The Legend of Sword and Fairy series has been running since 1995. There’s been ten main game releases and numerous spin-off titles, there have been TV shows, card games, and even stage plays all based on the hit franchise. In fact, it is widely considered one of the most iconic Chinese RPGs of all time. Yeah, I’d never heard of it either. Still, I was excited to dive into a mythological world of demons, devils, and divine beings when the opportunity came up to play the latest series entry, Sword and Fairy Together Forever.
Don’t worry if, like me, you are utterly clueless on all things Swords and Fairies, because you don’t need to have any prior awareness of the series before playing this seventh entry. The plot is self-explanatory and there is an exhausting amount of cut-scenes that will fill in all the blanks. Suffice to say, it follows the exploits of young warrior Yue Qingshu and heroic deity Xiu Wu on an epic quest to defeat the Demon Lord. There’s a possessed boy, secret conspiracies, and loads of demons to beat up along the way, and it all amounts to your standard genre fare. Plot and character-wise Sword and Fairy Together Forever doesn’t attempt to do anything different or original; this is heroes on a quest stuff, yet there’s something comforting and wholesome about its old-school RPG plot.
Visually Sword and Fairy Together Forever is a mixed bag. Character design is absolutely top-notch and really aesthetically striking. The player characters are awesome to behold and the demons you face are suitably big and nasty, swallowing up the screen with their sheer mass whilst they attempt to swallow your avatar. What lets the game down is its distinctly PS3-era graphics. There’s a real lack of detail to the character models up close, whilst environmental pop-up is copious – villagers and trees clearly have access to an impressive new cloaking technology as they pop out of nowhere, everywhere.
Loading times are also painful. New areas – despite their linear, invisible wall-filled nature and small size – take an absolute age to load. This issue is exacerbated by a tedious opening section that sees you traipsing back and forth between two locations for little narrative reason. Indeed, in the first few hours of the game, you’ll spend most of your time watching load screens and cut-scenes, there are precious few gameplay moments to be had.
Which, considering the gameplay on offer here, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Combat is real-time – apparently a first for the series – and played out from a third-person perspective. There are basic combos to unleash, spells to wield, and multiple characters to switch between. That all sounds decent enough if it weren’t for the collision detection being so annoying woolly. Flailing away at a foe results in no discernible impact, making combat a confusing affair, and victory feels far too dependant on luck and stats rather than the application of skill. It’s too difficult to read enemy attacks – they just sort of happen, with little to no signalling to the player. In short, I found button mashing an entirely effective technique that saw me through the game, with only a few restarts.
The slapdash combat coexists appropriately with lackadaisical translation that is among the most unintentionally hilarious I’ve ever read. Frankly, the grammar is all over the place, spelling is dodgy and meanings confusing. It’s hard to read and understand at the best of times, made even more indecipherable by white text on a light background.
This all sounds pretty damning, but there’s also something undeniably charming about Sword and Fairy Together Forever. This is a consciously old-school game that feels like something dragged it kicking and screaming from the late nineties, gave it a lick of graphical polish, and threw it onto modern hardware. The story is simple and wholesome, the RPG dynamics refreshingly devoid of moral choice and customisation; you simply follow the tale of Yue Qingshu and Xiu Wu to its conclusion. The setting and world-building also count for a lot – Chinese Mythology is woefully under-explored in Western video games – it’s a delight to explore the environment, encounter strange creatures, and read up on the fascinating lore and legends that you’ll find.