Sword of Elpisia Review (Switch)
Swords are cool. I don’t think anyone would deny that. But would your love for swords lead you to willingly be turned into a sword yourself to then be used by someone else? No? I didn’t think so…but that’s kind of the situation in Sword of Elpisia, where the inhabitants of Terra are being transformed into weaponry left and right, by an otherworldly robotic species obsessed with creating the one, ultimate sword of the same name. I am not kidding. Has your curiosity been piqued? Then read on to find out why the human race is being turned into magic swords – or magiswords – en masse!
Despite lofty ambitions to create the ultimate sword, Sword of Elpisia actually begins with a much more simple premise. The game’s primary hero, Aldo, is a magitool repairman that pays the bills by taking jobs wherever he can. Unfortunately for him, his latest job places him smack dab in a village that is soon under fire by monsters and a magisword-crazed robot. Thinking on his feet, Aldo manages to lure the bulk of the monsters to a remote shack, where he uses a stray dog as bait (the tool!) and subsequently blows the shack (and monsters) to smithereens.
While the village is ultimately saved, it comes at a steep cost. The seemingly abandoned shack actually ends up being the abode of a local girl named Alice, who is not too happy about her home being blown to bits. Since Alice’s village couldn’t care less about her well-being, Aldo then agrees to take the kid under his wing and travel abroad in order to find her a new home. Along the way, both the hero and heroine discover far more than just a dream home for a kid.
Sword of Elpisia not only demands a large suspension of disbelief, it also expects a complete disregard for common sense. The plot is swiss cheese, and the main characters only make matters worse. The dialogue itself is also worded awkwardly a lot, and has a tendency to tack-on sentence endings such as “is it, isn’t it, yeah,” and “right” in contextually odd situations. All KEMCO experiences have their fair share of quirky translation issues, but Sword of Elpisia is one of the more egregious examples of it. Simply put, this isn’t the standard fantastical adventure that may have a few ideas that are “out there,” or has certain points that aren’t completely logical. The game does little narratively to elevate it beyond a disappointment.
Sword of Elpisia is a turn-based JRPG that follows Aldo and his party around the world of Terra. The general flow has the team traveling to a new region, gathering information in town, and then setting off into various areas and dungeons in order to solve problems, complete requests, and ultimately progress the narrative.
Traditional side quest content is relatively thin, with only a few requests here and there that generally offer paltry rewards and very little story substance. But the game does feature an arena – a KEMCO staple – to conquer, as well as an achievement board that rewards the player with various goodies so long as they complete an assortment of objectives. Fast travel and other quality-of-life features make all of this a breeze as well, and the lack of obtrusive microtransactions / premium shops (on normal anyway) is certainly commendable. Through a Buddy Dispatch system (more on this later), it is also possible to revisit previously completed dungeons in the background for additional loot.
In terms of combat, Sword of Elpisia features similar components (with some nuance) to more recent EXE Create entries. The party can freely move characters between three rows (vanguard, rearguard, and the middle) for various statistical advantages. A turn timeline is shown at the top of the screen that helps give an idea of what to expect for the next few rounds. Exploiting enemy weaknesses is essential in Sword of Elpisia, as it not only makes attacks deal increased damage, but also allows for a free followup attack to be made. This also applies to the enemy’s own attacks, however, so be careful.
Each party member has a basic melee attack, abilities fueled by AP, and spells that use a traditional MP reserve. The party begins with full AP at the beginning of each fight, and must use the “charge” command for additional AP (among other bonuses) should they run out before the fight is over. AP-based abilities aren’t learned organically – they are tied directly to the character’s currently equipped weapon. While only one weapon can be equipped per party member at first, eventually, it is possible to equip up to three weapons at once to not only take advantage of their statistical bonuses, but also diversify their AP ability toolkit.
The most notable combat feature in Sword of Elpisia is the Buddy system. The party is able to befriend animal allies that can be summoned directly into combat, serving as an additional party member that acts completely on their own. While only one Buddy is able to be associated with each individual party member, unlinked Buddies can also be called in despite being unable to build trust (ie. statistical upgrades for Buddies that are directly linked to party members). Choosing the right Buddies for the job certainly makes some of the more difficult fights much easier to handle.
On normal difficulty, a certain level of grinding is required in order to face more dangerous foes. Fortunately, Sword of Elpisia allows for extremely efficient grinding by way of the monster attraction rods conveniently installed at the beginning and end of each dungeon. The party can opt to fight a cluster of three enemy groups (among other options) in quick succession, which shaves off a substantial amount of time required to grind through normal means (aka walking around). Moreover, the party can manipulate how frequent random encounters are, well, encountered, by using the same attraction rod. The combination of these two features allows one to get grinding out of the way up front, then walk through most dungeons with ease.
Character Customization and Progression
One of KEMCO’s greatest strengths historically has been clever and/or engaging progression systems, and while Sword of Elpisia does provide this by way of a variety of weapon-based abilities, it’s rather surface level in its execution. Each weapon comes attached with two seemingly random AP-based abilities, meaning the same type of weapon – a Column Sword, for example – can technically have a half dozen or more varieties when taking that into consideration. But it’s not just the abilities themselves one must weigh, as each type of weapon at a base level also can function differently thanks to innate passives, some of which can be really powerful.
Problems arise when strengthening weapons (and to an extent, armor) in Sword of Elpisia – the art of combining multiple copies of gear into one for additional potency. Because traits and power of weapons and armor can’t easily be carried over to another item without losing a ton of progress, this leads to rarely, if ever replacing the original equipment one decides to power up in the first place. The ability to equip multiple weapons per character at once helps offset this design oversight, allowing the player greater flexibility with their toolkit without having to sacrifice any hard work, but it doesn’t come into play until many hours into the adventure. As a whole, the crafting system and overall progression/customization here feels like a step back compared to many of its contemporaries.
One of the best things EXE Create has done as of late has been vastly improving their graphical assets, and Sword of Elpisia is no different. Not only have the changes helped shed the RPG Maker-esque vibes the games have often been associated with in the past, but some of the art (especially in combat) is legitimately impressive in its own right. While asset variety (both graphical and audio-wise) has and still is an issue in KEMCO experiences – budget constraints, I’m sure – Sword of Elpisia still manages to keep things aesthetically pleasing throughout.
The soundtrack fares a bit worse due to a lack of anything really memorable. There are never any real performance or technical issues, with the exception of some multi-hit abilities potentially lagging the screen for a few seconds, as well as the infamous in-game clock that never seems to factor in the console’s sleep mode (a common EXE Create bug). Making UI/menu selections can also take some getting used to as its visual overhaul, while nice to look at, can feel like a poor adaptation of a clearly mobile framework.
Sword of Elpisia is by no means a bad experience, but its greatest flaw is offering little that is superior compared to its more favorable KEMCO peers.. The solid pixel art, particularly in combat, and lack of invasive microtransactions/shops can only offset the underwhelming narrative and gameplay systems so much, and with so many KEMCO titles on the Switch to choose from, it’s hard to strongly recommend this one. If you already own most of the KEMCO RPG library, then it may be worth picking up. Otherwise, there are plenty of other ways to invest your time and money for a better experience.