Game Review

Sword & Fairy 6 (2019) [PS4]

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“A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever.”
-Shigeru Miyamoto

 

 

cba1 “The following is a contributor post by the Middle-aged Horror Mage.

In Japan, they have Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, but in China, they have the Chinese Paladin series — we’re talking television shows and everything. And although it’s the eight entry in the long-running role-playing franchise, Sword & Fairy 6 is the first to be localized for English-speaking markets. Does it make a good first impression here in the States? Absolutely not. But that’s not to say there isn’t something noteworthy here.

Sword & Fairy 6, also known as The Legend of Sword and Fairy 6, also known as (again) Chinese Paladin 6, is an interesting RPG that focuses heavily on world and character building with its hours and hours of cutscenes while offering a watered-down version of Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system when it came time to brawl. The narrative is heavily influenced by Chinese mythology, which I found enthralling throughout. These were characters I grew to love, a world densely packed with lore, and an astounding soundtrack that felt thematically perfect.

But…

It’s worth noting up front that the game performs abysmally. In the 40 hours it took me to finish, I experienced constant frame rate stuttering (I can’t emphasize how bad this was) at the start of each cutscene and battle, technical hiccups and bugs that lead to hard crashes and the inability to equip one of the playable characters with new equipment for the ENTIRE GAME. Some cutscenes just stopped working altogether, but thankfully they’re skippable the 2nd (and sometimes 3rd) time around.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Sword & Fairy 6 since I was wholly unfamiliar with the series, but I did like what I saw in the initial trailer (embedded at the bottom of this review). The fantasy martial arts style was eye-catching and the music was a giant chef’s kiss emoji. As someone who mostly consumes RPGs for the story and everything surrounding it, I can’t say I came away disappointed — I absolutely loved the narrative — but there’s really no reason for a game to release in such a broken state in 2019.

Let’s dig a little deeper with our 8-bit Review, shall we?

 

 

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narrative Narrative: 9/10

As the story goes, there’s a legend about an old god named Shennong who was born at the same time nine mysterious fountains appeared in the world. These fountains, known as The Nine Wells of Heaven and Earth, connected the world’s spiritual energy and nourished the life of god, beast, and human alike. Their importance was paramount and the power the Nine Wells contained kept the world at peace until the three races became greedy. With wars frequently erupting, Shennong had enough of the B.S. and sealed the power of the Wells until they were mostly forgotten about, also blocking their access using nine bracelets handed down to their assigned guardians.

This is all explained in the opening cutscene and sets the stage for what’s to come. Conflict still exists in the game’s modern day, with secret societies, religious cults, and military factions vying for information and power. You’ll track down cult members looking for human sacrifices in hopes of appeasing a god that’ll allow them to ascend to the sky for the ultimate freedom, all while building a ragtag group of heroes with their own motivations. That’s just the start, though. Just like most RPGs, your initial task is rarely the end goal and there’s some sort of world-ending calamity to stop.

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I thought the narrative a whole was really strong and clearly the high point of Sword & Fairy 6. There’s a lot of world building and character growth over the 40-hour campaign and the cast (main and supporting) are fleshed out incredibly well within cutscenes and Tales-series-style storyboard banter while wandering around.

I also really appreciate that the game uses an ensemble cast rather than placing a single hero at the helm. There are six playable characters in all, with each given their moment in the spotlight and an admirable amount of growth in the process. There’s a fist-fighting demon and a spiritual spellcaster who clearly have a history together, a pair of amnesiac siblings who awoke from a deep sleep three years prior to the start of the game, a nervous tinkerer who battles with a mechanical bear named Beancurd (the best boy) instead of facing his conflicts head-on, and a noble warrior looking to rebuild their family’s name in the eyes of the public. Each has their own motivations and work alongside one another out of necessity, but eventually blossom into a deeper friendship.

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The translation isn’t always the best, but I’ve played far worse from major Japanese publishers (I’m looking at you, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization!). I always understood the meaning behind the dialogue and that’s what’s most important. It’s never botched to the point where it became confusing, though there’s no way to pause during these lengthy cutscenes and dialogue auto-progresses as fast as the characters talk. There’s a good amount of reiteration when it comes to the important bits so I wouldn’t sweat missing things, but still, being able to manually advance text would have been awesome. That’s more a gameplay issue, though.

