Saviors of Sapphire Wings Review (Switch)
Since 2017, the Nintendo Switch hasn’t shied away from highlighting obscure titles that have never seen the light of day in the West. Two examples that immediately come to mind are Romancing SaGa 2 and 3, both of which originally released on the Super Famicom in the ’90s but didn’t receive an official translation until many years later. In that same vein, we have Saviors of Sapphire Wings, a remake of the 2010 Japan-exclusive dungeon-crawler known as Students of the Round.
While this game is technically only half of NISA’s DRPG package that also includes Stranger of Sword City Revisited, SwitchRPG.com prioritizes detail and therefore will be covering both games (in detail, of course) separately. And truthfully, while this game has some issues, it is well worth its own separate deep-dive.
On the surface, the narrative of Saviors of Sapphire Wings shares similarities with the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, but its story is ultimately different in practice. It opens up with the main character, Xeth, and his Knights of the Round being utterly defeated by the embodiment of darkness, Ol=Ohma. Their defeat plunges the world into a century of darkness, which eventually leads to Xeth being reborn in hopes of assembling a new generation of knights that can destroy Ol=Ohma once and for all.
Ol=Ohma isn’t your typical villain as they aren’t overwhelmingly powerful in a physical sense. Instead, they prey on the “bonds” between Xeth and their companions, charming (or enslaving) those without the proper mental strength for all eternity. This is exactly what transpired 100 years ago and what the Knights of the Round hope to avoid this time.
It isn’t often that games go for the “world has already ended” approach, and Saviors of Sapphire Wings does that exceptionally well. It is a theme that is constantly championed throughout the adventure, both in the narrative itself as well as the environments. There is a constant unease and tension in the world, appropriate to the century-long imprisonment leading to the start of the player’s tale. Ol=Ohma’s influence has spread to all but the furthest reaches of the world, and it’s clear that the war cannot be won by brawn alone.
The only way Xeth and the Knights of the Round will succeed is by strengthening their bonds with one another, and that means leaning on each other both in and out of battle. With time, the band of adventurers may very well become strong enough to overcome the overwhelming darkness that has covered the world.
While Saviors of Sapphire Wings presents an interesting premise throughout the adventure, the individual Knights of the Round may not be the most exciting of set pieces. Each character has their own storyline which is slowly revealed as their bonds mature with Xeth, but most of those stories lack genuine impact. Even worse, some characters may be downright annoying to some (e.g. the comedic relief character that has an unhealthy obsession with certain female body parts). The overarching narrative and its strong influence on the gameworld is the clear winner here, not necessarily the individual characters themselves. Either way, I didn’t expect to become as invested in the story as I ultimately became, and I still feel that it is relatively solid throughout.
Saviors of Sapphire Wings is a first-person dungeon-crawler featuring Xeth slowly recruiting Knights of the Round in hopes of finally defeating Ol=Ohma. Over the course of the game, the player visits several town hubs that provide access to NPCs, shops, and dungeons. The order of operations tends to be conversing with townsfolk for clues, then stocking up at shops before diving into one of the game’s many dungeons.
Dungeons in Saviors of Sapphire Wings begin relatively straightforward and small before slowly introducing additional length, traps, and puzzles. The player’s auto-filling map is the lifeblood of the adventure, an invaluable reference in minimizing confusion and optimizing routes. A mini-map is always available, which can be expanded to reveal a much wider view when necessary.
From the map screen, the player can take advantage of the game’s auto-pathing system that automatically moves you to previously visited areas on the map. There is a decent amount of backtracking in Saviors of Sapphire Wings, and this feature is incredibly useful in dealing with it. As useful as the map can be, it isn’t completely foolproof as it doesn’t keep track of certain points of interest that may become useful later in the adventure (something likely to make fans of a more old-school DRPG approach happy, at least).
A lot of the guesswork is eliminated through the auto-filling map, but you still have to keep your eyes peeled for those subtle pieces that pop up. Protip: take screenshots. Regardless, Saviors of Sapphire Wings strikes a nice balance between modernized comfort and old-school goodness here, something which continues on in other parts of the game.
Gotta Trap Them All
Buying equipment outright can be very expensive, and the way around this is using the various trap points found in dungeons. Traps serve two purposes: they are often tied to story progression and are integral in decking out your characters in some of the best gear available. Placing bait in any one of these traps will “catch” a monster after one battle as long as the proper bait is used.
Defeating trapped enemies rewards you with chests that house cursed items – unidentified equipment not so different than that found in the Diablo series. These cursed chests require you to defeat monsters in a certain number of turns, require a key (or comparable spell) to unlock, and the items within must be cleansed (or identified) before they are usable.
All of this results in a satisfying loop of trapping monsters in order to see what cursed spoils they might harbor. As much as I enjoyed this unique spin on equipment progression (in a DRPG sense), it isn’t without some faults. Some of the trap’s descriptions for required bait can be a bit obscure, and there are far, far too many individual trap materials to track that onstantly fill up your inventory space.
On that note, Saviors of Sapphire Wings also suffers from an insanely sporadic encounter rate that often has you wandering around A LOT in hopes of initiating combat. Other times, you won’t be able to take a step or two before getting into a chain of encounters. Who knows.
