Sword and Fairy: Together Forever is a straightforward action RPG based on Chinese mythology. It's the latest instalment in Taiwan-based developer Softstar's long running Sword and Fairy series, and in terms of presentation and overall tone, there's a lot to like about the game. But when it comes to actually playing through this 30-hour or so adventure, genre enthusiasts may be left feeling unfulfilled.
The title's very linear in structure as the plot whisks you from one isolated location to the next. Some larger environments allow for exploration, but there's little to discover outside of by-the-numbers side quests and extra combat encounters. And this is a bit of a problem, because you'll spend most of your time in Together Forever either watching cutscenes or listening to lengthy conversations between characters. Indeed, the gameplay (that is, the combat and exploration) to non-interactive scene ratio is heavily weighted towards the latter, sometimes to the point where it almost feels like you're watching a movie.
To be fair, some of the cutscenes are rather spectacular. It's clear that a lot of time and effort has been put into telling a cinematic story, complete with some excellent choreography and impressive direction. It's just a shame that such flamboyance seemingly comes at the expense of longer gameplay scenarios. One early portion of the title is a prime example, in which you're presented with a boss battle that lasts around 30 seconds, and it's bookended by cutscenes that stretch over five minutes each way.
It's a pacing issue that starts to grate, because Sword and Fairy's combat system is reasonably fun — basic, but enjoyable. It's built around your standard light and heavy attacks, tied to a generous dodge button and special techniques. Character animations are elegant, movement is responsive, and the enemy designs are generally fantastic — but if you're an action aficionado, you'll probably find it all a touch too easy, even on the game's hardest difficulty setting.
As mentioned, that dodge button is highly evasive, and you'll see your foe's attacks coming from a mile away. There were only a couple of encounters throughout the entire game that gave us trouble, and even then, we were so stocked on healing items that any incoming damage was of little consequence. Now, we're not saying that easier combat systems are bad, but given the title's gameplay imbalance, we think that more demanding encounters could have gone a long way.
Having said that, unlocking new moves and watching your heroes lay waste to monsters is still a highlight of the experience. Each party member has their own fighting style — which helps keep things fresh — and figuring out the best ways to utilise your abilities gives you something to think about when the enemies themselves don't pose much of a threat.
Because Sword and Fairy's mostly fun combat is forced to take a backseat, you would hope that the game's story goes above and beyond — but it's annoyingly hit and miss. There's no doubt that its best moments come from its main characters, and the relationships that they forge. In particular, the romantically-tinged interactions between outgoing teenage spirit maiden Yue and aloof deity warrior Xiu Wu are endearing from beginning to end. There's good character chemistry here, and it's often explored in charmingly comedic fashion.
It's admittedly more difficult to care about the overall plot, even though its origins are rooted in intriguing myth and legend. Things aren't quite right in the human realm, with powerful demons attempting to upset the peace, and it's down to Yue and the gang to sort everything out. It's predictable stuff, both in premise and execution, although there are a couple of plot points that had us surprisingly hooked towards the end.
There is one big problem with Together Forever's storytelling, though — and it's not necessarily the game's fault. Indeed, the English localisation is not good. The translated script is often awkwardly written, with broken English and odd phrases making dialogue difficult to read and understand (the game's voiced in Chinese, it should be noted). Even menu text can be poorly put together, creating a strange scenario where you're reading English, but the meaning doesn't really register. To be clear, much of the script is serviceable, but such a text-heavy title, complete with likeable characters, deserves a lot better than this.
Sword and Fairy: Together Forever won't satisfy everyone. Action enthusiasts will be disappointed in how underutilised the combat system is, and those looking for a lovingly crafted story will have to stomach an especially poor English localisation. But even with its obvious flaws, Together Forever has undeniable charm in its endearing characters and elegant presentation. An enjoyably breezy RPG, if you can keep your expectations in check.