Tale of Wuxia is a beautiful mess (also, requesting opinions on the English translation)

tldr in bold!

Tale of Wuxia is a modern remake of a beautifully bizarre Chinese RPG, somewhat similar to Persona in structure, wrapped in full-blown wuxia/martial arts theme. The recent remake is (mostly tolerably?) translated to English, and can be found on Steam here, for $17, with an 84% positive rating among English reviews. If you have the money to spare, stop reading here and just go try the game. I can’t guarantee you’ll like it, but the game is such a strange, fascinating hodgepodge of ideas that I highly recommend seeing it for yourself. (This was my first time on the remaster, 4th overall, steam reports 25 hours to get to one of the standard good endings. In Chinese though, so I can't vouch for the translation)

1. Pedigree:

Heluo Studios created Tale of Jin Yong in 1996, successfully mixing 14 novels from Jin Yong, the JRR Tolkien of wuxia novels, into a free-roaming open world RPG. Most notably, recruitment of characters and learning various wushu moves were tied to stat-checks such as morality and IQ, a feature that will come back in Tale of Wuxia with much heavier presence.

What didn’t return in the 2001 game, though, was the Jin Yong IP. In response, the studio created a world that covers nearly every imaginable wuxia motif without directly referencing any authors, similar to Dragon Age’s creation after Bioware lost the DnD license. Yes, there’s a drunkard that will teach you drunken mastery after enough drinks. Yes, you can consult a traveling journalist on your martial arts power ranking in the world. You name your favorite bit from wuxia novels or movies, it’s probably in the game. The remake adds even more events and quests, including the option to trade you manhood for ultimate power (it… happens several times in Jin Yong’s novels… it's about switching from yang to yin...) The end product is the most complete wuxia simulator one can dream for.

Heluo then went on to make Tale of Three Kingdoms, and also a prequel of this, without the sim layer, and both to moderate success, but that's another story for another time (actually, probably not, since I don't feel much for either game)

2. Drunken mastery:

If Persona 5 (which I recently beat, and lead me to dig up this similar game again) is like its protagonist, stylish and suave, Tale of Wuxia would the stumbling drunken master. It’s rough, it’s strange, but it also mostly works effectively. I still vividly remember my first time bumbling through this game. On multiple occasions, I was shocked watching the game pivot mechanically. After getting the worst ending possible and then consulting guides, I found I had missed major events, characters, and even flat out systems in my first blind playthrough. Frankly my next paragraph is ruining some of the surprise, but here goes.

At the start of the game, you have hours to explore a town like any standard RPG. Complete over a dozen side quests, earn money through tasks such as fishing and mining, or just go around buying different items. Then story bits happen and you get dumped into a time management sim layer filled with minigames, and occasional breaks to other towns and cities. And then in a final turn, the last fifth of the game escalates into an open world where all previous locations and more are accessible with new quests, and characters that like you enough thus far can be recruited to the team. Even the art style is all over the place. Take a look at these screenshots, inexplicably from the same game!

Love/Hate relationship with the revamped hex-based combat
Love/Hate relationship with the revamped hex-based combat
Chinese UI goes vertical, so additional work had to go in for the English version
Chinese UI goes vertical, so additional work had to go in for the English version

You should notice the dozens of different stats listed on the sim layer UI. On one hand the freedom to choose what to master is exhilarating. Maxing out “music” and attacking enemies with your chi as you play the zither/qin is a viable build (fans have called for nerfs, ha). “Flexibility” (important stat for soft arts like Tai Chi) and “toughness” (Shao Lin arts) are incompatible, as you lose points in one when practicing the other. The game is also filled with stat-check events, e.g. high “eye” stat gives you the option to cheat in a test, and certain items are only obtainable with high “quickness” in order to scale cliffs. On the other hand, the game is relentlessly harsh, with little hint or guidance, and very strict event triggers/cutoffs. Time has to be split between actually working out, earning money, or wandering around socializing. It is equally easy to fall too much behind in training and get wiped in must-win fights in the second half of the game, or never going out and missing important story context or even branching points. If you thought Persona 5 was unforgiving, hoo boy. Mathematically, it is possible to max out all stats (there’s an achievement and super useful bonus perk) and maintain max affinity with most characters, but not without rigid adherence to guides and save-scumming.

