Review: Saviors of Sapphire Wings
By: Fernando Da Costa
Developer: Codeglue, Experience Inc.
Publisher: Nis America
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC, Playstation Vita (Japan)
The dungeon crawler sub-genre of RPGs is quite frankly underrated. I have regrettably skipped out on a few great titles. I was a snob, afraid to spread my wings into genres I wasn’t familiar with. As I’ve grown, I have opened up. After I played and reviewed Labyrinth of Refrain, the door to dungeon crawlers blew down for me, introducing me to the majesty of first-person exploration.
One thing I’ve noticed about the DRPG genre, in general, is that the environments visually aren’t ever extensive. In fact, I’d be so bold to say the visuals tend to mimic the PlayStation 2 era. That never mattered to me as the gameplay is what excels most in these types of games. Saviors of Sapphire Wings plans to continue that trend. Developed by Experience, it’s my first foray into their games. I’m excited to jump in, so join me in my over-analytical mess of a review.
The narrative begins just before the final confrontation. The Knights of the Round are preparing themselves to exterminate the Dark Overlord. The attempt, however, is futile, and they’re ultimately defeated. An entire century passes before our hero is reincarnated. They’re alone now - that is, apart from a robotic woman named Merlin. Together, your goal is to reform the Knights and once again stand against the Darkness.
Saviors of Sapphire Wings is a journey that’ll take you through various locales: a forest, a desert, a desolate castle, and more. You’ll meet many individuals, each from a different race. As your ranks are bolstered, memories will slither back into your mind. Life before your death gets a bit clearer, motivating everyone to push forward. There will, however, be resistance in this adventure as familiar faces return to aid or oppose. Is our hero destined to repeat history?
One mechanic that’s often used will be is the bonding system. It has a plethora of functions but for this section, I’ll focus on the literary. Relationships are essential to build in Sapphire Wings. Each comrade - known as squires - will have five ranks to upgrade. As their affection grows, you’ll unlock unique events. These are scenarios that‘ll teach you more about a character.
Unfortunately, I thought the interactions were a let-down for the most part. Their personalities didn’t feel pronounced; the banter was often lacking. It’s a bit dry; like a discussion with a robot - and I don’t mean Merlin. Voice-acting is something that would have helped immensely with this problem.
With that said, the individuals themselves were fun. For instance, a certain squire is utterly fascinated by breasts. He’ll spout juvenile nonsense sporadically, such as claiming that a woman with a nice bust demands some recognition. Then there’s a Migmy woman wearing a necklace. The pendant, however, is replaced by a barrel housing the best medicine ever - alcohol. This invokes confusion as she resembles a little girl. There’s a healthy balance of eye-rolls and silliness, with a dash of heartbreak. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t translate to some conversations. The world-building was something I immensely enjoyed. It managed to keep me somewhat intrigued by what would happen next. Though, there are a few instances of predictability.
Otherwise, I believe that there are two core issues. First, the character portraits are usually lifeless, with little expressiveness. So any attempts at emotion typically fail. Whether a shocking revelation or thought-provoking truth, the sprite never reflects that. There was a disconnect between what I saw and read, hurting immersion. Although, there is a bit of a glimmer of that sprinkled throughout.
An example is a bashful princess you recruit early on. Whenever she was flustered, her sprite showed it. She would blush and you could sense her demeanor. That helped me invest in her character. It also left me wondering why the same expression level wasn’t extended to the others. If it were applied with everyone, the quality would be much higher.
Secondly, some puzzles were very obtuse. Any subtle hints to solve them were glossed over. I didn’t struggle with the majority of them, but I do recall one I struggled with specifically. It asked me to input a select word in order to open a gate. I spent an hour running around, searching for the answer but to no avail. Fortunately, the game has a quest log accessed through the pause menu. It recapped the mission and with my poor memory, I appreciate that help. I eventually found the word but not initially. The main reason is that it wasn’t obvious. I had to carefully read as the keyword was not highlighted. While minor, giving specific colors to important words would help call your attention to them.
Grinding almost seems like a prerequisite for an RPG. I couldn’t tell you a game that doesn’t have it to some degree. For those that dislike grinding, I have terrible news. The grind is real and an essential aspect of Saviors of Sapphire Wings. Although, I found it fun, and dare I say that I thought the gameplay loop was addictive.
The aforementioned bonding mechanic is the reason grinding is so prevalent. Another one of its purposes is to protect against The Dark Overlord’s ultimate ability. You’ll do this by ensuring a great relationship with all of the characters. If you don’t, everyone will be charmed, turning against the nameless hero and killing them. It’s absolutely vital to nurture bonds. Fortunately, it’s a simple task to do. After a battle victory, any member of your party gains a small boost to their soul gauge. If they manage to reach Rank 5, they’ll gain a secondary class as well. Being close will open up a wider range of magical skills to learn.
There is further reason to focus on the gauge, as it grants union points. These are determined by the sum of everyone’s affection rank. In other words, if two squires each have third rank, then the UP is six. TThese points' significance is to make use of special abilities unique to the hero. Working on improving the gauge is vital - I can not stress this enough. Most of the features revolve around this single mechanic. It is of utmost importance not to ignore it. Despite the poor banter, having to grind isn’t as arduous as I expected and is certainly doable.
