I found Sword of the Vagrant on a list of hidden gems during a Youtube video, and the graphics style left me greatly impressed. Highly reminiscent of Vanillaware's style (Dragon's Crown, Murumasa) I looked it up and was slightly disappointed to see it was a digital-only title released all teh way back in 2017. I kept it on my want list in case it made the sales, but shortly afterwards a physical copy was announced via Red Art Games, and I decided to pounce on it.
Yet another in a long line of "Metroidvania" games (Deedlit's Wonder Labyrinth was similar and also physically released by Red Art Games) Sword of the Vagrant sees your character, the well-endowed sell-sword Vivian, caught up in a demonic plot that will see you fighting your way across numerous kingdoms in the search for her family and answers to her past. The various locales include forests, dungeons, mountains and even the underworld, all of which will require you to constantly upgrade your items and skills to survive.
Essentially a hack-and-slash exploration game, Sword of the Vagrant relies on its stylised designs to stand out from the crown. Typically these games are designed with a pixel-art aesthetic which gives them a retro quality, but developer O.T.K Games instead opted for a beautifully rendered and very details modern style which makes it look much more "current gen" than most titles of its ilk.
The game is relatively short, I managed to get to the final boss in just three evening play sessions, but I had a blast with it each time I turned on the Switch. As this genre is so ubiquitous nowadays, everything plays exactly as you'd expect it to. You can buy or find new armour and weapons, which can be upgraded using Runes. You'll earn both gold and mana as you play, the former allowing you to trade with merchants, the latter handling your ability to upgrade both items and your own stats via a cobweb of abilities found in the menu.
Potions can give you stat buffs, and you can purchase recipes from "battle chefs" that allow you to make meals that will boost your stats permanently until you craft a replacement meal.
The management of these elements allows the game to feel fairly deep, though ultimately you're really just exploring screen after screen of baddies and treasure chests in a bid to take down the last big bad.
Controls are easy to pick up - three attack buttons, one to jump, one to dodge and another to quickly swill potions, it's a doddle to get to grips with. Your attacks come in standard, heavy and rage, the latter taking chunks out of your Rage Bar when utilised, and you can assign new Rage attacks in the menu as you unlock them. Combat always seemed fair to me, with attack patterns being consistent and hit-boxes easy to work with. If I have any gripes it would be the lack of a directional attack (difficult to fight anything directly above you without using Rage) and the ability to drop off a ledge by pressing down and jump, but that's probably only because I'm so used to it.
Ultimately Sword of the Vagrant relies on its looks and inherent charm to make it stand out from the crowd, especially as it has no license to prop it up like Lodoss War or Demon Lord. Happily the game is thoroughly gorgeous throughout, with charming characters and an intriguing (if not entirely original) plot.
The pre-orders came with a small 40-page design works booklet that showcases some of the characters, backgrounds and item assets created for the game. By far the most interesting part was the unused asset section, but in an ideal world I'd have liked to have seen some of the original sketches in a larger format than available here. It's a nice curio, but don't be too sad if you miss out on it.
For a game that's now 6 years old, this physical re-release may be coming back to a market now crowded with similar games, but the graphical finesse and charm still make it well worth playing all these years later.