Again somewhat comparable to Persona’s in-class quizzes, the game is also a huge data dump of Chinese culture, not just the wuxia parts, but also about making tea, fishing, and the history of various arts. I enjoyed reading all those bits (and a refresher all these years later), and even had a friend in college who memorized all the facts after beating the game no less than 10 times. Reading long lines of text isn’t for everyone though, and more concerning are some of the reviews complaining about English translations basically giving up at parts, which is a huge shame. Learning new skills and maxing out certain character affinity will require regurgitation of some of these facts, so save often, or google for a guide (not sure if English ones exist...)

3. New generation:

With all that said about difficulty, the remake is actually much more lenient. Some parts of the story that I missed completely are now mandatory, more than one action per turn can now be taken in the sim layer, and when all else fails an “easy” difficulty is available. I am very conflicted on these changes. The game is much easier to recommend and pick up, but that previous ruthlessness was strangely respectable. First time through I wasn’t careful watching this one particular beggar’s subtle motion, and ended up not seeing an entire government conspiracy (Ming dynasty) subtext of the whole game.

More events, more romance options, and more martial arts moves were added in the remake, as well as endings (although, the English version didn’t seem to get the final content update). Most importantly, fleshing out of character relationships with your mentor and fellow students (the term is closer to “brothers” in Chinese, so it’s very fitting) is a big step up from the original game.

With 15 extra years under my belt and slightly better ability to critique, I now see the narrative as too safe and generic. There aren’t really any life-changing dialogue or insights to be gleaned here, although some clichés still work well, as one of the monks’ Buddhist incantations had me nodding (no idea how well English translations handle those). Of course, for a wuxia simulator in a market devoid of them, generic is totally fine. In terms of writing in romance options, things are handled mostly tastefully, though again too cliched or mechanical. One might criticize the romance options feel like “trophies”, as there is an achievement and bonus art work for romancing them all. But at least there is no fan service to worry about – the chibi characters don’t get scandalous in any way.

As a game, the UI is somehow worse than the original, but tolerable. The thing runs mostly fine in Unity (had a few freezes in combat, that were curiously unfrozen by alt-tab??), although I prefer the original 2D look. Combat is now hex-based, with a lot more options and systems to work with. It is mostly an upgrade, aside from the fact that the devs kept trying to do storytelling in tactical combat, which just throws off the “tactics” part. I cannot stress this enough: plan out combat as conservatively as possible, because new enemies might jump in without warning, or the boss will (note the use of “will”, not “might”) re-power up at 0 hp, maybe even several times.

Overall I would recommend this remake version, especially when the original's minigames run too fast on modern computers. I am planning another playthrough to see some of the added sequences/endings as well (why am I starting over, you ask, well one of the major branches gets cut off after like 10 turns on the sim layer! I love/hate this game!)

The original, looked ugly at the time, somehow aged gracefully.
The original, looked ugly at the time, somehow aged gracefully.

4. Lost in translation (rambling, feel free to skip):

Translation is always incredibly tough work. Accuracy, economy, aesthetics. Heck, even Jin Yong’s renowned novels only had a couple out of the 14 translated to English. A recent scholarly effort to translate another trilogy (see article here) gave sneak peeks to translations of a few martial arts moves and names. I kind of hate them all :D, not that I have better ideas though. The rhythm, where these terms are mainly a very catchy 3 to 5 syllables, is always going to be lost, unfortunately.

A whole bunch of Taoist or Buddhist concepts are wrapped in casual conversation and wuxia nomenclature, and is even more difficult to convey, especially for volunteering fans (a whole page in the credits thanking them) in the case of this game. The latest content patch missing from the English version had quite a bit of text, and focused more on abstract concepts of justice, peace, etc, which I speculate to be part of the reason Heluo Studios called off localization work. (Heluo also didn't bother putting this on sale in the steam summer sale, so this might be the end of support.)

