Review – Xuan-Yuan Sword 7
I had never heard of the Xuan-Yuan Sword franchise until recently. I saw the trailer for Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 and was instantly intrigued. I’ve always been fascinated by Chinese lore and I feel it’s grossly underrepresented in the West. It’s nice to see more games from that culture making their appearances in Western gaming markets, like last year’s Eastern Exorcist, which I really enjoyed. Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 is the first game in the franchise to be released overseas, much to my delight.
Luckily for those of us who are new to the series, Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 doesn’t require you to have played the other entries in order to understand what’s going on. It has its own contained storyline, as it was designed to be an entry point for a new audience. The story focuses on Taishi Zhao, a swordsman who is left to take care of his little sister, Taishi Xiang, after an attack and a devastating fire wipe out his family. Years later, a horrible blight threatens all of China, after the powerful prime minister of China superseded the Emperor, promising an era of peace and prosperity. Instead, a decade of war and famine has left China in ruin, and its salvation seems to lie in the hands of Taishi, who gains control of a fabled artifact called the Elysium Scroll.
I actually really enjoyed the story as a whole. Although, I will warn you that the pacing is very uneven. Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 starts off with a bang, but the rest of the game is filled with long stretches of tedium in between moments of excitement. The majority of the story is told during cutscenes, which can often be quite lengthy, especially when you gain some additional companions later on. They’re generally good, for the most part, but I still feel it’s worth noting. It’s not Metal Gear Solid levels in terms of lengthiness, but many run between five to ten minutes long.
There’s also a surprising amount of the story that can be learned while resting at campfires. Campfires and shrines are where you are able to save your game’s progress. Shrines only offer the ability to save your game, while campfires allow you to save or rest. Resting recovers all of your health and stats, and also often shows conversations between your main characters. Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of people are going to miss out on learning more about our characters, the world they live in, and their plight because of opting to just simply save at the campfires. These conversations are where the characters get fleshed out the most.
The gameplay in Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 is fun, but nothing remarkable. It’s mostly hack ‘n’ slash styled combat, but there are dodging and countering moves as well. Although, the countering can be very hit or miss. The movements are flashy and reminded me of older God of War games at times, and the controls are very responsive.
The Elysium Scroll allows you to slow down time temporarily, absorb the souls of monsters, and manipulate the environment in certain ways. This sounds better on paper that it is in practice. Slowing down time can be really helpful, especially when you’re up against a lot of enemies, but the soul-absorbing mechanic doesn’t work that well. This is a shame because certain upgrades require quite a few monster souls in order to obtain them.
First off, Taishi Zhao will have to throw the scroll onto the ground, but half the time he throws it in a direction other than where you’re facing. Then there’s the issue of the scroll only being able to absorb souls if they’re low on health. The problem with this is often times your companions will kill them before the scroll is successful. Then you’ll have to wait for it to cooldown for thirty seconds so you can try again. It’s a messy and often frustrating mechanic to say the least.
Along the way you and your sister will eventually be joined by two other companions. Each of them aide you in different ways, and have skill sets all their own. This helps out greatly in later levels when the enemies get tougher, not to mention whenever you’re up against a boss. The boss battles in Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 are no joke. They can really spike in difficulty, but I never really felt that they were unfair. Much like in Dark Souls games, you’ll need to rely on studying their movements and attack patterns, especially on the harder difficulties. Using the Elysium Scroll to slow down time is necessary to defeating the bosses. Thankfully, most of the boss battles are a lot of fun.
As far as the graphics go in Xuan-Yuan Sword 7, they’re a bit of a mixed bag. Our main characters look great, albeit a bit wooden in the facial animations at times. Many of the secondary characters look good as well, but there’s a big dip in quality when it comes to speaking characters and background characters. The environments are beautiful, but the villages do all look pretty cookie-cutter, regardless of where you are in the world. Some of the temples are exceedingly drab until you come across one of the large puzzle set pieces, which are usually fantastic. There are some really creative enemy designs, with the bosses truly standing out above everything else.
There are a lot of small bugs and glitches though, which is common for AA games. They run the usual gambit of characters floating over ledges, getting stuck inside environments, long hair and clothing moving through weapons strapped to the characters, etc. None of the issues I encountered are deal-breakers or detracted from my enjoyment too much, but they are very noticeable at times. Xuan-Yuan Sword 7‘s framerate is another matter, with it plummeting to 20-30 fps any time there are multiple enemies onscreen. This becomes an even bigger issue once you’re joined by your other companions later on. The game is still playable, but large enemy encounters become messy and disjointed because of this.
The sound design is fantastic all around. Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 is voiced entirely in Chinese, but even despite not understanding the language, the emotion and delivery came through solidly. The sound effects are well done, especially the clashing of metal and flesh in battle, as well as the ambient sounds of the forests. The music is absolutely superb and fits the tone and setting perfectly.
Despite its flaws, I really enjoyed my time with Xuan-Yuan Sword 7. Being able to play a game set in ancient China was a breath of fresh air. There’s so much rich lore and mythology surrounding that culture, which has been largely underrepresented in the West. I had the same sentiments about Raji: An Ancient Epic, which was set in ancient India. The characters are well fleshed out and the central group of companions have a great dynamic. The combat, while nothing wholly original, is still a lot of fun. I recommend giving Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 a try and I’m hopeful for more installments from this franchise to be available in the West in the future.
The three main characters and some of the bosses look great, but there’s a huge dip in quality when it comes to the NPCs. The environments are beautiful at first, but start to feel repetitive after a while. The framerate really struggles at times.
The combat is flashy and fast-paced, but not very inventive. The controls are responsive and fluid though. The Elysium Scroll does offer some fun gameplay mechanics, like slowing time and absorbing monster souls.
The music is superb and the voice acting is top notch. The sound effects are visceral and convincing.
Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 has its flaws, but it’s still a solid action RPG. The story is intriguing, the bosses are great, and the look into ancient Chinese mythology is wonderful.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Reviewed on Xbox One.
A copy of Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 was provided by the publisher.