If you’re a gamer in the western hemisphere, you couldn’t be blamed for completely missing the Xuan Yuan Sword series, but for our friends on the other side of the globe it’s a different story. The Xuan Yuan games have been enjoying a respectable popularity, especially with Taiwanese players, for over 30 years with its intriguing mix of Chinese history and mythology. The series has taken a few different forms since its debut in the Taiwanese computer gaming scene, and now is perhaps more realized than ever as a respectably-well polished narratively-driven action RPG. While this newest entry does share many common denominators with its predecessors, it also stands on its own just fine narratively, so knowledge of the previous games, thankfully, isn’t necessary.
Despite the game’s niche’-ness, it should feel instantly familiar to anyone who has played a modern action RPG. There’s a lot of combat, dialogue trees with interesting characters, a few side activities, and plenty to learn. Lots of staples of the genre are here like fast travel totems, manual save points, and mild exploration being rewarded with extra items, but what will quickly become apparent to anyone playing this game is that it’s a cut above most of its contemporaries.
Taishi is an instantly likeable character that clearly only wants the best for his ill sister and others he cares about. Despite his immense skill and popularity with decorated warriors, he holds back – focusing instead on the well-being of his little sister in a world that orphaned both of them many years ago. Just as soon as you get your bearings on their situation, they’re attacked by monsters that roam the countryside, mortally wounding his sister.
"Simple at first but quickly blossoming into an intricate system of upgrades and enhancements, Xuan Yuan Sword 7’s combat is crisp and poignant."
From there on, the story is focused on our hero returning his sister’s soul to her body, as he fights through legions of mythological beasts, rival warriors, and others. Taishi meets several characters along the way, and it’s impossible to ignore how well written and performed their many conversations are. Obviously, some characters are more interesting than others, but the core cast is consistent with fascinating personalities that fill out their roles within the story well. Seeing Taishi and his sister deepen as characters is an always entertaining centerpiece of the narrative. While healing his sister is undeniably the north star of the story, there are several parallel threads that lean into bigger, broader concepts to pay attention to as well.
Simple at first but quickly blossoming into an intricate system of upgrades and enhancements, Xuan Yuan Sword 7’s combat is crisp and poignant. Sword slashes generally deal better damage but hand-to-hand blows are more likely to stun enemies and lead to executions by wearing down enemy stamina. Strikes with most weapons are fast, dodging feels nimble, and peppering in some of Taishi’s martial arts and other auxiliary moves on top of the basic combos is routinely satisfying regardless of the situation. This only improves further as more fantastical abilities become available. The enemy lock-on is very welcomed and helpful as it lets you switch to the next nearest enemy with the flick of the right stick.
Evolving our hero’s abilities quickly becomes and stays engaging with different garments, weapons, and stances that can really nudge combat into some distinct directions. Once you really start to harness everything the game’s combat has to offer, you’ll be gleefully cutting through enemies, with both worldly and otherworldly techniques at your disposal. Enemy variety here isn’t the best, but it does shuffle its handful of enemy types around with variations and different combinations in group fights enough to keep things from getting too stale. Most of the game’s enemies don’t really punish or reward you for any techniques in particular, so it might feel a bit shallow to some, especially for the first few hours, but there’s also something to be said for a game letting you find your favorite handful of moves and just enjoy using them. Xuan Yuan 7’s combat mostly sticks the landing here with a system that never overwhelms yet rarely feels simple. It progresses into its complexities at a fairly leisurely pace, giving you plenty of time to soak up the story and atmosphere as you advance through the largely linear adventure.
"You’ll also be spending a bit of time on the game’s many puzzles that can really start off as headscratchers but usually come together logically after a brief period of befuddlement. I’m generally not big on puzzles but still found most of these to be fun to figure out."
You’ll also be spending a bit of time on the game’s many puzzles that can really start off as headscratchers but usually come together logically after a brief period of befuddlement. I’m generally not big on puzzles but still found most of these to be fun to figure out. Your mileage may vary of course, but the game does mercifully give you opportunities to skip said puzzles if you want.
As you run down any of Xuan Yuan Sword 7’s many straight-forward paths, you’ll often notice just how beautifully designed the environments are. Shadows of leaves dance on the ground as wind and light flow through the trees and each of the game’s many areas feel unique from each other despite all of them clearly belonging to this world. The outdoor areas are highlighted greatly by what feels like a day-night cycle that you generally only see in more open-world games. Interior areas however – especially caves and ancient structures – can sometimes be a bit too dark to really appreciate the detail that went into them. But thanks to the game’s linear design and constant presence of subtle destination markers, you’ll rarely if ever feel lost or confused navigating through them.
Character models are also equally admirable despite their movements lacking some of the subtler nuances that you might be expecting after playing a western action game with a much bigger budget. That said, the characters’ somewhat stilted movements don’t do much to hold back their well-performed voices and general vibe. Each and every interaction feels meaningful in one way or another, and that’s the most important thing. Overall, Xuan Yuan Sword 7’s visual presentation is great despite it not quite holding up to some of its AAA contemporaries in 2021 in a superficial sense. For what this game is, the visuals are appealing and more than satisfactory.
"There’s so much to like about Xuan Yuan Sword 7 that it’s all the more shocking that so many of us are only being properly introduced to the series now, three decades into its existence."
Audio is similarly well-calibrated with punctual sound effects that complement the swift combat and authentic music that conveys the vaguely defined fictitious version of its era. Bigger battles are often accompanied by bombastic orchestral pieces with modern twists that really make those battles stand out in more ways than just visually. Voice acting, from what I can tell, seems to be top notch. I might not know the language, but I do sense the emotive and measured performances of each and every character, and it doesn’t go unnoticed while reading the subtitles.
There’s so much to like about Xuan Yuan Sword 7 that it’s all the more shocking that so many of us are only being properly introduced to the series now, three decades into its existence. All’s well that ends well though, as this is an outstanding game with a lot to show for its many years of evolution. Thanks to a combat system that is just as fun as it is deep, a story that is just as engaging as it is unique, and excellent presentation across visuals and sound, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 is one of the most recommendable games I’ve played all year. The handful of legitimate nit-picks that can be made do very little to hold back what is, ultimately, a superb video game. Hopefully Domo Studio gets the widespread recognition they deserve for this game, and we see more from them as well as this series in the near future.
The PlayStation 4 version of the game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5 via backward compatibility.
Deep combat systems that unfold at a perfect pace; Outstanding storytelling and character development; Mostly great presentation.
Enemy variety could be better; Some characters seem bit wooden.