There’s nothing like a little dungeon delving to get the blood pumping, especially when you’re doing it to save a fallen friend with a sword that can resurrect the dead. What’s more is that you can use that sword to resurrect any monsters you’ve slain, basically giving you the powers of a necromancer. On the surface that sounds pretty cool, but the question is how well it works in execution.
Sword of the Necromancer tells the story of Tama, a former rogue, who is tasked with escorting the priestess Koko around the continent. During their travels Koko dies and Tama takes her body to the Necromancer’s crypt where she learns there might be a way to bring Koko back to life. Tama receives the titular Sword of the Necromancer which has the ability to resurrect the dead, but it’s not powerful enough yet to bring Koko back. Tama then heads into the crypt in an attempt to make the sword more powerful so that it might resurrect Koko. There are a lot of cut scenes represented with still shots and are fully voice acted that fleshes out the story more, talking about Tama’s past and the friendship between the two.
Sword of the Necromancer is a roguelike dungeon crawler with elements of games like Vertical Drop Heroes. You begin your trek through the five randomly generated floors of the dungeon while collecting items and defeating enemies. Each floor has a boss at the end and once you defeat it you can either return to the hub area at the start of the dungeon or press on. However, death can be very penalizing as when you die you lose any items you had on you outside of the titular Sword of the Necromancer, your experience levels drop (I believe it’s by half), and you have to restart the dungeon from scratch. Once you either die a couple of times or complete the optional tutorial you’ll unlock a new Game Settings menu where you can turn off a lot of those modifiers. On a personal note I highly recommend you do this for your first time through the game as things can get pretty difficult rather quickly.
So what makes this Sword of the Necromancer so special anyway? Well much like a Necromancer you can bring things back to life, but as it’s not powerful enough to bring humans back to life you’ll have to settle for the monsters you’ll slay throughout the dungeon. This is a pretty nice concept, in theory. Each monster you face moves and attacks differently and requires different strategies to defeat. Once you defeat a monster you can move next to it and activate the Sword to resurrect the monster. The good news is that monster can now be summoned to fight by your side and the more it fights and defeats other monsters, the more it’ll gain experience, rank up, and improve its own stats. The bad news is that monster takes up one of your three available item slots mapped to three of the four face buttons on a standard controller (the fourth face button is the Sword and you can’t unequip it), so you have to use strategy on whether to have an item equipped that will help you out, or to have a monster equipped to battle next to you. The worse news is that a lot of the monsters aren’t worth using for one particular reason: they’re not that great at attacking enemies.
I mentioned that the monster resurrection idea was great in theory, but the execution is kind of lacking. Some of the monsters are great to use such as the wizards that can sling spells around, the Dolohan knights that move slowly but can tank a couple of hits, and sprinsioners who wield a ball and chain and are invulnerable to damage while spinning. However, a lot of the monsters either don’t move that quickly or tend to run around the room randomly instead of staying where there are actually enemies to fight. It got to the point where I had a couple of monster types that I liked using and were pretty good in battle, and the rest I just basically ignored. They’re not all bad but a lot just aren’t worth using up that precious equipment slot. Thankfully you do have a four-slot extra bag on you that you can store items in and there’s a chest back in the main hub where you can store a couple dozen items that you don’t need at the moment and won’t go away if you die.
There are several types of items you can find such as stat boosting items, spells, and even different weapons. However, there are so many different items you can get and only a few chests on each floor that in several runs through each floor throughout my time playing I only got two spells. In terms of weapons, I rarely got one I got some use out of, though you can improve weapons in the main hub. You can find a lot of ingredients used to upgrade weapons and give them different perks, but each weapon can only have four perks and you can’t remove them so you have to carefully choose which ones you want to use. These range from elemental resistance to giving you more mana or life (the main Sword already has four perks and can’t be altered). You can do a basic three-hit combo with the Sword of the Necromancer but if you have other weapons equipped you can combo into a hit with that weapon. There is one fall back I found to most of the weapons, though, and it ties into my main nitpick with the game: at no point did I feel Tama was actually leveling up.
Each enemy you defeat gives you experience points, and after reaching so many you’ll level up and some stat will increase, be it attack, defense, magic, or an extra mana or life point. On the surface that seems fine except even when my attack reached around three or four, I was still doing only one point of damage to most enemies. Now you could say that it’s because I’m getting deeper into the dungeon and the enemies have more defense. I’d be okay with that if it wasn’t for the fact that since the dungeons are randomly generated each time you go through a floor, so are the enemies and you’ll often see the same enemies between floors. While there are color variants that, I’d guess, represent different levels of difficulty (if you’ve played the original Legend of Zelda, this would be like enemies having red and blue versions), it’s still random which enemies you get each time through. I might be overanalyzing it, but it just seemed like I was never actually getting stronger.
Then there are the bosses who, once you know how they work are rather kind of simple, at least the first few anyway. For the most part I enjoyed the boss fights, though a couple can be rather tedious because whenever you get an opportunity to hit them, you only have a chance to get in one, maybe two hits before you have to back off and wait a bit before your next opening. Again, not difficult, just tedious. I’ve also had scenarios where I’m fighting a boss and it basically runs over me and kills me instantly because there are very few, if any invincibility frames when getting hit. I won’t spoil the final bosses, but while still not overly difficult, they were enjoyable in that they kept you on your toes the entire time. That’s kind of what the bosses are like: some keep you moving and are pretty well paced, and the others let you get in a hit or two before making you wait a bit for the next opportunity.
I’ve been nitpicking a lot with the game but there is quite a bit to praise about it as well, namely the story and the cut scenes. As stated earlier, the story is played out with voiced cut scenes over still shots and text and it’s honestly one of—if not the—best part of the game. I learned part way through just why this game was rated M thanks to these cut scenes, but they’re very well done and voice acted and they have a habit of hitting you right in the feels a few times. Seeing Tama and Koko’s friendship grow throughout the story was different in what happens by the end, but at the same time I enjoyed it and it actually got me wanting to see how it played out. Granted a lot of it is kind of there for fluff and the more you die and have to replay floors of the dungeon the more you’ll see. Then there’s the soundtrack which is pretty good with a few tracks being downright awesome.
In the end, Sword of the Necromancer was fun, but definitely not perfect. Needing different strategies to take out the monsters is nice, but summoning the monsters yourself is hit or miss when it comes to how effective they’ll be. A couple of the bosses do require some strategy while others are just hit it once or twice, run away, get back in, hit it again, and repeat, being more tedious than strategic. While Tama does level up as you gain experience it never really feels like she’s actually getting stronger, though that may just be the monsters on higher floors having more defense. For 15 dollars the game’s not too bad, though if you plan to get it on Steam you might want to shell out a few more dollars for the soundtrack because the music in this game is pretty dang good.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.