Cover image of Xuan-Yuan Sword Mists Beyond The Mountains

Xuan-Yuan Sword: Mists Beyond the Mountains – Review

Xuan-Yuan Sword: Mists Beyond the Mountains has been a test of my patience. Upon first booting the game I was assaulted by ugly-looking cutscenes, substandard translation with spelling errors, and a UI that feels ancient and unresponsive. But, scratch beyond those initial hours and something surprising was hidden within.

I hadn’t heard of the Xuan-Yuan series much before but it is a long-running RPG series hailing from China starting in 1990. It continues up to the present day with Xuan-Yuan VII but is only just now making the leap into foreign markets. This game is a release of Xuan-Yuan Sword III from 1999. A fact I was not privy to going in.

Septem and Nicole first meet - Xuan-Yuan Sword

I was hit with an initial wave of confusion seeing the PS1-style 3D cutscenes setting up the story. All of them look like Vaseline had been smeared all over it. After learning of the game’s heritage later, I looked at them again and realised that these were the original cutscenes (which would have looked impressive in their day) only upscaled so much that in an attempt to anti-alias them. They had used many smoothing filters and it became a distorted mess. Which is a shame because the 2D art is quite quaint.

The overworld is displayed in an isometric view with chibi characters which are beautifully animated. The majority of the story takes place switching to a 2D battle screen with active time battle for the fight encounters in typical JRPG fashion. The artwork switches to a more hand-drawn aesthetic with realistic proportions and along with the character profiles that pop up in conversation, these imitate Chinese watercolour paintings.

the gang battle demons in a cave, fron Xuan-Yuan sword MBtM - Xuan-Yuan Sword

Xuan-Yuan Sword: MBtM puts you in the shoes of Septem, a knight of mixed heritage for the Kingdom of the Franks (a proto-France). It’s 749 AD and Septem is looking for passage out of Venice but the city is under the enforcement of the Templar Knights. The Knights are under the command of your oldest friend/love rival Miles, and the Church has gone full xenophobe and declared anyone who isn’t local to be a heretic and to be burned at the stake.

After freeing some Arabian sailors who agree to give you passage, Septem finds an old man who uses the power of Satan to give you your first party member, a demon called Nicole.

I was taken aback by the narrative whiplash I received from this. I had just spent an hour in a relatively grounded and historical world fulfilling tasks for the city folk and getting into the occasional scraps with knights and now I’m dealing with an adolescent demon and monsters are attacking.

These moments are littered throughout Septem’s journey which goes from Italy to China. Within the next hour, you’re engaged in a naval battle when a freaking moving island is summoned! Then your rivalry with Miles causes him to go what I can only describe as “Full Griffith”.

Nicole and Septem talk to Statues on a map of the Earth. The statues respond - Xuan-Yuan Sword

Throughout Septem’s journey, you will visit different countries and towns, meet new party members, temporary and permanent and have run-ins with recurring advisories. Your typical classic RPG fare. There are also some secret bosses.

However, for what is boasted as “one of the most popular RPGs in Chinese-speaking areas” it has been given some very sloppy treatment.

First up is the most egregious and that’s the localisation. Xuan-Yuan Sword: MBtM is littered with bad translation, substandard grammar and sentence structure. It’s not so bad that you won’t understand the story but it’s just enough that you’ve got to spend a second rereading dialogue to process it. There were times as well I was lost in the main plot as although there was a journal I had missed a crucial point in the dialogue.

the gang battle demons in a forest - Xuan-Yuan Sword

Xuan-Yuan Sword: MBtM also doesn’t like to explain game mechanics. You see, Septem carries around a pot which he got as an heirloom. This is the “Spirit Fusion Pot” from previous Xuan-Yuan Swordgames. With this, you can catch monsters in battle very much like Pokémon, but then doesn’t say what I can do with them. They mention spirit mixing, which I did have a look at but my initial experimenting only gave me cheap consumables so I thought it a waste.

It was only during my research for Xuan-Yuan Sword: MBtM and watching a Chinese speedrun that I discovered YOU COULD SUMMON THEM DURING BATTLE! This helped greatly with the next point I had.

Xuan-Yuan Sword: MBtM commits one of the greatest cardinal sins of RPGs and gaming. The game is a cakewalk…. Until it isn’t.

a good old public burning at the stake of 'heretics' from Xuan-Yuan Sword MBtM

Normal battles are trivial and a pushover, the battles even have an auto-battle button which I pressed more than once. Bosses, however, have their difficulty so ramped up it causes no end of frustration. They just become a battle of attrition with you burning through items and healing spells or you could spend an ungodly time grinding exp from surrounding mobs.

Another quibble I had was some of the side quests. You have your standard get “x” item, but a lot of them require real historical facts from the area you are in or for some people even worse advanced mathematical problems. My headcanon suggests this was to give the game enough content to class it as “educational” but without finding any corroborating evidence this is just a theory, a game theo…

Septem and a small Arabian group talk on a beach by a dock - Xuan-Yuan Sword

The UI felt very “RPG maker”, but as this was a game from 1999 I am willing to give this a pass as this was probably the type of game RPG maker was trying to emulate. The music was mixed equally as well with some nice original tracks, but all too often I recognised some commonplace stock music.

Xuan-Yuan Sword: MBtM was a game that was easy to hate but I hated that I loved it. It frustrated me no end. I was complaining to my fellow reviewers about it but I still saw it through to the end. At first, I told myself it was “my journalistic integrity” but it was actually that I was enjoying the journey.

Would I recommend it, though? Unfortunately no. Xuan-Yuan Sword: MBtM is half-baked as it stands. With a more thorough translation and some serious balancing, this could have been a nice little (if a bit niche) product, but for now, I think it’s only Xuan-Yuan Sword completionists.

Published by: Eastasiasoft Limited

Developed by: Softstar Entertainment Inc.

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows





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