One thing I noticed was a sudden difficulty spike. During a particular boss fight, I was rarely able to get in any hits. I’d go as far as to lower the beast’s dodge but it didn’t matter. Thankfully, a union skill assured a guaranteed bulls-eye. I, however, didn’t have enough UP to finish the boss off and ended up losing anyway. Those mediocre relationships with my squires came back to bite me. If you don’t favor grinding, switching difficulties will mean a lower health bar for all enemies. I really have to stress that isn’t a solution as it will wane. It also hinders what I loved the most - precisely that grinding.
I’m not entirely sure why a simplistic loop is so fun but it is. Of course, I’m the weirdo that loves watching numbers go up. The damage output, attack and other stats, how armament affects my strength. It’s fantastic, though I wasn’t a fan of the level system - not at first anyway. With each increase, your character gains a single skill point to allocate to wherever you’d like. I didn’t like my defense ignored in favor of my attack. That was limiting because I had to focus on only one. I had to make myself vulnerable for more power. The absence of tougher skin meant one-shot kills. Even when I adjusted equipment to compensate for the disparity, cheap deaths continued to occur. At least with the ability to save wherever, I happily took risks and didn’t mind it much.
Grinding is also the only method to obtain stronger equipment. With the aid of “Trap Points”, you can bait monsters with food. As a fight begins, they are accompanied by chests. The weapons found this way won’t be given to you with a name. They are instead locked with a curse that only lifts as you walk out of the dungeon. I loved this because of the surprise. For those wondering, there are shops where equipment is sold. However, what I found randomly far surpassed them. I enjoyed this part as it was a joy striving for a better piece of armament. I also adored seeing how easily my new sword sliced through foes. If I got something weaker than what I possessed, I could melt it, which would contribute to a meter that would make future findings stronger. It was that constant loop that enticed and hooked me.
There are even further avenues to increase affection. At a certain point early on, you gain access to what becomes your home base. Our protagonist will have their own room, to which various activities can take place. They’ll be able to: speak to squires, eat with them, or reincarnate each one, as well as yourself.
I’ll touch on that later but for now, it’s feeding time. Each one has a favorite dish that’ll delight them. To learn this, every squire has a profile that lists what an individual likes. If you pay attention to this, the return is immense. The issue here is profiles are a menu separate to the one that lists the treats. To get between both, you need to navigate more menus to see their preference. It quickly gets repetitious. A heart or some sort of symbol could’ve been placed by the preferred food item. It’s such a small quality of life change but would mitigate the tedium of a game already drowning in menus. Speaking of which, I’m not sure how to feel about items being buried behind another, you guessed it, menu.
Time to discuss reincarnation. It’s as the name suggests - the character is reborn. Once reincarnated, you can customize the character to your liking; their class, skill point allocation, name, and various other options. One of these will be the shape of their souls. By interchanging this, their base stats alter. If you switch back to the soul you began with, any points accrued with it are remembered. Saviors of Sapphire Wings encourages experimentation to find that sweet spot. Although, I can easily see this feature being exploited and the best soul being continuously chosen. Still, having the option is nice and for those that want a challenge, there is fun to be had.
As stated in my introduction, the graphical fidelity isn’t strenuous. Stuttering isn’t a problem and it seems Saviors of Sapphire Wings runs at 30 FPS. There’s an option in battle to automate commands based on the previous turn. This speeds up combat immensely and as such, it would be fair to assume problems would arise. I am happy to report I abused it constantly and saw nothing of the sort.
While environmentally, I wasn’t impressed with what I saw, the sprite work was well-done. There are instances of CG’s that I found absolutely beautiful, and the hand-drawn nature of the backgrounds was eye candy. It really painted a picture of a calm and serene pasture or an empty and dark wasteland. Monsters were also well done and there is quite a surprising amount of them.
If you enjoyed the initial Japanese release and are nostalgic for it, then I’ve got good news. There’s an option to choose either the original or remastered soundtrack. I personally settled for the latter and I was impressed. The instrumentals were great and pleasant to listen to. If there was one thing to complain about, it’s that I never felt the music manipulated my emotions. Usually, with tracks, they’re used to boost a scene's intended feeling. If it’s meant to be sad, it’ll play somber tunes that’ll invoke a reaction from you. From the many hours I played, I never felt that happen. While the music is excellent, it’s also missing something to tie the sound to the scene.
Saviors of Sapphire Wings is addictive but is marred by the flawed narrative. While I found myself intrigued at points, there were equal moments that had me not caring about what was happening. The banter between characters could have been fleshed out and given more personality. That said, I did like some of the characters and their designs. There’s a nice balance of silly and eye-rolling that these niche titles bring along. I never felt the juvenile parts overstayed their welcome either.
Those that dislike grinding may want to pass. Saviors of Sapphire Wings demands that you battle it out. What really helped it was all the mechanics in the entirety of the game seem to feed into each other. The bond system controls special events, feeding your comrades, withstanding the Dark Overlord’s penultimate attack, and so much more. Having to hunt down to acquire the best equipment was addictive. Even if you stumbled on a weak weapon, most games want you to sell it off. This game takes those throwaways and allows you to use them to strengthen your better armaments. It incentivized the grind, and that was what clicked with me.
I recommend Saviors of Sapphire Wings. If you find that you’re more into gameplay than the story, then this title is for you. I personally favor the other way around but I still had tons of fun. The way the mechanics married into each other was satisfying. As for the second title in this bundle, I‘ll review that at a later date.
*Many Thanks to NIS America for providing a Nintendo Switch copy for the purposes of this review.