I've never played a Sword and Fairy game before but do remember seeing a rather derisive review of one several years ago, so it was with some trepidation I loaded up Sword and Fairy: Together Forever (SAFTF) on Gamecell's PS5. As this is technically Sword and Fairy 7 the Chinese developer ought to know what they're doing by now, right?
As with the inevitably compared Final Fantasy games, SAFTF is a self-contained story rather than continuing in an episodic manner from a previous game, so no previous knowledge is required... Having said that, there's a LOT of reading to be done as the game has the original Chinese dialogue with subtitles (with a few errors) and there are a lot of tutorials and menus to read too.
There are multiple playable characters but your primary protagonists are Xiu Wu and Yue Qingshu. In what is basically a playable intro, Xiu Wu is a deity who has been cast out of hell by someone who appears to be a relative and lost his sword. He must remain in the human world until he finds his mighty blade and can fight his way back. Quite why he'd want to do that when you see where he landed is open to question but deities will be deities...
Xiu Wu finds himself teamed up with a young girl Yue Qingshu and Qiaoling–her magical fat birdie pet. The lovely couple set out on their adventure to find Xiu Wu's sword and protect Yue's village from the various strange creatures that have appeared in the area and become aggressive.
Wisely in my opinion, SAFTF has eschewed the tired old turn-based combat of its predecessors and has become an action RPG with real-time combat. This involves twatting the enemy with a quick attack (Square button) or heavy attack (Triangle button) or simple combos of the two. Jumping can add a further element and damage to an attack. You unlock more as you level up and you have special attacks that require MP (Magic Points) too. The characters feel responsive and although the action isn't pin sharp, it does the job and I find it a lot more enjoyable than classic JRPG takey-turnsey combat.
As you progress further playable characters Bai MoQing and Sang You join your party and add some much-appreciated variety and ability to the combat. There are a host of interesting characters to meet including Grandpa Yue, who looks a lot like Master Pai Mei from Kill Bill Vol. 2.
While not looking in any way "next gen", the game world is very pleasing to the eye with a realistic art design that is solidly modelled with a nice level of detail. The main characters are well modelled and have beautifully detailed clothes, but their animation is a bit basic. NPCs look less detailed (I mean, they don't matter do they?) and go about their lives. There are many quest givers in every location, so there's always something to do besides the main story quest, and both types of quest are always clearly shown on the map.
At times the scenery is truly eye-catching and you'll want to stop and admire the view. There is some pop-up in larger areas which is disappointing but it never affects the gameplay.
Presentation is very good, to a point. Everything is easy to find and menus are arranged logically, with a change of screens being done with a superb smoky wipe (where the screen goes POOF! in a puff of smoke before the next one appears, rather than just flicking between the two.) But here we have yet another game that uses a tiny font that's hard to read even when sitting close to a large TV. I'm not sure why games developers can't get this message but here goes again: WE DON'T ALL PLAY SITTING WITH OUR NOSES 2ft AWAY FROM 36" 4k MONITORS! You can make the subtitles larger in the options but not the main text which is even smaller - where's the sense in that?
So... Is this the game that should tempt you into the action RPG genre? Nope, probably not, try the excellent Immortals Fenyx Rising first. However, if you're a fan of the Final Fantasy series and other JRPGs this may well pique your interest, if only to see a different approach to a genre that, let's face it, needs a shot in the arm... or maybe a kick up the arse.