I only booted up the game in English for the first 10 minutes, and the translation seemed fine. The most glaring “problem” is the way relationships are called out in dialogue. In line with ideas from Confucius that every social order is like family, a teacher is called with word “father” incorporated. Same for students under the same teachers, they are “brothers/sisters”, with distinction of who is older who is younger. Even “uncles”, “grandfathers”, etc etc. (still works this way for PhDs and labs) And then things get more complicated when referring to a separate school/family. The way out is either translating more literally, or going the “senpai”, “kun”, “chan” route and just use the Chinese terms enough to be more or less accepted. Same with terms like "Jianghu", because nobody wants to literally translate it to "rivers and lakes", or explain how the term comes from Zhuangzi.

Very curious to see how many here have tried the game, and how you liked it (importantly, was the English tolerable for you, otherwise I need to stop recommending the game...)

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Yakuza Kiwami 2 leak, lists new Majima playable story

The Chinese description says "based on the highest acclaimed Yakuza 2, newly added playable Majima story". Although various sources (neogaf, Twitter, gaming sites) have passed the leak on, no one seems to realize (or react) to the new Majima bits???? (Wario64 ran the text through Google translate, which promptly converted Majima's name to "island") So consider this a scoop I guess?

Personally I am very glad more Majima is added. 0 was my first game (watched beast in the east, and now playing the Chinese version myself). Majima was so good in it that frankly I don't have much interest in Kiwami, and even 6, knowing he is not heavily featured.

Descriptions also mention using Yakuza 6's dragon engine, which has people excited as well. (Everything else in the text was fluff, new cast face scan, voice, etc)

Yakuza Studios is hold a live stream 8/26/17 at 6EST (here). Apparently there will be other surprises. (Localization? HD collection? PC version? new game?)

Edit: Updated trailer here. Makoto is in it!!

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Ending 16/18 is a must see for Papers, Please

Papers, Please has really stuck in my mind since I first played it in late 2013 (while waiting for my own visa to process, amid speculations that the US government shutdown may slow things even further, so I admittedly am biased). Everything about the game is simple and elegant. You play as a border officer inspecting immigration paperwork in the fictional country of Arstotzka, with the caveat that messing up will further exacerbate the struggle to provide for your family. Every action is just point-and-click, complemented with a UI representing your desk surface, giving you the freedom to drag around documents, rule books, and more. The color palette is dampened and dour, as is the minimal music and sound effects, fitting the oppressive atmosphere of the game. Purely by its unique mechanics and UI, I would already recommend this game to anyone (although I suspect gamers with more experience might be able to better appreciate how the game stands out in the medium). And that's before I even start discussing the story, which can be surprisingly effective and thought-provoking. Obviously spoilers ahead:

I imagine the inspector just staring at his savings every night, unable to think of anything else.
I imagine the inspector just staring at his savings every night, unable to think of anything else.

1. The game further builds up the oppressiveness of the world with very little actual text. Every countryman, especially the higher officers, drops the phrase "Glory to Arstotzka" constantly. The player-controlled inspector utters little more than the robotic "Next", "Glory to Arstotzka", and "Cause no trouble". The inspector only appears as a silhouette while walking to work, whereas his family is each represented by a circle at the end of the day screen. Some have criticized that the game makes little effort to make players care about the family, however I disagree. My interpretation is the dire situation forced the inspector to be solely focused on making ends meet, for food, heat, or medicine. He is so weighed down by survival that family members feel barely more than numbers. And, the game has neat little touches to cement that inhumanness-- if the player chooses to hang his family portrait up in his booth, he gets a stern warning from his supervisor, and even arrest on his second offense.

But maybe his wife doesn't have the correct documents? What do you do?
But maybe his wife doesn't have the correct documents? What do you do?