Speaking of which.

gameplay Gameplay: 1/10

From a gameplay perspective, Sword & Fairy 6 is an absolute mess. I’m honestly shocked it released at such low quality, though I am definitely glad it was localized as it’s one of my favorite stories of the year. Maybe it would have been better off as a visual novel, though?

For starters, every new scene is met with a staggering amount of frame rate dumps which also occurs at the beginning of each battle. While zooming into the instanced battle arena, the frame stuttering also sends cloth textures flying across the screen (like ribbons and wraps). You’ll battle a lot in 40+ hours and having this occur every single time is a tough pill to swallow.

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Liked I mentioned earlier, I had cutscenes stop functioning in the middle of them and also experienced a major bug that prevented me from equipping one of the six characters with new weapons, armor, titles, and accessories for the entire game. Ju Shifang, Beancurd’s handler, was my favorite character (I mean, he fights with a bear named Beancurd) and not getting to beef him up with new duds was super disappointing. The few people also playing Sword & Fairy 6 on Twitter reported having the same problem as well, so it’s not an isolated incident.

I brought these issues up to the publisher, Eastasiasoft, and they assured me they’re aware of them but couldn’t comment on whether or not the developer had plans to fix anything. For what it’s worth, the PC release of Sword & Fairy 6 launched on July 8, 2015, and hasn’t been fixed yet, so my assumption is that the version of the game available today on PS4 is the one we’re stuck with. And that makes it impossible to recommend unless you’re just interested in the story.

Issues aside (if only it were that easy), Sword & Fairy 6’s battle system is very similar to Final Fantasy XIII. Each character represents two job classes that can be switched between during combat, but only the one designated by the player as the leader can be controlled. For instance, Beancurd can act as a big tanky boy or focus more on area-of-effect damage, while Ming Xiu, the spellcaster, can swap between healing and buffing the party to dishing out some insane damage with her fire magic.

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Each character has 5 ability points and all of their abilities (unlocked by simply leveling up) cost a set amount, from 1 to 5. Once their action bar is filled up you can issue a string of attacks that total 5 points, but no more. So if you want to hit a single enemy with a string of attacks you could probably get 5 single strikes off, but heavier hitting stuff or area-of-effect spells will likely cost 4 or 5 on their own. Some attacks mainly focus on an enemy’s stagger meter, just like FFXIII, but party A.I. is as unfortunate as the frame rate.

Since you can’t issue every party member their own commands, you’ll have to rely heavily on the A.I. to make the right choice. To help out, you can turn off certain abilities so they’ll never use them, but they’ll still questionably use single-target attacks that focus on staggering while swarmed by weak enemies. I ended up just turning off everything that wasn’t a heavy hitting ability and turning on the game’s Auto-Battle function because navigating the menu at 10-or-less frames-per-second was cumbersome as hell. I hated it.

There’s no Paradigm system that allows you to jump in and out of pre-made class combinations, so everything has to be done manually during combat while the frame rate struggles to keep up with the action.

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Honestly, all of the gameplay segments are pretty rough around the edges and I’ll admit there was a point during the 7-hour mark where I spoke with the Well-Red Mage over a Twitter DM, unsure if I’d even be able to finish it. I debated on just talking about how messy the gameplay was and questioning why it released in such a state in the first place, but the story always kept me engaged, like a tasty carrot. Battles and exploration just served as awful hurdles that got in the way of the good stuff.

visuals1 Visuals: 4/10

Visually, Sword & Fairy 6 is clearly dated. If I had to compare it to something I’d probably say it’s on par with the recent remaster of Final Fantasy X & X-2 or a super early PS3/360 game. Graphics don’t really matter to me in an RPG, though, so your mileage may vary.

I can say that the visual style doesn’t get in the way of the story and there were a few admirable enemy designs, but if you’re looking for a hot new release to play on your 4K TV then you’ll be wholly disappointed.

Otherwise, the visuals are passable, thematically appropriate in terms of character designs, but certainly below average by 2019 standards.

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audio Audio: 8/10

If the narrative is the clear hero here then the audio is its right-hand man. The music selection is superb, blending fantasy and traditional Chinese flutes and stringed instruments with aplomb.

