Let’s explore the appeal of hack ’n’ slash gameplay in the world of eroge by playing Magical Swordmaiden, an isometric game reminiscent of cult classics.
Magical Swordmaiden is a hack 'n' slash developed by LunaSoft, where you assume the role of the novice adventurer, Riru, as she faces hordes of monsters using might, magic, and the support of her friends. Originally, this game was released overseas in January of 2020 as Magic & Slash - Riru's Sexy Grand Adventure - by MangaGamer, and then re-released in December of the same year on Steam by Kagura Games as Magical Swordmaiden.
The story of Magical Swordsmaiden follows an adventuring apprentice, Riru, and her master, Tanya, as they depart to Tanya’s home village, where a forest has sprung up overnight, attracting nearby monsters. The game also shows how orcs made a pact with a mysterious necromancer, who is seeking to slay an ancient dragon, a fact unbeknownst to the two. The task falls upon Riru and her friends to investigate the mystery behind the forest’s sudden growth and halt the necromancer’s plans.
The storyline of Magical Swordmaiden is fairly generic, but well-executed, providing an enjoyable, albeit unsurprising adventure. Distinguishing itself from other classical fantasy stories, Magical Swordmaiden takes more of a dip into the slice-of-life genre, focusing on the daily lives of adventurers in its established fantasy world during the earlier chapters of the game. As the game continues, the focus steadily shifts more towards the fight against black magic.
The main foil for the game's narrative direction is the protagonist, the apprentice adventurer, Riru, and her master, Tanya. At the beginning of the game, the two meet up with Tanya's brother, Luis, who runs an inn in their hometown. The girls use the inn as a base of operations, where they’re later joined by Tanya’s other acquaintances: her childhood friend, Sophie, and a magic specialist she met during her travels, Mimi. !!
The team spends a lot of time during their downtime pondering on the local mystery, giving time for Tanya to impart her knowledge on the art of adventuring unto the still-learning Riru. Just as often, though, the team finds themselves in situations where little else can be gained from overthinking the mystery at hand. In those circumstances, the group instead spends their meals talking about life in general, letting the player learn about the pasts of each team member and the events that brought them together.
These events are retroactive in nature, offering a window into the game’s world and the character’s daily lives. While I didn’t predict that the story would go in this direction, the game benefits a lot from it. Aside from being a unique approach, it also avoids focusing too much on the main necromancer plot, which, while solid, is predictable and laden with tropes you’ve likely already seen before.
The characters and the dynamics between them do a lot of heavy lifting for the game’s narrative. As the protagonist, Riru can be shy at times, but she’s ambitious and driven: this task will be the first she does mostly on her own, setting her up for a challenge filled with uncertainty. Tanya is a selfish tomboy, but despite that, she holds a lot of respect for others, and as the story progresses, she'll have to come to terms with Riru maturing as an adventurer. Early in the game, the team is joined by the quiet and worrisome Mimi, who brings her own baggage to unload and explore. Tanya’s brother, Luis, serves mainly as the male actor in the game’s erotic scenes, but even he gets to participate in dialogue and firmly establish his own presence. Sadly, the remaining town locals serve as little more than window dressing. Sophie’s presence is very short-lived, while the other characters are there just to offer sidequests, of which there aren’t many.
To complete any tasks imposed upon Riru and solve the mystery at large, you'll have to venture out to the now-wild surroundings of the village. Just as in most hack 'n' slash games, to move and attack opponents, you'll only need to point and click on the screen. There’s no option to split movements and attacks between keyboard and mouse, but you can freeze Riru in place by holding shift, ensuring that you won’t run to your death by misclicking with a ranged weapon in hand.
Aside from using her primary weapon, Riru can also wield up to six active abilities at a time. There are fifty-six skills to choose from, split evenly between two classes: melee and caster. Seeing as you can't unequip a skill on cooldown, Magical Swordmaiden demands that you plan out your arrangements carefully. This may seem daunting at first, but your skill tree can be reset very cheaply, with all invested points being refunded back to you. As such, experimentation comes easily and with little consequence. You can even swap between the two classes on a whim by teleporting back to your room at any time, although they do have to be leveled up separately.
The differences between the two classes are something that's distinct and well-pronounced. Melee Riru gets up and personal with her enemies, meaning that how well she does depends on how well-equipped she is. There’s little you can do when all enemies are in the range of a hug, so your build will either pass the endurance test against enemies or stumble completely. Magician Riru is much more vulnerable, but also extremely mobile. Good use of her skill set to manipulate enemy hordes can reward you with a victory against opponents well above your level, but it won’t come easily.
What the Magical Swordmaiden gains in class and skill variety, it sadly loses in the variety of gameplay itself. While slaying monsters, it soon came to my attention that the game's level design consists of a set of corridors. Some are more winding or maze-like than others, but there’s nothing to gain from exploring them since the game doesn’t even feature loot chests. The gameplay is all about killing hordes of enemies, and only that. This causes the repetitiveness typical of the genre to come to light sooner than usual, which is compounded by the game's handling of difficulty.
When first starting the game, you can only choose between easy and normal, neither of which provides a challenge. Even on normal mode, Riru seems extremely overpowered. You'll likely get through enemies without sweating, and only die if your equipment breaks at the worst possible moment, or if you forget to keep track of your healing potions. The first playthrough will still take about ten hours, and during that time, I died about six times. Despite that, I never felt compelled to learn anything about the game's more intricate mechanics, as nothing beyond mindlessly holding LMB seemed to matter. It's only after you complete your first run through the game, though, that you can raise the game's difficulty up to nightmare, and after completing that, hell.
