Despite the title, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 is actually the thirteenth game in the long-running Xuan Yuan Sword series. It’s also the direct sequel to the mainline series with the rest of the games coming in the shape of Gaiden side stories. It’s also a series that I’d never heard about till now, even though the first game came out in 1990.
Developed by DOMO Studio, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 is a Chinese mythology and history-based action RPG with jack-of-all-trades influences from a variety of other games. Uncharted, Dark Souls, a smattering of Devil May Cry – these are just some of the games that have inspired Xuan Yuan’s mechanics. While the seams do show through, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 epitomises the saying that the sum of the parts is greater than the individual components.
Set during the late Western Han Dynasty, you take on the role of Taishi Zhao, a swordsman for hire whose only desire is to protect his sister at all costs. But when a job goes south and a monster attack leaves his sister mortally imperiled, Taishi sets out on a quest to save her while being chased by various factions for something hidden in his past. All the while monster attacks in the world have gotten worse and the civil war more vicious. Taishi’s quest will reunite him with an old friend while also placing him in various positions of importance.
If you’re worried that, as the seventh entry in the series, you may need to have played the previous ones, the answer to that is mostly no. Knowing Chinese history and mythology will certainly stand you in good stead, but the game does a good enough job on its own that my initial floundering as though I’d stepped into the middle of an ongoing saga, was soon laid to rest. During loading, there are enough descriptions and historical explanations related to the era displayed onscreen to get you up to speed. A journal accessed through the character menu provides further detail on the world, monsters, and characters. At the end of the day, even with the larger focus that comes into play between the warring factions, the focus is still on family and the lengths to which Taishi will go for his sister.
Developer DOMO Studio have also expanded and incorporated their own mythology for the series into the game, populating the world with bandits, soldiers, and monsters galore. The most impressive and beautiful of which are the Gear Beasts, mechanical clockwork creations that provide a truly stiff challenge to get through.
There’s a lot of story packed into the games roughly 20+ hours worth of playtime. The bulk of which is focused on expanding the characters and relationships between our heroes. As such there are plenty of cutscenes too, all with full voice acting. Take note though, there is only a Chinese voice track so you’re going to be doing a lot of reading. Borrowing from the Uncharted series, the characters talk a fair amount while exploring, which lends a sense of life to them beyond the cutscenes.
Xuan Yuan Sword 7 feels very much like a period movie or, more accurately, the fantasy Wuxia ones – though there’s no flying around the screen during battle. The writing feels like it was ripped right from one of these movies as well. The translations do get a little wonky here and there but it’s generally quite good.
Visually, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 is quite beautiful to look at. The game’s environments are gorgeous and capture the epic scale and beauty of China that most of us in the West have only seen in period pieces and Wuxia movies. Whether combing through the countryside or heading towards a massive ruined temple, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 is awash with atmosphere. However, that beauty comes at a price as the game’s framerate tends to stutter a lot in the more ambitious areas on the PS4. Eventually, I got used to it, but it’s always noticeable and likely improved on the current-gen consoles.
Of course, the meat of the game is the combat. This is where the Dark Souls and DMC influences shine through. The game plays like a very fast-paced hack-and-slash title, though without aerial combat or juggles. Taishi has a light sword attack and heavy attacks, with the heavy attacks being specifically for Martial Art Styles. You can dodge, block, and parry your opponent’s moves though you have to get used to not being able to move while blocking. You also have a stamina bar that forces you to pay attention as blocking, attacking and dodging drains it.
The Martial Art styles, such as Wolf and Ox, are very different from each other and meant to both deal damage while inflicting stagger damage. Fill an enemy’s stagger bar and you can inflict an execution blow, which will either kill weaker enemies and those at low health outright, or take away a large chunk of health. New Martial Styles are acquired as you play through the campaign, but you have to level them with use. Initially starting with one attack – each style has a different amount of attacks – the more you use it, the faster you unlock more attacks to create combo chains. Ox stance has a fantastic bare hand combo set, while Taowu has large sweeping strikes for multiple enemies (but leaves you wide open to attack from behind). Once a style is fully levelled, you get access to its heavy stagger attack. You can equip two styles at a time and swap between them at the touch of a button. My go-to was the Ox style for its fast bare-handed blows for quick stagger building, followed by Taowu for its ultimate that summons a demon to deliver massive damage.
In battle, you can call on your party members, who normally do their own thing and fight quite effectively, including using their special Martial Arts attacks. These range from an arm laser cannon to sweeping sword strikes. You also have two special attacks, one that allows you to capture the enemy’s soul and another that slows down time around you for a brief period of serious damage dealing.
Which ever way you play, enemies have a tendency to circle around you so you always need to be aware of the battlefield and pay attention to the red danger mark that will pop-up when you’re about to get attacked from off-screen. For the first half of the game – outside of bosses – you can button mash your way to victory. However, from about the halfway point, there’s a significant uptick in difficulty, and strategy becomes more important. Learning to parry instead of blocking – because even with blocking you still lose some health – becomes paramount to success, along with weapon, gear, and stat upgrading. Up until this point, I breezed through the game, but then had to fall back on the tested method of power levelling and upgrading as the battles became faster, harder, and full of explosive AOE’s that caused bleed or poison damage.
When not in battle, you can rest at campfires which, in addition to letting you save your game, gives you further insight into the characters as they tell stories. It also allows the enemies in the world to respawn as well if you’re grinding levels.
Capturing enemy’s souls allows you to create fortification recipes, harnessing a soul with stat buffs that you can equip on yourself and your party members. Each of these harnessed souls can also be upgraded, such as allowing up to 10% reduction on damage recieved. Your weapons can also be upgraded to increase attack or defence power, while equipped gear can be bought or crafted for further stat boosts. The Elysium subscreen in the menu is where you will go to do all of this. You’ll have to first fix the various buildings and then upgrade them to allow for higher-level work on crafting gear or upgrading souls. All the items you pick up in the world will mostly go towards fixing up the various workshops and upgrades. Sadly, the workshops are only a menu screen and it would have been nice to actually visit them in a separate map to do your upgrades or soul crafting.
Early on in the game, you’ll unlock two arenas with two monsters in them that provide a really difficult challenge, which I struggled with, even at level 40… That said, they’re definitely worth doing, but why they’re opened up so early, I’m not sure. There’s also a chess minigame that feels like a more elaborate version of X and O’s which forms part of a sidequest, but can also be accessed on the title screen if you just want to play around with it. Finally, there’s also an arena challenge that can be accessed from the title screen that starts you off with no gear and is significantly challenging to get through.
Xuan Yuan Sword 7 does suffer from some issues though, beyond the aforementioned frame rate dips. At times, the character models look awkward as they navigate the terrain or have their static meshes stretch when you initiate an action and the character model warps into place. The game doesn’t transition very well from one animation set into the other at times, and during the faster combat encounters, Taishi doesn’t respond quickly enough to inputs. None of these issues are game-breaking though and rarely detracted from the overall experience.
Despite feeling like a collection of derivative mechanics put together, Xuan Yuan Sword 7’s various parts come together impressively to create the most fun I’ve had in an RPG this year. With a great story, some heartfelt writing, a blisteringly fast and fun combat system, and a depiction of ancient China that evokes epicness, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 is a game you should not miss out on. It isn’t just my favourite RPG of the year but one that’s inspired me to check out the rest of the games in the series.
A review code for Xuan Yuan Sword 7 was provided to Gameblur by the publisher
Visuals8/10 Very Good
Audio8/10 Very Good
Story8/10 Very Good
- Fast, fun combat
- Great story
- Wonderful atmosphere
- Beautiful visuals
- Some visual bugs