Regardless, the trap system goes hand-in-hand with two available key subsystems in your mobile hub-of-sorts (for spoilers, not to be revealed here): the magic furnace and alchemy station. The magic furnace allows you to melt down old equipment in order to eventually provide permanent bonuses to certain types of gear, while alchemy can help you create bait for some of the more quirky traps out in the world (among other things). Nothing too exciting here, but they are useful nonetheless.
Savior of Sapphire Wings utilizes turn-based combat from a first-person perspective. Turn order is executed based on a variety of factors, with each action being performed in one of two ways: a classic granular play-by-play style, and a condensed version that performs all a round’s actions in one fell swoop. Moreover, an option to repeat the same actions as the previous round is available, allowing one to easily blast through more trivial encounters in little time.
Repeating previous rounds isn’t always the best thing to do, however, especially in the early game when certain instant or near-fatal attacks can cause party members to drop like flies (therefore forcing you to retreat to the hub to recuperate). On the topic of instant death, this could be a rude awakening for those who don’t explore one of the most important combat tools available: union skills.
Fueled by the bonds of their comrades, Xeth can perform one union skill each round (provided you have the required union points beforehand) which can have an assortment of uses. Most importantly, union skills can heavily dampen or completely negate many instant and near-fatal attacks, making what would otherwise be an impossible encounter a breeze in comparison.
Union skills are also integral to the plot as they are the only way to neutralize the charm-inducing gaze of Ol=Ohma that they and their various underlings can utilize in combat. Overall, there are a lot of options available to the Xeth and the Knights of the Round in combat, especially when you factor in the various character classes available.
Choose Your Class
Part of Xeth’s reincarnation process is picking a class, of which there are many including (but not limited to) the fighter, paladin, ranger, and alchemist. Each has its own strength, weakness, and separate level progression, and all characters will eventually unlock the ability to select a subclass. While the player’s primary power will be governed by the main class, the sub class allows for an additional set of skills and equipment options, among other perks.
Furthermore, you have complete control over individual stat point distribution, allowing you the freedom to make that battlemage you always wanted! Best of all, like class selection, stat points can be reset and redistributed at any time. This level of customization isn’t limited to Xeth either. New recruits into the Knights of the Round can also be adjusted in the same way, something I believe (but don’t quote me on it) wasn’t available in the original version of the game. Neat!
The overarching goal of Saviors of Sapphire Wings is to strengthen Xeth’s bonds with their comrades in order to properly combat the lord of darkness. To do this, the player will need to take certain characters along in dungeons, think carefully about how to react in certain situations (via dialogue choices), and occasionally join them for meals.
At certain “soul gauge” thresholds, individual Knights of the Round will want to speak with Xeth privately, which most often leads to their soul rank (or bond level) increasing, granting an additional union skill point and occasionally brand new union skills. Being an integral part of the game from both a narrative and combat perspective, bonds are not to be ignored and will occasionally require certain characters to be above a certain threshold in order to progress the story.
While you don’t necessarily have to increase soul ranks for the entire cast (in the base game, at least), there are a couple key characters that are mandatory for story progression. Thankfully, this is telegraphed early so that it likely won’t even be an issue.
The “remade” visuals in Saviors of Sapphire Wings present both the best and worst that the game has to offer. From the best I can tell, based on limited footage of the original version, the game has received a facelift in terms of character portraits and the UI, the former being especially obvious. The player can choose to go with the old-school or new-style portraits for any of the characters, and some of the differences between the two versions are quite striking. And the UI certainly looks much cleaner than it appeared before.
Beyond that, however, things aren’t nearly as exciting, as the 3D dungeon art seems to have been barely touched up. Most enemy assets appear to be the same, too, but have aged surprisingly well and are honestly better left alone. Since I haven’t played the original, it’s hard to definitively say whether the new up-do is worth getting excited over, but I’m nonetheless confident that the visuals won’t set your world on fire either way. Those background stills, though? Good stuff.
Saviors of Sapphire Wings boasts a catchy soundtrack that appears to have received some minor instrumental changes in this version. While it may not be the kind of score that compels you to listen beyond the boundaries of the gameworld, and may feel a bit repetitive at times (due to a lack of tracks in numbers rather than in quality), you may find it difficult not to hum along with many of the game’s pieces (my wife sure couldn’t help herself while I was playing!).
Saviors of Sapphire Wings has been a wonderful surprise. While it has some issues and the legitimacy of its remake moniker is up for debate, it remains a relatively newcomer-friendly DRPG experience that has only recently been made possible in the West. Its century-long darkness and heavy emphasis on bonding with your companions in order to surmount a truly nefarious villain is surprisingly refreshing, even if the individual characters aren’t overly memorable.
It’s also not going to satisfy the most hardcore of DRPG players out there with its relatively low difficulty level and general no-frills dungeon design, though that conversely makes it a fantastic refresher for newcomers and returning vets that need to recover their “dungeoneering legs.” I easily put close to 30 hours in the base game alone, and there’s plenty more to be done after the credits roll. And when you consider this is only one half of the package (I will cover Stranger of Sword City Revisited in the near future), I’d say it’s already well worth the plunge.