The later difficulty modes live up to their names by reducing the effectiveness of Riru’s defenses, as well as giving enemies random modifiers, which can range from elemental resistances to auras, buffs, and attack properties. While on normal mode most monsters appeared to be reskins of one another, their increased firepower and additional modifiers made me pay attention to their behaviors and properties and compelled me to devise thoughtful strategies using the tools I've had access to.
In my experience, that was when it felt like the game truly began, but here’s the thing: I left my caster class at level 3, and only started using it on nightmare with no issues. Sure, she likely wouldn't get far on the hell difficulty, but the game's equivalent of hard was still accessible to an unleveled character and proved much more fun by offering a fair challenge. I don't believe that there’s any mechanical reason for the game to keep its harder difficulties from being accessible at the start. Unfortunately, instead of being able to choose my own poison, I was forced to spend ten hours with the game before I got to the really fun part.
Thankfully, there’s still plenty to find in repeat playthroughs of Magical Swordmaiden. The game’s loot seems to scale with character level, which I managed to max out in the middle of my second run. It's around then that legendary items with wild effects become regular drops. Some of them might even completely change how certain abilities work, giving you access to all-new playstyles. At the same time, the increased difficulty brought my attention to the game’s inner workings. I’d become much more interested in refining my items by re-rolling their properties and soon found out that the game also provides decent explanations on what purpose all of Riru’s stats serve. As is often the case, you can’t directly learn the exact math behind the attacks, but I nonetheless found the act of making an informed character build in Magical Swordmaiden easier than in many other games I’ve played.
The new game plus mode isn't without any faults though; the option to skip cutscenes doesn’t work on most of them, making the runs slightly annoying to repeat, especially in the intro sequence. Aside from that, the game's sidequests can't be repeated in subsequent playthroughs, which further robs the game of much-needed variety on replays.
The problems the game has with variety also carries over into its adult content, which features two types of erotic encounters, both of which seldom take place. It's established early in the story that monsters tend to abuse adventurers they defeat, but despite this, there’s only six such scenes in the game: two per act, for the first three acts. One nice touch is that these scenes are purely optional, as they have to be selected on the game over screen, meaning that if these specific scenes aren't to your taste, you can skip them easily.
Aside from that, Riru can find embryos when defeating enemies. She can use these items to create familiars, but the ritual to do so requires her to make love with a man. In this case, the only one at hand is Luis. There are eight scenes with him, with Riru’s class affecting what outfit she wears and slightly impacting her personality, with her caster class being more bashful than the melee class. How many of these you see in a single playthrough determines the ending, somewhat tying them to RNG. Scenarios with Luis are more interesting and varied than the bestiality scenarios, but the embryos needed to see the former scenes don’t appear very often. On top of that, I found the setup needed to justify those scenes too contrived to be engaging. In the case of Magical Swordmaiden eroticism comes as a far second to the gameplay.
The game’s visuals are something of a mixed bag. The game's use of pixel art is largely unappealing; the character sprites clash against the background as if they were made for a different game, and animate with an unnatural stiffness. What's worse, is that the game's combat can an illegible mess, as Riru becomes covered by swaths of huge monsters, magical explosions, and colorful auras. There were times where I was blindly using skills from within my rotation, while not being exactly sure about what's happening on the screen. At the very least, the game manages to capture the feeling of an adventure, highlighting distinct and increasingly more fantastic locales, but even then it struggles with to follow through on the execution. While grand in concept, most areas are usually barren corridors that stretch on for long enough to become boring.
At the same time, the erotic artwork used in the game is undeniably of higher quality, with proper anatomy, interesting angles, and a good sense of depth overall. As for the game’s music, the songs are fitting of the locations they play in and are inoffensive enough to fade into the background while you grind away at armies of monsters. There's also partial Japanese voice acting for the lead heroines, which helps give them distinct personalities. Sadly, I can't praise the game's sound effects, as in many cases, there aren't even any. There's plenty of audible explosions as you use your skills, but even the basic act of running doesn't make any sounds, and locations lack a sort of ambiance outside their dedicated tracks.
Despite the occasional complaints, I had my fun with Lunasoft's Magical Swordmaiden. The game is initially a colorful power fantasy, offering you a multitude of ways to effortlessly blast apart hordes of monsters, while you experience a wholesome fantasy story about an adventurer coming into her own. As you continue playing after your initial run, the game begins to bite back and challenges you to understand its mechanics, as it attempts to keep you engaged without being able to rely on its storytelling to hold your interest.
Magical Swordmaiden stands out among other eroge titles by offering an adult experience in a rarely seen gameplay genre, but if measured up to other, more mainstream hack 'n' slash games on the market, it comes up short. Its best mechanics can be found in most of its contemporaries, and the gameplay suffers from linearity and repetition. That being said, you do get a lot of the game, with pretty good reason to play through multiple times. If you're looking for a casual RPG, or if you've yet to play an adult title with more traditional gameplay, Magical Swordmaiden should be a great starting point.
Magical Swordmaiden is available on MangaGamer for $19.95 as well as on Steam and Kagura Games’ store for $19.99. A version of the game containing mosaic censorship is being sold on DLsite for $25.04 (estimated from ¥2,640 ). DLsite also offers access to a demo version of the game on their store page.
Adult content for the Steam version of Magical Swordmaiden has to be installed separately using a free patch available on Kagura Games’ website.