These days, games get so bogged down in their ideas that they lose their central idea. Take Assassin's Creed Valhalla for example. The game is fantastic but is accompanied by an extraordinary amount of filler, and the result is that the percentage of people who made it to the end is shockingly low. Sometimes we crave those linear experiences of the early Xbox days, where the adventure could be consumed in a weekend. Xuan Yuan Sword 7 has now travelled to the west aiming to bring back the gaming days of a bygone era and succeeds tremendously in its ambition.
The series' attempt to capture a western audience feels akin to the Persona and Yakuza franchises, which were both massive in other territories before blowing up in the west in recent years. While Xuan Yuan Sword 7 perhaps doesn't pack the polish and ambition of those titles, it oozes with so much charm that it's hard not to fall in love with it. The best part? You don't need any prior knowledge of the series to dive in here. The story follows Taishi Zhao on a personal story to protect his sister from powers against his control. It blends elements of other games such as God of War and The Last of Us, developing an emotional core that's easy to latch on to.
But what made us fall in love with Xuan Yuan Sword 7 is its lean gameplay. Initially, it presents itself as any other open-world RPG, but it's far more linear than you might expect, and that's not a negative. Instead, it manages to constantly keep the momentum rolling forward, as you venture from town to dungeon, helping locals with their problems and uncovering more of the story. There's very little to distract you from the main path outside of some hidden chests, a couple of side quests and addictive mini-games. It absolutely works in the game's favour.
When you're not exploring the world, you'll be engaging in frantic combat, akin to the God of War series. Enemies have two methods of being taken down, either by completely whittling down their health bar or by filling up their stagger gauge. When you do the latter you can perform a brutal takedown for a quick kill. It's not long before you unlock more martial arts abilities and can tweak your playstyle. It never gets particularly challenging outside of a few boss encounters, but it manages to remain engaging throughout its roughly 13 - 15 hour runtime.
It's not all hacking and slashing though. You'll also spend a bit of time in dungeons doing some platforming and puzzle-solving. While the platforming is nothing spectacular and feels more like unnecessary padding at times, the puzzles are fantastic. They border on being fairly challenging, but not enough to stump you for too long. It's a tight rope to balance but Xuan Yuan Sword 7 does it with ease. You can even skip them entirely if they're proving too difficult.
There are some drawbacks to the experience. The localisation, while a great effort, has room for improvement. Subtitles occasionally disappear without reason, there are a few misspellings, and one annoying Xbox specific issue is them being blocked when somebody appears online or an achievement unlocks. The presentation is also lacking in some instances. Walking animations in cutscenes are very stilted and facial expressions lack any sort of personality. Xuan Yuan Sword 7 clearly doesn't have the biggest budget in the world, so it would be fantastic to see what could be done in the future.
Despite these missteps, Xuan Yuan Sword 7 surprised us with just how fun it was. It harkens back to classic adventure games from the early '00s, filled with all the charm of that era. Sometimes it's refreshing to play a game that knows exactly what it wants to be and accomplishes it with very little getting in the way. While there are some localisation issues, some presentation problems and a lack of challenge in its combat, we do hope Xuan Yuan Sword 7 finds an audience in the west, as it would be a shame not to see how the next entry can build upon these solid foundations.