining HP: the lower it is, the higher the chance of it working. What I like to do is beat a few monsters down to low health and then pop the Imprison technique when they are clustered together, then I deliver the final blow. Killing them while they are standing in the circle guarantees capture, so it’s much more reliable than just hoping their HP is low enough to be captured. The Elysium Scroll has more functions but that will be explained in another section. Zhao can also learn four martial arts techniques: Ox, Tiger, Wolf, and Bear. Each martial art has a unique leveling system that powers it up and grants you additional moves in that school until you learn the ultimate technique. Your choice of martial art determines the type and effects of your heavy attack. Whereas Tiger style focuses on strong kicks, Wolf style (my personal fav) is a swift lunging thrust attack perfect for closing gaps quickly. Zhao can equip two styles at a time to be able to quickly swap his movesets back and forth in the heat of battle. I love this idea since it allows a level of customization to accommodate your playstyle and break up the monotony a little because slaying monster after monster can get tedious. Another issue I have is the insane difficulty spikes that often accompany bosses later on in the game. You can be easily dispatching any monster you come across and then the twin mechbeasts come out of nowhere and blast you to pieces. You can change the difficulty at any time, but then the next lowest difficulty makes it far too easy. Xuan Yuan Sword 7 could use some more fine-tuning in that area.
Aside from martial arts, there are three escort techniques that function in the same way, with the caveat being that you must beat a specific boss to unlock its abilities. One is from an un-missable boss while the other two can be found by fast traveling to their special areas once they unlock as you progress in the story. They’re cooler looking than the traditional martial arts but I didn’t feel like there was much occasion to use them. Eventually, Taishi Zhao will gain two party members to fight alongside him. The player has no control over them (they fight automatically) but you do have a pair of buttons to press to force them to activate their equipped skill. Zhao and his party can buy different armor and accessories on their journey, but they can also craft them using the all-powerful Elysium Scroll. The Elysium Scroll menu will give you access to a handful full of facilities that can be used to upgrade the parts of each character’s unique weapon, craft new gear, or fuse the souls of imprisoned foes to craft consumable items or passive abilities that can be equipped by the whole gang to enhance their combat skills. Not only do you need materials for your crafting, but each Elysium facility also requires certain items to upgrade them and allow you to craft more powerful things. Most of the materials can be found by searching around the world, beating up/capturing enemies, and even through purchasing at the shops but the highest levels require special items that can only be gained via late-game sidequests.
The world of Xuan Yuan Sword is a beautiful one, but not without its problems. The Ancient China setting (and the graphics in general) is gorgeous, but a good part of the game environments feel tightly linear. If you think about it, I’d say most games can be considered linear, but they use a variety of tricks to make it seem less so. This is a notion Xuan Yuan sometimes struggles with due to its many narrow and straightforward areas. There are quite a few fast travel shrines to aid in backtracking for your quests/sidequests, so that’s a plus. Save shrines found in villages and other select places are the ONLY way to save the game. There is a checkpoint system in place so if you die you don’t end up too far back, but if you want to quit for the night you’ll need to either forge on ahead and hope to see one soon or travel back to the last one you passed by. Maybe I’m spoiled by the Xbox quick resume feature (which does not work with this title) or the fact that most games nowadays feature autosaving and save anywhere features, but this system seems antiquated and super inconvenient by today’s standards. One absolute highlight of Xuan Yuan Sword is the excellent music score, which heavily features traditional sounding instruments like the hauntingly beautiful yet melancholic Erhu. It is so relaxing I could put the soundtrack on in the background and simply mellow out.
Xuan Yuan Sword 7 is a title full of highs and lows and is not perfect by any means, but in the end, I enjoyed the experience and I recommend it to anyone looking for a flawed yet entertaining action RPG experience. Hopefully, we get to see more entries in the future!
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7.5/10
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