If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s the Japanese gaming community’s everlasting interest in first-person dungeon crawlers. Ever since the original Wizardry games, this genre has lived a life you wouldn’t ever realize if you weren’t paying close attention.

Experience is a developer almost entirely focused on this genre, and its latest release is a brisk, two-in-one package of its most recent offerings. While the two games are quite different, there’s a strange continuity to them which helps them fit together.

Saviors of Sapphire Wings/Stranger of Sword City Revisited Review

Saviors of Sapphire Wings is Experience’s most recent dungeon-crawler, but also one of its older games. It’s a remake of Students of the Round, which never saw a localization. However we did see the follow-ups to the original game, the two Demon Gaze outings on the Vita.

They’re set in the same universe from my understanding, but this game has more of a classic fantasy look as opposed to Demon Gaze’s more colorful anime vibe.

Originally titled Blue-Winged Chevalier in Japan, Sapphire Wings follows a group of adventurers as they build themselves up to take on a powerful demon. You’re the reincarnation of a previous group who lost to said demon, allowing it to take over the world.

The story and mechanics are largely about bonding with and shaping your fellow party members, with one on one conversations, deep equipment tinkering systems, and ways to make your homies more and more powerful over time.

Stranger of Sword City Revisited has, from what I can tell, little to do with Sapphire Wings or even Demon Gaze. That said, there are things like character portraits, enemies and other little bits and trimmings present in Sapphire Wings. 

It’s more of a meta continuity, letting you know you’re playing an Experience… experience.

This one is far more impersonal, letting you build your own party from scratch in classic Wizardry fashion. You play as a normal person from normal-ass Earth, whose plane trip ends in horror as it crashes into another world.

Now you’re a “Stranger,” a person with unmatched physical abilities due to this new world’s atmosphere. You’re basically, like, Superman if he was a Japanese office drone. Sword City’s inclusion here feels more like a bonus for showing up.

When you put these two games together, their differences line up in a fascinating way, especially since the overall visual style blends them together sometimes. Like I mentioned before, there’s a lot more tinkering involved in Sapphire Wings.

There’s all kinds of passive stat values you have control over, and multiple ways to get rid of your own equipment to feed those passive numbers. There’s also weird stuff like laying down bait for monsters, and of course the bonding mechanics that involve building a relationship with your crew on the battlefield, then having more intimate conversations with them at various intervals. 

Stranger of Sword City, which we’ve seen localized several times now, is a lot more straightforward. There’s very little to do back at home base, beyond pumping up your equipment and nursing wounded warriors back to health.

Otherwise you’re out there in the badlands, hacking up monsters and grinding those levels. Another major difference is the difficulty. Both games have settings, but by default Stranger of Sword City is much less forgiving. But it also gives you tools you can use to get the heck out of a bad situation without a ton of risk.

It’s sort of an endurance test, where you never know what level your next foes will be, and sometimes you’re playing chicken with numbers.

Personally, I prefer the more straightforward game of the two. Sword City is mostly a no nonsense, hard knock dungeon dive that’s more about managing your survival than playing with minutia.

With Sapphire Wings, all the extra stuff feels like additional menus and numbers I have to deal with, that don’t really change what I’m doing much. It’s just more busy work. However, if you’re into stuff like crafting systems and more finely-tuned character development, Sapphire Wings will definitely scratch those itches.

It’s also a much more story and character-driven experience. So if you want to check out a first-person dungeon romp but still want some JRPG-style storytelling, you might get more out of that than Sword City.

Related: The Biggest Highlights from NGPX2 

And if you just like dungeon-crawlers in general, then you’ll love both! Experience has really honed its craft and developed a distinct style, and both of these games are great examples.

And on the Switch, not only do you get the ideal (in my opinion) way to play, but there aren’t any performance drawbacks. Many niche gaming folks call the Switch the “Vita 2,” and here’s a literal example with two games previously released for Vita.

Really, you could do a lot worse than picking up this collection, regardless of your platform. You’re getting two beefy RPGs for less than the price of one new game in other genres, and that counts for a lot.

They’re similar enough that they’re compatible in a historical sense, but different enough that the two games still feel like unique experiences. And on the Switch, you benefit from the hybrid hardware aspect.

 
I’m stoked to have more easy access to games like this, especially since we never got the original game Saviors of Sapphire Wings is based on. Experience has only been around since 2008 or so, and with this release we’ve plugged a hole of sorts in its library. Unfortunately the other hole is four games deep at this point, but progress is good!


Pros:

  • Bang for ya buck
  • Games are identifiably similar but feel distinct in gameplay
  • Much less horny than similar games have been in the past (YMMV)

Cons:

  • Feels like a missed opportunity for external bonus features like information on what these games are and why they matter/are packaged together
  • Some systems in Sapphire Wings feel like busywork (YMMV)
  • Much less horny than similar games have been in the past (YMMV)

Score: 8

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.