Back in 2005 SCEA blocked Konami’s Oz from a US release. This was a game I was heavily looking forward to which absolutely sucked. There were many reasons bandied about, the most common being less competition for their own Genji. While I liked Genji it was still a dick move if true. However it did send me down the rabbit hole of European imports. From there I discovered many previous Japanese exclusives that had been released under a different name. One such game was Swords of Destiny. This action adventure looked insanely cool and to an extent is. But it also has major gameplay flaws that keep it from greatness.
Long ago demons named Gyakki, led by Yang Yuan, invaded Earth. A warrior named Yan de defeated her using the three Swords of Yi. However her eventual return was prophesied. In response Yan De built a school to train warriors and find his successor. His successor, Lei Yun is given the Awakening sword and leaves to train. Unfortunately he returns from his journey too late, with Yang Yuan killing his master and kidnapping his daughter. Now it is his duty to use the Swords of Yi to save the world.
It may sound interesting but the localization is subpar at best and often comical. The voice acting is lifeless and it is very obvious the actors recorded their lines separately. Even worse the lip flaps don’t match the dialogue, making the frequent cutscenes laughable. There are all kinds of grammatical errors and stilted dialogue at every turn. You can follow along despite this but it is hard to take the story seriously.
Lei Yun initially begins with the sword of awakening but eventually earns the titular swords in the title. These three blades (Blue Dragon, Flaming Phoenix, Raging Tiger) boost certain aspects of combat such as strength or aerial time. They also have individual quirks such as the Raging Tiger’s slow wind up to attack. Accumulated experience can be used to raise each sword’s stats in three categories as well. Taking it a step further, there are a large range of secondary weapons dropped from enemies that can be equipped on the three main blades. These add secondary effects such as increased item drops or power, adding further depth.
The best way to describe Swords of Destiny is a hybrid between Devil May Cry and Shinobi. Lei Yun has a multiple hit combo attack with his sword and a dash attack. Locking on to enemies and striking when the cursor turns red initiates sword time. Sword Time knocks all enemies into the air at which point you have a limited window to instantly kill as many as possible. It’s very reminiscent of Shinobi’s Tate mode although the implementation is sloppy. The camera is a complete mess and most often you’ll flail about the environment with no idea where you’ll land. To the game’s credit there aren’t instant death pits so you are mostly safe. But it could and should have been better.
The game heavily relies on this mechanic. Areas are blocked off until you defeat all enemies as in Capcom’s classic. This is most often paired with a switch that can only be broken during sword time. While sword time is cool the window to activate it on most enemies is frustratingly short. While you can simply kill most enemies normally it is a slog. The game purposely tosses in waves to force you to use sword time. This is doubly important during boss battles. Every boss is a damage sponge to a level that might be worse than Exile: Wicked Phenomenon. That is, unless you use sword time at which point they can potentially go down in minutes. I like sword time in spite of its flawed execution but I don’t like how the game forces it on you at every turn.
You might think this would make the game difficult but it is the opposite. Swords of Destiny is extremely easy, to the point you’ll have to go out of your way to die. Nearly every enemy drops health crystals and considering you kill them in groups your health will rarely dip below half. I even forgot about the numerous restorative items and such because they weren’t necessary. While spending twenty minutes on a single boss battle is frustrating at least you aren’t dying repeatedly.
That in essence is the game’s biggest crime. By focusing so heavily on a flawed and overpowered mechanic it is ultimately boring. Nearly every encounter follows the same loop. Lock on, sword time, and clear all enemies in one swoop. That it is not only encouraged but mandatory at times makes it worse. The late game begins to add light puzzle elements to the levels but it doesn’t stray from what I just mentioned. There are multiple gameplay systems that add depth but you rarely need to engage with any of them. Sure the option is nice but with smarter enemies and more thoughtful design this could have been amazing.
Swords of Destiny is far from a bad game. While the execution of its mechanics is questionable it can still provide a good few hours of entertainment. But on a system with action heavyweights like Devil May Cry, God of War, and Genji it ranks pretty far down the list. I like it but there are far better choices out there.