Developed by the Taiwanese group Softstar Entertainment and published by eastasiasoft, Xuan-Yuan Sword: Mists Beyond the Mountains is an update of one of the most popular and classic CRPGs (Chinese role-playing games), Xuan-Yuan Sword III: Mists Beyond the Mountains (軒轅劍參：雲和山的彼端), released in 1999. You play as Septem, a mixed-race Frankish Knight who begins a long (long) Journey to the East in 749AD’s Dark Ages Venice, where the Frankish and Templar Knights are murdering so-called heretics, including Arab people (as they’re called in the game). The fantastical adventure covers much of the Eurasian landmass, including Arabia and Mesopotamia, all the way to Tang Dynasty China.
Along the way, like in most role-playing games, you build your little party full of interesting companions, complete side quests in the form of locals’ requests, dungeon crawl, fight a range of monsters (who you can also tame and fuse), and collect assorted items. And find yourself embroiled in world politics, of course. Long before there was Genshin Impact, there was the Xuan-Yuan Sword series, dating back to 1990, so consider giving this title a go if you want to play something a bit different than usual.
The greatest aspect of this game, for me, was enjoying a plot, characters, themes, and conversations that a Western or Japanese game studio probably never would have dared to dream up. Because the protagonist is mixed race, several times the dialogue touches upon race, ethnicity, and related discrimination, which are topics that most popular Japanese media – games, manga, anime, etc., not that I really watch anime – just sweep under the rug. (Hmm, who would’ve thought that Japanese people have blonde hair and blue eyes? I’m looking at you, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, which is probably one of the worst offenders that comes to mind – even though I really enjoyed that game anyway.) It’s just a refreshing and welcome departure from the typical JRPGs that I know, that probably pander too much to Western audiences.
So, if you’re looking for video games or any media that portray a non-Western perspective, then the long-running Xuan-Yuan Sword series may entertain you. As just one amusing example, here is some of the text that definitely wouldn’t have made it into any mainstream Western media: “The next time I see her, I will kill her in the name of God, according to the law of the Prophet Moses, so that I can keep the purity of our kingdom of Zion!” (lol).
Speaking of the plot, it won’t ever leave you bored, as it covers so much ground (literally) and moves quickly without any tedious bits. The game has been compared to a classic Final Fantasy adventure. Its puzzles and dungeons are fairly simple, but a few times I needed some help from this great walkthrough. And like in the best adventure and role-playing games, there is a diverse array of distinctive realms for you to explore – from ancient Venice to Damascus to the Silk Road to Chang’an. And there are the fantastical elements and locations mixed in too, like a moving island, Nicole’s Jiuli Bottle, Satan’s Underworld, and Septem’s time-travelling ability. Like in Star Ocean: The Second Story R, the random NPCs help bring the various places to life.
The Xuan-Yuan Sword series doesn’t have many English translations and I think this is the first English localisation of Mists Beyond the Mountains. I’ve read some complaints over the quality of the translation but, personally, I don’t mind it much and think that it even adds to the charm of the game. But it may be a downer for some gamers. It’s not terrible, but in spots you can tell it’s been translated from another language (it’s a bit clunky) or there are some grammatical or spelling errors.
The soundtrack is fantastic (sometimes with Nobuo Uematsu–style epic tunes) and I found the visuals to be great, with cute 2D hand-painted sprites. I don’t really know to what extent they’ve upgraded the graphics and art from the original game but the style fits well with the retro revival that’s been going on for several years now. The sketchy, watercolour battle backdrops have a simple charm and a kind of Chinese calligraphy-art vibe to them, the same sort of look as the weapon and item cards in your inventory. In the similarly decorated menu you’ll also find the Journal listing all your side quests, and Mysteria documenting every enemy – drawn from Eastern and Western mythologies – you’ve encountered.
Another fun gameplay element is that you can tame creatures you’re fighting and equip two of them at a time to get a stat boost. Or, like with items and equipment, you can fuse them to form new creations. And you don’t have to wait for the world map or save spots because, unusually, you can save wherever you want – in one of the 100(!) save slots!
- Nice diversion from Western/Japanese games
- Well-developed plot across historical world regions
- Great music
- Artstyle suits the game well
The pleasing visuals in Xuan-Yuan Sword: Mists Beyond the Mountain are not at all complemented by the terribly aged video segments. If you thought this was a modern game, you can see from the videos that it isn’t; they feel like something from a PS1 title (or one of those 1990s music videos with the cringey CG). It might’ve been better to modernise them somehow, just convert them to the same graphics style as the rest of the game, or even leave them out altogether. On top of that, sometimes white or orange text appears against the background and there’s not enough colour contrast with the rest of the screen to read them properly.
The random-encounter battles are turn-based with a simple interface for each turn. This is all good, but most of them are pretty easy. Lastly, as I mentioned before, the English translation didn’t bother me but I know some will be annoyed at it.
- Terrible video quality
- Battles are too easy?
- English translation could’ve been better
Final Score: 9/10
Like any game, Xuan-Yuan Sword: Mists Beyond the Mountains won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I would recommend it for fans of old-school role-playing games like Final Fantasy, and especially to people who want to try something a bit different from the usual Western or Japanese video game narratives. The continent-spanning (is Eurasia a continent or a landmass with two continents?) plot, characters, battles, enemies, locations, music, etc. all helped to cement this game’s place as a classic back in the day, and it’s great that there’s now an English localisation for us to enjoy.
Thank you for checking out our Xuan-Yuan Sword: Mists Beyond the Mountains Switch review, thank you to eastasiasoft for providing the review code and thank you to our Patreon Backers for their ongoing support: