Xuan Yuan Sword: The Gate of Firmament has made its way to Xbox One with very little promotion leading to release. That alone is surprising, seeing as it marks the first in the series to be localized in English, grouped with the fact that Xuan Yuan Sword is said to be an epic RPG series with a staggering 25 years of history behind it. Surprisingly, it took all of 25 seconds to see why the developer and publisher decided to stealth unleash this onto the Xbox Store, but we’ll get to that shortly. The meat of any RPG rests heavily on its story, and whilst The Gate of Firmament does indeed prove to be interesting to begin with, it’s sadly squandered thereafter.
The game throws you into the role of Sikong Yu, a man whose sole purpose is to defend the Youxiong village. Throughout the initial phases of the game you’ll slowly be introduced to new characters and party members, each coming with their own agendas and backstory. The overarching plot rests on an ancient tale. This tale tells of a heavenly Emperor that forced open the gates of Heaven in an attempt to locate his lost daughter, granting mortals who had gained access to Heaven divine powers in return for their aid. The Emperor’s plan backfired when the mortal world became embroiled in turmoil, bringing chaos and misery to the common folk.
Following pleas and desperation, the Queen of Huaxu forcibly closed the gate shut again, but this action didn’t come without consequence. With the gate now shut, no one could gain access to Heaven through the gate. In turn, no god could descend to the mortal world, isolating Heaven and Earth. Through the natural passage of time, the mortal realm suffered conflict and further disaster over the claims to rule. This ancient story goes on to be known as The Great Sundering. I wont spoil too much of the current timeline plot for you, but the primary meat of the matter sees you teaming up with other characters to bring down a mysterious being and his violent followers.
The story of Xuan Yuan Sword: The Gate of Firmament is fascinating to begin with. Though as aforementioned it swiftly loses its grip for a number of reasons. It’s like grabbing the bait, but wondering where the hell the hook is. The first major issue is the localisation. This game suffers massively as a result due to poor translation. Countless times throughout play did I have to swiftly decode whatever the dialogue was trying to spin, which falls to poor spelling and poor grammar. Whoever was in charge of localisation clearly didn’t do a great job, and has inadvertently made a lore-rich game very tough to digest.
The problems with this game are not exclusive to the story, but the design and optimization too. The moment I was able to control the protagonist I was greeted with more than enough reasons to foresee this game in a digital bargain bin. The transition from gameplay to cutscene (and vice-versa) is disgustingly shoddy. There’s a lot of unintentional flashing when the game is trying to move from one phase to the next, showcasing nothing but its cheap design. On top of that, each and every NPC is floating half a foot from the ground. It’s not even a subtle issue because you can clearly see their shadows not connecting with their feet. Not only does this prove to be distracting, but everyone seems to be ice skating in their animations.
I cant even say that I can commend the visuals, because this is yet another example of crappy development. In terms of presentation, this game isn’t too dissimilar to Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom. However with that being said, the visuals in Shiness are much more impressive than the bland visuals in The Gate of Firmament. The dated visuals look as though they would have been more fitting for an early Xbox 360 title. I appreciate that a game shouldn’t be heavily judged by its graphics, but for a series that’s 25 years old, you would expect better than this. The – at times – consistently frequent and lengthy cutscenes have much more going for them in this regard, but you’ll have seen equal quality in titles such as Dead or Alive Ultimate.
Mercifully the map and level design isn’t as lacking and offers up some solid environments to traverse. There’s a good deal of variation going on here, with the game constantly treating the player to new sights and surroundings. It would have been nice to see the maps more populated with NPCs and meaningful content, but the structure of each area is well set. Unfortunately there are some issues that I ran into here, including drops in framerate, texture delay, and bugs that will either stick you in place or drop you through the map. The whole experience just rapidly declines from the get-go, and the shame in all of this is that RPGs on Xbox One are few and far between. No doubt many fans of the genre will race to this game like a moth to a flame, only to be sorely disappointed.
The actual gameplay is fairly straight forward and easy to understand, even with the poor localisation in mind. You’re typically tasked with collecting a band of main objectives and side quests from an NPC that never tends to be too far from sight. You can pull up a screen filling map to see all of the activities in your immediate area, or access the menu screens to filter your missions. The game comes with a simplistic crafting system that allows you to buy and unlock new recipes and use gathered materials to create items. Combat is equally as fluid, though may prove to be too easy going by the genre standards. Each character can utilize physical and magical attacks, but the battles don’t really push much innovation or difficulty forward. Most of the battles that I engaged with were quite simple to overcome, leaving much to be desired.
Battles play out in real time and each character does indeed handle uniquely. Attacks can be chained together for maximum damage, and once you get further into the game you can close a lengthy chain with an additional powerful attack. Drawing back to my issue with the combat, I wasn’t completely satisfied with the enemy competition. Despite the wide range of attacks that my party could dish out in rapid succession, enemy attacks didn’t seem to be as deadly. I wont deny that I bit the proverbial dust a few times over, but I never truly felt afraid of what the opponent could do if I got too close or too cocky. Much like Shiness, characters can use special abilities outside of battle. This comes in handy for when you’re solving one of the many thought provoking dungeon puzzles within.
One aspect of the game that I enjoyed quite a lot was the monster taming mechanic. Aqi, your companion piglet, is able to capture monsters via the urn on his back. These monsters can then be used for range of different things. Monsters can bump-up item stats to aid characters in battle, and more interestingly, they can be merged with other monsters or items to make stronger variants. These monsters can be called out in battle for additional damage output, as well as using them for formation stat boosts. What’s especially annoying about this section of the game is that so much effort has gone into it. The monster system is easily one of the most alluring and defining aspects of The Gate of Firmament, which is almost entirely let down by everything else that the game fails to live up to.
Another fair addition to the game goes to the soundtrack, which sets the theme and tone of the adventure nicely, though again this can be hit and miss throughout. I only wish that more effort had gone into each corner of the development process, because if The Gate of Firmament has anything, it’s wasted potential. The story only remains interesting to begin with, which is further hindered by poor character development throughout. The bugs that are present surely couldn’t have been missed during QA, which leads me to believe that this game has been rushed out ahead of the major releases of 2018. If that wasn’t enough to drag this game down, try adding poor UI on top of all of that. UI that is needlessly confusing and tedious to navigate. I’ll once again point out that Xbox One lacks RPG games, but this is certainly one that I wouldn’t have missed if it flew on by.
Xuan Yuan Sword: The Gate of Firmament is bait without a hook. Everything from the visuals to the several elements of play remains shoddy and poorly presented throughout. The story is interesting to begin with, but even this is let down in the long run by crappy localisation. It certainly doesn’t help that the game is riddled with bugs, wonky animation, and a general lack of polish.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.