Classic JRPG style games are all but immortal now and the genre is in a very comfortable spot where we all know that no matter how much time passes, there will never be a drought of new games to try out. Sword of Elpisia is one of the earliest ones in 2022, putting the player in a world where technology is based around magitools and magical instruments that are used for varied purposes (such as keeping monsters away or manipulating water). The twist comes when the game delves deeper into the Magiswords, bladed weapons that are created from living beings. With the territory of classic style JRPGs, there’s a certain level of expectation when it comes to worldbuilding, story, characters and gameplay - can Sword of Elpisia and the developers at KEMCO deliver on said expectations?
The Good - Sharp Tools in the Shed
Sword of Elpisia has very interesting visuals and cute details added to it; character portraits are fairly detailed and varied with plenty of cast members having very distinct appearances that immediately pop up. Gameplay-wise, the sprite work during battles will reflect a variety of different weaponry and equipment that the current party has equipped, demonstrating an attention-to-detail that feels satisfying for the player - upon obtaining a powerful new weapon, seeing it as you go into battle makes it all the more sweeter to utilise your abilities with. There is also the possibility to add absolutely adorable pets to your party to help in combat and it goes beyond a simple guest party member or single dedicated slot: from dogs to sheep to big raccoons, the player can have a truly menacing menagerie of critters that can both deal the pain and look adorable while doing it.
Another good aspect of the game is the combat system: turn-based battles are very common in the JRPG genre but Sword of Elpisia adds an interesting 2x3 grid system to its combat where you can place up to six different characters all at once in three separate rows, with each row having slightly different functions and roles in a way that reminisces ever-so-slightly of games like Etrian Odyssey. The sheer scale of the system allows a 6v6 slugfest to take place during fights; it’s exciting, new and also intuitive while avoiding needless complexity. When selecting skills and attacks to use during combat, there will always be a visible grid showing where exactly the selected attack will hit and how many spaces it can cover. Not all attacks can cover multiple spaces, while some cover a line rather than rows and so on and so forth. With the final addition of a rock-paper-scissors elemental triangle to top it all off, the combat in Sword of Elpisia is particularly interesting while staying simple and easy to grasp.
Sword of Elpisia also finds a quick solution to one of the least liked, yet more ever-present, traditions of JRPGs: grinding. At the beginning of dungeons, there is this particularly useful tool that the player can interact with for a small variety of actions dealing with monsters in the dungeon: Sword of Elpisia allows the player to turn the encounter rate up or down as they desire but it also gives the player the option to right then and there provoke three monster fights in a row without the need to walk around the dungeon and enter the start-of-battle animations repeatedly. It’s a very direct and very effective way to address the basic gameplay needs of a JRPG: players need to get strong and level up to proceed with the story and explore the world, but relying on random encounters can quickly become boring and time-consuming. Utilising the monster attraction mechanic, Sword of Elpisia gives plenty of space for players to fight as little or as much as they desire, while also making it easy for those that are there mostly for the story to get their levelling out of the way fast.
- Detailed spritework
- Distinctive character design
- Adorable details and companions
- Interesting combat
- Customisable RNG and grinding
The Bad - Why do we only have a hammer?
Although Sword of Elpisia does very well in the gameplay department, it slows down on the fluffier aspects of the game. The introductions of the world and characters aren’t particularly engaging: The main protagonist Aldo is first presented as a combination of aloof, overly serious and fairly emotionless, which paints a picture that is simply not very interesting and it doesn’t change for quite a while. The deuteragonist, Alice, is introduced as fairly energetic and a great foil to Aldo but their dynamic feels forced for a good chunk of the game. As more characters are introduced (such as the laidback drifter Nate), they are shown to be slightly more interesting, although there is this constant feeling that these characters are sticking together for plot convenience. Although Sword of Elpisia shapes up soon with a more tight type of character interaction, the first impression of the cast is far from flattering.
The overworld itself is also fairly uninteresting looking and the locations are very hit and miss with their designs, specifically the dungeons. Although the actual battle scenarios are a treat to look at, the overworld portions of dungeons become repetitive fairly quickly as they aren’t particularly visually stimulating, with similar textures being reutilised repeatedly. There are a handful of hidden passages and puzzles in each dungeon to help break up the monotony but there is a constant feeling that these locations could have been shaped up into more interesting locales. Sword of Elpisia presents us with a world where the use of magitools shaped the development of humanity but for a long time, it feels like any other JRPG country, without really leaning into the worldbuilding aspect to make its world unique. Although things are tied together well enough to keep the story afloat and moving, it truly feels like it would only take a few hard shakes to loosen up everything keeping the world together.
- Bland character first-impressions
- Generic-looking maps
- Uninteresting dungeon design
- Lacking worldbuilding
Final Score: 5/10
It’s fine. Sword of Elpisia scratches the itch of a classic JRPG very well and it fits the genre like a glove, with certain additions that make it a unique experience and is definitely a fun pickup for fans of the genre, with its strengths being firmly found in the pragmatic gameplay parts of the game and in its visuals. However, the faulty aspects in characters and worldbuilding truly demonstrates how important they are for an initially engaging experience - the very first hook for RPGs, the thing that gets people to continue paying attention, should be their characters. Engagement leads the player into wanting to see how they would advance in their lives and through the challenges presented, but it is honestly hard to root for these characters at the start and that really diminishes the enjoyment of the game for those that appreciate the story aspect of a JRPG more so than the gameplay aspects. Smile a little more, will you, Aldo?
Thank you for checking out our Sword of Elpisia Switch review, thank you to KEMCO for providing the review code and thank you to our $5 and up Patreon Backers for their ongoing support:
- Andrew Caluzzi (Inca Studios / Camped Out)
- Bel Cubitt