Playing Steel Sword Story will be an experience I will not soon forget. Let me whisk you away on my personal journey.
Booting up the game for the first time, I was faced with incredibly slow gameplay. It ran at maybe 25 frames per second, which is just barely playable for worthwhile spurts. On top of this, various points in the game slowed down further than that, hovering under 20 frames per second. Ensuring it wasn’t just me, I checked to see if my graphics card was applied to the game directly—tinkering proved unsuccessful. Defeated, I played the game as far as I could before the lethargic pace drove me insane. 97% of the way through the game, a miracle happened.
I had had the game paused for a little while, checking things online as a break prior to facing the second-to-last room before the final boss. When I returned, Steel Sword Story gave me a little wink. “Hey, dude. Wanna play the game at 60 FPS? Here you go!” I was astounded (and kind of pissed)! It finally started running as it should, and the entire experience of the game changed with it! A thought then occurred to me: “Okay, so if the game is now running as it should… I can play the game in its entirety over again to give it a fair shot.” I defeated the final boss, then promptly went back to the beginning and played (almost) each level over again. I essentially played this game twice.
Steel Sword Story is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
There is a story to Steel Sword Story (as the name implies), but it could almost go without one. Part of the motivation behind its birth was as a tribute to 2D action-adventure games of yesteryear. As such, the story isn’t something that’s going to come up in regular intervals. Dialogue comes in specific scenes, usually before a boss room and near the very end. For me, personally, it didn’t add much to anything, as the world-building here is borderline pitiful. Much of what one will experience are side-scrolling levels with lots of colorful baddies trying to kill you. Nothing more. While in the name, those looking for story in Steel Sword Story will be left starving.
Even so, there’s an attempt to give motivation to the player to press forward, which I’ll never not find admirable. The player takes the form of a once-exiled imperial knight trying to take back “the kingdom” from the traitor, Rufus, as well as saving his former lover from her captor. Much of this is presented in a cutscene shown if one remains idle on the title screen. Again, seeing as this isn’t aiming to be anything more than a touching homage to classic games, the story is predictably sterile. It’s there, which is as much as I can say for this and any typical title that it took inspiration from. The final cutscene may prove impactful for some, but it did little to quell my own apathy.
A little history prior to getting into the finer details of Steel Sword Story; this game was published by Playism, a company I seem to have some growing history with. Other titles I’ve played by them include Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel (I’m very proud that I can spell that without checking) and Misao: Definitive Edition. Both games, released just weeks apart, provided some memorable fun condensed into rather small packages, while also invoking memories of other notable game franchises. Steel Sword Story seems to fit right in with the collection of games Playism provides.
This title is not long—speedrunners can likely beat it in under a half an hour, I’d predict. Even playing it at 15-25 FPS the first time, I managed to complete it in under two hours. Where Steel Sword Story aims to please is through its fast-paced action and simple game mechanics that anyone can adjust to. Admittedly, there’s some benefit to keeping things bare, especially when concocting something this small of scale, though it won’t stop people from complaining, anyway. Where Mega Man is regarded as “run and shoot,” Steel Sword Story may as well be “run and swing” (and dodge).
I’ve used the term “fast-paced” for a variety of different games I’ve reviewed, but this game certainly fits the moniker. Playing at 15-25 FPS, I had more leniency in aiming and predicting where my attacks would land and how I could maneuver around enemies. At 60 FPS, it’s a lot more erratic. To some degree, this game is almost like playing Mortal Manor in fast forward. Viewing the trailer for the game gives an idea of what to expect, but there are times where it feels even faster, especially when progressing through levels. Such speed makes the game feel more fluid and immersive, one quality that made me less hesitant to replay the game from the beginning. Frankly, playing the game over with almost maxed attributes was probably the most fun I had with Steel Sword Story.
“Maxed attributes? What kind?” I love that you asked. In Steel Sword Story, subtle RPG elements are incorporated within the gameplay through attributes such as HP, MP, defense, etc. Most of these attributes are increased by collecting items found within the field, though a few are only provided as rewards for defeating bosses (namely offense) or providing collectible gems obtained from killing enemies to shrines (HP and MP). These RPG elements allow Steel Sword Story to play with instances such as hidden treasures and unlockable areas, which provide a little spice to an otherwise straightforward adventure. Hidden areas aren’t particularly hard to find, especially for video game veterans. Most amount to checking areas where a little bit of an opening appears where it shouldn’t.
What also aids a stagnant journey are special equip items that give the player additional abilities. I previously alluded to dodging as a main quality to this game, which comes in the form of a roll-dodge. Acquiring a special item further into the game gives the ability to roll-dodge in mid-air, which not only speeds up gameplay, but makes combat feel more intense. Other items provide double-jumping and combo attacks; nice perks that make gameplay feel more smooth and expansive.
When all is said and done, there’s not much wrong with the gameplay aspects of Steel Sword Story. Simplistic as they are, much of what one will get out of it will depend on a player’s expectations. A short, but sweet journey with a flaccid story and fast-paced combat? It’ll perform for you wonderfully. Mechanically, it nourishes the aspects it provides by doing all it can with such a tiny morsel. A triple-A title, this is not, but it can be something to wind down with if the feeling is right. Steel Sword Story is not difficult by any means, either.
Graphics & Audio
I’ll go ahead and say this every time, but I adore pixel-graphics. Any game with an ample amount of detail with their pixelated picture will often entrance me to some degree. Steel Sword Story‘s degree of quality isn’t the greatest I’ve seen in my time here, though it’s commendable enough seeing as it used an outside engine (Pixel Game Maker MV). However, outside of pixel work, there are little indications of amateurism at work, notably with the special effects. Enemy explosions upon death, casting MP-specific attacks, and some movement aren’t so splendidly contained. It makes it easy to assume this was made through some system that uses some stock material. I enjoyed the variety of different atmospheres with the worlds, but most else was little more than standard fare.
The same can be said about the game’s auditory quality, which also gives some amateurish vibes. Many of the rudimentary actions and sound effects are mostly stock-worthy, and I questioned whether the soundtrack was similarly built. Despite this, I liked a couple tracks from the game, most notably the third world’s slow, eerie tranquility and the final stage’s regal chaos. I wouldn’t call it a recommendable quality, but it asserts itself as something that won’t detract from the game’s immersive qualities… assuming one doesn’t play loads of RPG/Pixel Game Maker titles.