July 8, 2013
Despite its title, Strength of the Sword 3 is the first of the series. It's a silly joke you occasionally see in other indie titles such as Breath of Death VII. The story tells a tale via a pop-up map of a kingdom invaded by evil forces. To save the kingdom from ruin, a deity sends you, a mechanical warrior, to fend off the invaders and defeat their leader. It's a pretty straight forward plot, probably due to the fact the game's focus is supposed to be the gameplay. Sadly, that's what drags this game down.
Initial impressions bore a strong comparison with the gameplay from Dark Souls. There are noticeable pauses in-between your character's attacks, and each enemy needs to be confronted differently. But unlike Dark Souls, the combat only holds frustration and lacks reward.
The poor combat tutorials don't help the experience much either. While the game encourages you to block, dodge, and attack, it never mentions how to actually play the game. You have to pause the game to actually see a list of moves. While the list is pretty straight forward, some of the combos never seemed to work properly or do a decent amount of damage. It will take a few hours until you start to feel competent.
Also during gameplay, there will be slow downs from time to time when you are hit or thrown back. It's meant to be dramatic, but the slow motion often lasts too long and gets old very fast.
Once you beat a level, you'll be graded according to my play-style. The three styles are Speed, Offense, and Defense. If you played well enough in either of the styles, you receive one of three stars. It's a nice incentive to replay the levels, but only if you actually enjoyed the combat.
It won't be long until you realize that each level for the entire story mode is nothing more than a single room decorated with backdrops, crates, and the occasional set of steps. To make matters worse, each level is simply fighting wave after wave of enemies in said room until you defeat them all. Were it not for the occasional cut-scenes of the pop-up map, it would seem like a few challenge maps that were put together for a high score.
While leveling up and defeating bosses rewards you with upgradable items, they only serve to replace your main weapons instead of complementing them. You'll find yourself spamming the throwing knives and bombs on even the simplest of enemies because they are more effective than a sword and shield. Boss battles are also pretty similar. While your items will not completely defeat the boss, you can usually take away half of his health before having to use your sword and shield.
Speaking of boss battles, once the villain is vanquished, you are given the choice of a new sword or shield. Each one has a strength and weakness, but you will not know what they are until after you select them. If you are unhappy with your selection, you can replay the boss battle to unlock the other choice. It's a nice option if the weapon you first chose doesn't match your play-style.
The only other game mode besides the story is the Challenge Pit, which is pretty much the same as the story. The only difference is that you try to rack up the highest possible score while the clock ticks down. Also, the area you fight in never changes. There are various difficulties which determine the enemies you fight and how long you need to survive. One feature that's good with this is that your progress from the main game carries over. This means you can still use your unlocked items such as the knives and flame thrower. As your score increases with each kill, you can use you score to redeem bonus items such as full health recovery and weapon repair.
There's not much to say about the music. It pretty much just blends into itself after the first five minutes of playing the game. It's by no means bad music, but you won't be humming it in your head either.
Graphically, the game is quite impressive with this indie title. Strength of the Sword 3's art style is a mix of medieval aesthetics and cell shaded graphics giving the game a very cartoony look, while still making enemies intimidating. The levels, as small as they are, looked very nice as well. As you proceeded further into the game, each area looked more dark and ferocious, despite the rather familiar scenery. as I came closer to the final boss's lair. It's a shame that the same amount of detail wasn't given to the gameplay.
If you still want to play Strength of the Sword 3 after the story, you can replay the main quest's story or continue in Challenge Pit to improve your high scores. As mentioned before, if you replay boss battles, you can unlock the other of the two weapons you had to choose from. There's also the incentive to try new play-styles to three-star each of the eleven levels in the story mode.
Overall, Strength of the Sword 3 feels like a game that's a bit incomplete. While the challenge is certainly there, it's just not rewarding enough to justify the challenge. Unless you're a glutton for punishment or want a short experience, I suggest you look elsewhere.
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