2. That indifference is extended to the waiting entrants. They state their purpose of entering the country, from work to visiting family. They make pleas of desperation when paperwork is not in order. However sympathetic they may seem, allowing these unlawful entrants in will result in docked pay for the inspector. The player is constantly forced to choose between feeding the family and turning a blind eye to help certain entrants. Even more subtly, and brilliantly for the game design, players start to tune out the chatter, or deny entry on first sight of paperwork irregularities instead of asking for clarification (sometimes the entrant will present missing documents when reminded). In order to earn a decent paycheck for the family, or to beat the game, kindness and morals are discouraged. The player is at the same time powerful and powerless.

Just one new word in the cry?call?pledge?
Just one new word in the cry?call?pledge? "Glory to Arstotzka" after the revolution.

3. Rebel agents show up asking for help. The player is key to helping the potential revolution, but at the same time also limited in information. At no point is the group's ideals known to the player, however they do use violence at points, and use the eerily similar call of nationalism "Glory to the New Arstotzka" in Ending 19 where they succeed. Whether Ending 19, widely considered one of the "good" endings, actually benefits the people of Arstotzka, and the inspector in the long run, is unclear. On the flip side, Ending 20, in which the inspector remains loyal to the regime and unlocks endless mode, isn't all that cherry either. The inspector is essentially on an endless treadmill of work and financial struggles until he fails.

4. The other "good" ending, where the inspector escapes with his family (18, or parts of his family for ending 16), left the most impact on me. As the political unrest leads to potential lockdown, the inspector is presented with the option of confiscating passports and use them for forging escape documents. At the border of the neighboring country Obristan, the inspector waits for 6 hours, frets over his shoddy fake paperwork, and waits for nerve-wrecking seconds before the documents are returned with approval. I loved how the roles were flipped around. After hours of staring at documents, mine seemed obviously fake. The seconds of waiting seemed like an eternity. And to this day I have no idea whether the Obrista inspector was kind or incompetent. But "Welcome to Obristan" certainly sounded warmer than my own "Cause no trouble".

Anyone playing the game absolutely has to see Ending 16/18 for the game to come full circle. The more I think about this game, the more I am impressed by its portrayal of the life struggle in an oppressive regime. The game, itself neither optimistic nor pessimistic, is important and timeless.

Now we wait for the short film. Please be good.

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Koei, the (once) king of history/strategy games

For the past half year, Koei has been releasing their classic strategy games on steam in batches, to very little fanfare. Just seeing these names again gets me pumped up, and I would have shouted from rooftops for everyone to try them, if not for the unfortunate fact that these titles are still not translated for the potential audience outside of Japan. No news articles, no localization, and not even discounted in the steam summer sale, these titles seem to exist only to taunt loyal fans of how far Koei has slipped from the throne.

Unbeknownst to most western gamers, the Warriors game conveyor belt known as Koei was once associated with diverse genres and innovations. Growing up in the late 90s to early 2000s in China, Koei games made up about half of all my gaming time. While I understand that localization work is costly, and that the Eastern history focus of these games may have limited appeal, I am still dismayed to find that some of my best gaming experiences are so obscure in the west that a few are even missing from the Koei wikipedia page.

(I should note that these are simply descriptions of some of my favorite games. I don't pretend to know the financial situation at Koei or the sales numbers of these games. Perhaps they are indeed so niche that Koei had to turn elsewhere to survive. Koei was also officially banned in mainland China for at least a decade, so Koei saw zero cents from their extreme popularity there.)

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RTK9 (2003): Cautiously engage or recklessly charge? Pick your generals wisely
RTK9 (2003): Cautiously engage or recklessly charge? Pick your generals wisely

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms/Nobunaga's Ambition series, simulation games based off of historical periods in China and Japan, are still chugging along. However the latest iterations have been downgraded in complexity and are clearly tailored to tablets. 9, 10, and 11 in the RTK series were masterpieces in wildly different ways. 9 threw out the traditional turn-based overview, instead opting for a real time system (like Hearts of Iron). Remarkably, once a general and his army is ordered to depart, his behavior during battles is left solely to simulation. This flushes out individual characters, and forces the player to think hard on the grand scale. 10 was focused on role-playing a single character instead of controlling an entire empire. Players had the freedom to work up the hierarchical ladder, or focus on leveling the character's own skills and talents, or just roam unaffiliated with any faction. 11 then restored the turn-based management and combat, and is considered the peak of those mechanics.