Since it’s not a very popular series here in the West, I’m struggling to find English names for these tracks. However, I’ll embed a few of my favorites so you can get a taste for yourself.

For starters, I believe this is Jinzhao’s theme (one of the amnesiac siblings).

This vocal track is fantastic.

I really dig this version of the boss battle theme. There are quite a few variants throughout the game.

There isn’t much else available online to link here, but the entire soundtrack is pretty fantastic. My personal favorite is featured within an underwater city, but alas, no luck finding it. Bah.

Aside from the soundtrack, the sound design as a whole is perfectly fine and I found the Chinese voice actors to be quite good (despite not being able to understand them without subtitles). The game’s dated visuals don’t play well when it comes to displaying physical emotion, but the voice-over cast did an excellent job adjusting themselves accordingly. Emotionally draining and intense battle scenes felt as such because of their portrayal of the characters, not just because the subtitles told me what was going on.

challenge Challenge: 3/10

The majority of Sword & Fairy 6’s challenge comes by way of the game’s awful performance issues. I went into this up in the “gameplay” section, but I found it cumbersome and annoying navigating the combat menu while the game ran at one of the worst consistently low frame rates I’ve seen this console generation.

With that in mind, the score here probably feels artificially inflated because it’s not the game being programmed with challenge in mind, instead staggering the experience with performance issues.

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Honestly, I had enough of the menu struggles early on and eventually played through the entire game on the easiest setting while making full use of the auto-battle setting. Whatever granted me succor from actually playing these parts of the game, I happily took.

replayability Replayability: 5/10

Sword & Fairy 6 offers a New Game+, which I feel is the bare minimum for an RPG. I’m not sure I’ll ever want to suffer through the performance issues again, but should the need arise then NG+ allows you to carry over levels, weapons, armor, titles, etc., which should make the battles trivial. That’s a good thing, at least.

For what it’s worth, if an RPG offers NG+ then I tend to give it our average score of 5/10 and work up from there. Since there aren’t any additional scenes or anything in NG+, though, a 5/10 is where it’ll stay.

uniqueness Uniqueness: 6/10

In terms of its distinguishing features, Sword & Fairy 6 feels slightly above average. I mean, it’s a localized Chinese-developed RPG heavily rooted in the country’s mythology, which is new to me but also presents itself as a game with expected systems in place. At the end of the day, it’s a great story with severe performance issues, RPG or not.

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What really stood out for me was how much work went into the narrative and music, and how solid the voice-over work was, not so much new and unique systems.

mypersonalgrade My Personal Grade: 6/10

The cool thing about our review system here at The Well-Red Mage is that it gives us a chance to talk about different aspects of the game, but also forces us to delve deeper into certain categories that we normally don’t find too impactful to our overall experience. For me, an RPG is all about the story, the characters, and the journey. If the base systems are fine, I’m fine. Here, they are not.

After reading this review, I highly doubt I’ve encouraged anyone out there to give Sword & Fairy 6 a shot. I mean, who would want to spend 40+ hours with a broken game just to experience the story? Well… I guess I would, as it turns out.

Yes, the game is an absolute train wreck on the PS4 and the 4-year-old PC version isn’t much better. There were times I wanted to quit and move on, and I expect most people probably will. But under that unfortunately moldy crust is an absolutely fantastic narrative, a surprisingly gripping soundtrack, and some fantastic voice work.

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The story alone shows why the series is so highly regarded in its native China, but here’s hoping the game people paid for gets fixed and new entries are given more attention by the Taipei-based development team at Softstar Entertainment Inc prior to release.

When 2019 comes to an end and Game of the Year talk begins, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sword & Fairy 6 end up an honorable mention for the narrative alone. That being said, I still don’t recommend it to anyone until it performs on even the most basic level of a modern release. $26.99 USD is a lot to ask for something that barely functions.

Aggregate Score: 5.3

 

Trash is the Middle-aged Horror Mage and a self-proclaimed JRPG and horror game junkie. He can be brutally murdered in Puppet Combo’s ’80s-inspired slasher game Christmas Massacre as an NPC and begs you to support indie horror. Follow him on Twitter @Trashlevania for exploding head memes, cute goat pics, and Japanese wrestling nonsense!

 

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