Back when books were cool, I was partial to a choose-your-own adventure and would often delve into the Goosebumps spin-off series Give Yourself Goosebumps, hoping to survive more than a handful of pages. You know the type: turn to page 15 to enter the poorly lit room or page 84 to run away, like a sensible person. Upon hearing Sometimes You had published a choose-your-own adventure in the form of Swordbreaker The Game, I felt compelled to see how well the concept pans out on Xbox One. Will my journey be one to remember, or will I be left wishing I’d chosen to embark on a different experience altogether?
The harsh truth is that Swordbreaker The Game isn’t quite the enthralling adventure it could have been, and if not for the low price, it wouldn’t even be worth considering. Who knows though, you might like the sound of what it has to offer.
Given that Swordbreaker The Game is a choose-your-own adventure, it naturally plays similarly to a visual novel – albeit with a lot more interaction. The scene is set during an introductory sequence of stills accompanied by a fairly decent voiceover. The protagonist of this story is a nameless, down on his luck character known only as the SwordBreaker. A chance encounter with a fatally wounded chap sees him receive a map depicting the route to a castle. As he has nothing else going on, SwordBreaker decides to travel there in the hopes of finding something to turn his life around.
While not the most intriguing foundations for the narrative, at least you get a rough idea of who the SwordBreaker is. However, once you actually delve in and start the game, everything becomes a little bit bonkers. It’s a medieval fantasy tale, so you’d expect magical beings and such, but there’s a senseless amount of zany characters thrown in for no real reason. Not satisfied with just including skeleton warriors, necromancers and a succubus, there are also giant spiders, aliens, an evil robot and an octopus – to name only a few. Seriously, it’s beyond belief and makes it tricky to ever buy into what’s occurring.
At the beginning of each playthrough you’ll have three lives to try and make it to the end, with crucial choices to be made at every juncture. There’s a chunk of text overlaying the artwork depicting the scene and multiple options are explained. It’s all pretty standard stuff, but the part I found most fascinating is a sort of karma-based system for how you approach certain situations, which can alter the plot further down the line. During a critical point in the latter stages, whether you’ve behaved mercifully or ruthlessly makes a genuine difference.
There are well over 300 scenes to uncover in Swordbreaker The Game and the sheer amount of pathways to take means there’s a decent replayability factor. And it’s a good job there is because you’ll probably reach a death screen in minutes; fatal choices are littered throughout the adventure and it feels as if almost every scene can bring about your death. I wouldn’t usually have a problem with that, however the deadliest decisions are often so innocuous. For example, it’s entirely believable to make a costly move in the midst of a battle against Cerberus, but reading a book, taking a rest and peeking into a wardrobe leads to murder.
The randomness does ensure a freshness in the way you never know what the game has up its sleeve next. On the contrary though, it’s so ridiculous that there’s no immersion and you never really have time to connect with any of the characters – it has to be said that the writing isn’t all that engrossing and seldom contains anything that could hook you in. After a few runs, you’ll no doubt have given up with the ‘story’, instead just focusing on finding new routes and acquiring achievements.
Venturing through the castle and its surroundings will at least allow you to appreciate the art used to create each scene. The characters look great, with a lot of effort clearly gone into their designs to enable them to stand out. It also captures the gruesome killing really well, portraying the brutality of the hardcore escapades. The accompanying music, although sparse in variety, manages to set the tone adequately and doesn’t ever seem to be over-intrusive.
All in all, Swordbreaker The Game on Xbox One is a lacklustre choose-your-own adventure that tries to cram too many fantastical creatures in and becomes too ridiculous to follow. The writing leaves a lot to be desired, while the deadly choices are often rather nonsensical; it kills the enjoyment when you have to start over because of silly consequences. All hope isn’t lost though, with lovely artwork worth taking in and a huge amount of different routes to traverse, culminating in a couple of hours worth of playtime. There’s also the karma system, which is cleverly implemented and alters how things play out.
If you’re after a gripping tale then Swordbreaker The Game isn’t going to be for you, so just turn around and walk away. Should you have a penchant for fantasy art and achievement hunting however, then maybe the cheap price could sway you to consider it.