Welcome to Save State, where we’ve cultivated 50 years’ worth of internal qi in just two weeks. If that sentence is gibberish to you, that means you likely haven’t encountered anything online of the Chinese wuxia or xianxia fantasy genres. Known for fantastical martial arts, melodrama, and a focus on spectacular swordplay, games based on these popular Chinese genres are becoming more and more common in recent years. Over the last couple weeks, a demo for a title called Wandering Sword caught my eye, and this week on Save State I’d like to talk about what was so interesting in this indie adventure that takes place in ancient China.
Wandering Sword is a 2.5D turn-based RPG heavily steeped in Chinese wuxia fantasy. This is a game with visuals that are very reminiscent of Octopath Traveler, and a turn-based combat system that, at first glance, looks like Radiant Historia. So far, I’ve only been able to play the demo for Wandering Sword, but what is available at this time is already quite promising.
Wandering Sword begins with your protagonist escorting an individual through a dangerous valley. After an attack by bandits, your character is struck by a poison arrow, and left teetering on the brink of life and death. To survive, you have to get your character stronger by learning mystical martial arts techniques, in order to counteract the poison. The dialogue of Wandering Sword throws in a lot of terms you will probably be unfamiliar with. But thankfully every item you need to collect with an unfamiliar name like Ban Bian Lian will also have general directions given to find the quest item, so even if you have no clue what the items are, you can still complete the quests.
There’s a large number of side quests and several of them seem to have different resolutions depending on dialogue choices you make with NPCs while they’re detailing these side quests. Side quests give you reasons for fully exploring new areas, and generally have great rewards you won’t want to miss. You’ll want to take a peek into almost every NPC’s inventory, as they could be carrying great gear or items, but even more important than those are martial arts manuals that teach you new abilities to use in combat.
The breadth of martial arts and growth techniques, I imagine, would be quite staggering if you’ve never touched the wuxia or xianxia genres. There are multiple weapon types and quite a number of martial arts you can perform with each weapon, which means you always want to search every corner and battle every enemy in case you might find a martial arts manual. Rather than level up, you earn martial points at the end of combat that you can spend to increase the power of your character’s techniques. Improving your cultivation techniques with martial points rewards you with meridian points, which you can use to upgrade the physical stats of your hero.
Combat takes place on a grid in Wandering Sword, and the weapon and techniques you use all have different attack ranges. Swords, for example, can attack two spaces directly in front of you, which means you can eliminate two enemies at once if they stack right behind one another. Other weapons might have better vertical ranges, while some may only hit one space but can hit any target up to 3 spaces away, that sort of thing. Each technique you use has its own cooldown of a certain number of turns before it’s usable again, so getting yourself surrounded to use an attack that hits all sides of your character may end in disaster if they can’t survive until that ability is usable again.
From what I could tell, while positioning was important to use with many of the martial arts present in the game, there weren’t any ways to actually manipulate enemy positions. This means the battle system looks like a turn-based strategy RPG, but it doesn’t share the strategic depth you’d expect from a title that makes you position your character before attacking. Many of your martial arts have the capability to hit multiple enemies at once in specific locations, but truth be told, without a way to manipulate enemy formations, this is more like Chrono Trigger’s combat than Radiant Historia’s. Of course, towards the end of the demo you’ll find a lot more martial arts with much larger attack ranges, so there’s a lot of room for Wandering Sword to grow in this aspect over its full release and not just a demo.
I may have missed a martial arts manual that gave an ability to pull in or push enemies away, for example, but if something like that doesn’t already exist in the game, it should. Having loads of techniques that can hit multiple spaces is fantastic, but currently there isn’t much strategy involved in getting enemies into the proper spots to allow you to use those abilities for maximum benefit. It’s pretty rare for three enemies to line up right in a row against you, and giving you more ways to strategize maximizing damage would be great. As it currently stands, recruiting characters makes the title far too easy when you can add party members who are capable of contributing great heaps of damage to battles that seem like they were balanced for fewer characters.
As far as ally recruitment goes, you can add many, many characters you come across to your battle party. By giving some gifts, challenging them to a duel, etc., you can increase likability with an NPC, and once likability reaches a certain value, you can add them to your team. This makes party composition very open ended, and it’s extremely interesting how you can shop from and duel with many NPCs out in the world, just like in Octopath Traveler.
The battle system starts off turn-based by default, but you can actually change between turn-based and real-time in the game’s settings, which is honestly just an extremely nice option and should appeal to a lot of different players. Though, if you go into the options trying to find controller support for this Chinese RPG, you simply won’t find it. You have to either use Steam Input to bind keys and mouse clicks to your controller or just deal with using the default controls, because there’s no native support at this time for whatever reason.
One minor thing of note is that it’s really, incredibly easy to get infinite money in Wandering Sword. Most likely due to an oversight, you can unlock weapon crafting in a city to the southwest of your starting village, and the blacksmith there will teach you how to craft and dismantle weapons (the game calls this disenchanting, likely a translation error). You can buy weapons from this same blacksmith for 60-70 coins, dismantle them for 3 iron ingots and 2 coal, which sell for 300 and 100 coins, respectively. Spending just a few moments selling and disassembling weaponry, and you, too, can become the wealthiest person this side of the Yangtze River.
Wandering Sword was quite the entertaining demo, and I’m very much looking forward to what it adds on its full release. The combat is fun, with side quests and other diversions that are plentiful enough to have you interacting with every NPC and searching behind every rock for a treasure chest. I’m eager to see what more they add on the full release, and where the story of Yuwen Yi goes from here.
That being said, we can bring this entry of Save State to a close. Remember to keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times, and join us again in a couple weeks to hear about another interesting title I may have scrounged up from my backlog. Take care!