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SouSou Den (1998): Lu Bu's weapon and horse are super powerful. But you take them (and his woman) when you finally kill him.
SouSou Den (1998): Lu Bu's weapon and horse are super powerful. But you take them (and his woman) when you finally kill him.

Eiketsuden (roughly translated as Legend of Heroes) is an srpg series, each revolving around a historical figure in the RTK or NA era. While each is enjoyable, Sangokushi SouSou Den (Legend of Cao Cao) stands out as one of the best srpgs ever. Cao Cao the antihero serves as the central character. The final third of the game branches into 2 distinct paths and endings, depending on Cao Cao's morality meter. Important characters, friend and foe, have unique sprites and animations to convey emotion. Each character has 3 equipment slots for upgradable weapons and armor, some with very special effects (Guan Yu's blade, for example, is so heavy that enemies cannot return attack). China for some reason also has a huge modding community for the game, producing quite a few high quality total conversion mods for other historical periods. In total, I played through the game 6 times. Suffice to say, since 1998 I have waited for any hint of a sequel, and all I got was the crappy Dynasty Warriors Godseekers (it had the Eiketsuden name/logo. HOW DARE THEY).

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TR5 (2004): Army combat is done on hex grids, but skills are shown as cards. Activating Fūrinkazan!
TR5 (2004): Army combat is done on hex grids, but skills are shown as cards. Activating Fūrinkazan!

Taikō Risshiden (the Grand Regent's Success Story) started off as almost a visual novel/jrpg, documenting the character's rise from peasant to ruler of Japan. 4 added very fun card-based systems for individual and large army combat. 5 further expands on the idea, making almost everything cards--reaching full friendship or completing quests unlocks new character cards, allowing players to then play as those characters and trigger specific storylines; each achievement, each skill, each collectible is a card with beautiful illustrations. The individual combat was changed to a simultaneous turn-based system, like froze synapse, and worked very well. Players had an insane amount of freedom, to be a warrior, ninja, merchant, blademaster, pirate, etc, with dozens of minigames representing various skills.

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Suikoden (1997): Better get to work
Suikoden (1997): Better get to work

Suikoden Tendo 108 Sei (Bandits in the Marsh, 108 heavenly stars), based on a beloved Chinese historical novel involving 108 rebel heroes, features a unique sim city-esque base-building layer, over 300 recruitable characters with different skills and professions, and an action points turn-base combat system. Unfortunately no sequels or anything similar have come out of Koei since.

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Daikoukai Jidai (Uncharted Waters) is a pirate/merchant simulation series set in the Age of Discovery. While the game has a main plot, players can freely wander around the world, building up fortune and fleets. The best in the series, 2, or Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, actually has an English version. 3 and 4 also have their supporters. 5, however, is a free-to-play web browser game (not joking). Steam also has another free-to-play MMO under the name.

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I still remember my first encounter with the Warriors series (2005 for PC). Seeing Guan Yu in full 3D was nice, but his move set was pretty limited, and things got boring in a hurry. I didn't understand the hype around this game, or any other since. It's unclear whether the development talent for the above games is still there, or if the bosses have any intention of taking chances ever again.

2 more complaints to end the blog:

I may be in the minority, but I still perk up when Koei's logo shows up on press presentations. Admittedly I am a fool for still getting my hopes up after these years. Koei teased a fire emblem warriors game at the Switch reveal :(

At some point I got my hands on a Switch, and after finishing Zelda I started to look into Switch versions of RTK or NA. Even if they were dumbed down for tablets, I could talk myself into thinking Switch basically is one anyway. Well, the Switch version of RTK/NA only contains Japanese language, even though the steam version clearly already had English and Chinese localization done, for about half a year :(

What happened to you, Koei?

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