Sword of the Vagrant has an interesting premise, to my mind at least. As regular readers will know, I do like an RPG, be it in JRPG, ARPG or whatever flavour, I have a real soft spot for them.
But what Sword of the Vagrant from Rainy Frog promises is a 2D take on an action RPG (ARPG), with testing combat and a unique art style. However, I do have to report a bit of an issue straight away – why is the heroine dressed in a bikini? As the loading screen was rolling, my son, who is 11, was asking me why a lady would choose to go into battle, with swords, while wearing a bikini. And I had no good answer.
Still, let’s brush that under the carpet, shall we, and see what the actual game is like?
The story of Sword of the Vagrant is interesting, at least. Our bikini clad hero, Vivian, is a Runewarden, like her father and sister before her, and while the rest of her family seem to have met a variety of sticky ends, Vivian herself has dedicated herself to becoming a mercenary, a sellsword, selling her skills to the highest bidder.
As the game opens we have just parted company with a bunch of sellswords as they took on more work for a tyrannical king, and as luck would have it, we are just in time to save a young lady from being killed, and thus a train of events is set in motion. These events involve a witch, a curse, an apprentice wizard and many monsters and bosses that need to be defeated. The first test of a decent game is passed easily and the narrative is strong enough to keep us playing.
The graphical style is very nice indeed too, with a very neat hand-drawn aesthetic to it. Further, the design of the monsters, NPCs and Vivian herself are all very good. Quite why all the ladies in the game (yes, even the NPCs that don’t do anything) are drawn with such large top halves is beyond me, but still, the different monsters all look good as do the boss designs; especially one of the later ones that seems to be made up of a pile of writhing skeletons and definitely needs a good slapping about with a blade.
However, there is something odd about the animation of Vivian as she walks, and whilst it took me a moment to put my finger on it, it is this: when Vivian is running right to left, her sword is in her right hand, and her right arm is encased in metal. When she faces left, the sword is suddenly in her left hand, and her left arm is encased in metal. I did spend a couple of minutes swapping her from left to right for a giggle, I have to admit.
The sounds are all pretty good as well, with a somewhat jarring Japanese dialogue track. Seriously, as you are waltzing about the place, dispatching monsters and stumble across a boss, quite often they will shout phrases at you in Japanese, which certainly made me jump the first time it happened! Other than that, magic and sword sound effects are all very good indeed, and it’s another tick for the way the game is presented.
I suspect you’d like to know more about the actual gameplay next, yes? Well, Sword of the Vagrant is very much a game, not quite of two halves, but more of two thirds against one third. The smaller section of the game is spent exploring and looking for items to collect, be that money, weapon, armour or anything else. As you explore the world, the game is made up of short stages, with at most two other exits, and each time you walk off the edge of one stage, the next one is loaded and away you go again.
The game also fills in a very rudimentary map as you explore, which looks like nothing so much as when I used to map out old text-based adventures using graph paper and a series of squares – this isn’t the most detailed map I’ve ever seen, put it that way.
The rest of this third of Sword of the Vagrant is related to the accrual and utilisation of new kit and even new recipes. You see, when you get to a bonfire, just like in that other famous ARPG series of games, you can save the game. But while here, you can cook a meal to give you a boost for the trials that are coming up, with different types of food boosting your attack and defence, or giving extra health, as an example.
Also, as you explore and grab new weapons and armour, you need to keep an eye on your kit and swap it out as necessary. But, it isn’t quite that simple, as each weapon and armour can be enhanced to increase its level, and can also have various enchantments added, to make them stronger. While a new sword might have more raw attack, your existing one might have enhancements to give you extra health, for instance, and so a bit of strategy is needed.
The majority of Sword of the Vagrant plays out by swinging a sword about and introducing the pointy bits to a range of enemies. There is a strong attack, a magic attack, a weak attack and dodge move, and that is pretty much it. And to be fair, you don’t need a huge amount, as the combat is pretty slick and easy to pick up. Enemies and bosses all have patterns that can be ruthlessly exploited, and while the challenge certainly ramps up on the later levels, it always stays manageable, except that is for one of the bosses, Count Piety, where there isn’t so much a learning curve as a learning cliff face.
As you defeat foes, you gain mana, which is the way that the character of Vivian is enhanced. You see, you need mana to not only unlock nodes on her (impressively large) skill tree, but you also need it to enhance weapons and armour, so killing as many enemies as possible is a good plan. The amount of grinding to get new skills soon gets to be real, with some unlocks requiring 2500 mana points, which do take a while to get together.
So, let’s have a conclusion, shall we? I have an issue with the design of Vivian, being blunt, as I thought the days of buxom women in revealing outfits swinging swords were behind us. If the developers had put as much effort into animating her walk as they did animating the movement of her chest, we’d all be a lot better off. Leaving that aside, what we have in Sword of the Vagrant is a passably interesting ARPG, with a good aesthetic appeal, and some noisy action set pieces. There is a surprising amount of depth in the skills and weapons area, and the combat is pretty good as well.
All in all, it’s not a bad game, but not one that is destined to set the world on fire.
Sword of the Vagrant is on the Xbox Store