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Heart of China (DOS)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (168688)
Written on  :  May 08, 2002
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.4 Stars3.4 Stars3.4 Stars3.4 Stars3.4 Stars

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Shuo zhongwen ma?

The Good

The true brother of Rise of the Dragon, this game is one of the three early games (together with the Adventures of Willy Beamish) made by Dynamix, a small company which gave us quite interesting products. Those three adventures break a new ground and stand solidly and independently without being either Sierra or LucasArts clones. Surely, the beginning of the nineties was an epoch of great discoveries and flourishing in the adventure genre, but pretty soon the market was conquered almost entirely by LucasArts, so that popular games of the period, such as Simon the Sorcerer or Legend of Kyrandia series were heavily influenced by the great company and offered very few new things, especially in gameplay department.

"Rise of the Dragon" and its "little brother" (or sister?) "Heart of China" influenced those "puzzle-less" adventure games and "interactive movies" that started to appear much later, games that were mostly based on dialogues instead of puzzle-solving, such as for example Blade Runner.

"Heart of China" is realistic not also because of its setting, which is real China in the early 20th century, but mainly because of its gameplay. It is an adventure which is not based on puzzles (although it features more puzzles than "Rise of the Dragon"), but on dialogue choices that advance the story. We have seen many games which merged tough and complicated puzzles with dialogue-driven gameplay, such as Gabriel Knight or Tex Murphy games, but very few were ready to give up or at least to weaken the puzzle-solving aspect of an adventure, in order to give free room to realistic experience and to dialogue choices which really matter. "Heart of China" is one of those games. It has puzzles, but they are woven into the body of the game and do not disturb the flow of the story. The dialogue choices are the core of the game, and you must be careful when choosing a dialogue line, because it is quite easy to die in the game (although maybe not as easy as in "Rise of the Dragon").

There are also some non-linearity in the game: sometimes there is more than just one solution to a problem. When this happens, the game also gives you a sign, so that you'll be able to mark down this place for future replaying.

Graphically, "Heart of China" also has a distinct personality, with even more beautifully designed backgrounds than "Rise of the Dragon", and faces of real actors nicely filmed and integrated into the game's graphics.

The Bad

The game shares most of its problems with Rise of the Dragon.

As fresh as it seems in the beginning, there isn't much depth in the gameplay. Most of the time you'll engage in conversations, trying to figure out the correct approach. If you choose right, you can proceed. If you choose wrong, reload game. This system is just too simplistic. There is actually no core gameplay in the game, and no real challenge.

It's nice that there are realistic dialogue options, but the constant reloading can get repetitive very quickly. What's more, one of the most unforgiving parts in the game comes just in the beginning, when you have to make a certain character accompany you. Most of the dialogue options lead to dead ends, and it is really annoying to reload all the time.

The story line is rather weak and has a lot in common with early primitive movies, where all boiled down to a super-cool hero who saves the girl. There isn't any psychology in the game, everything is very black/white, and particularly the Asian characters are portrayed too stereotypically.

The game is very light-hearted, but that doesn't mean it is funny or amusing. There is hardly any humor in the game, yet it is obvious it doesn't take itself seriously. It is as if the game couldn't decide whether it was a serious adventure or a comedy. There is something about this approach that irritated me.

And the game is really very short. Of course, you could replay and try different solutions to the puzzles, but combined with the low difficulty level of the game, its size almost makes it look like a demo and detracts from the pleasure of completing the quest.

The Bottom Line

+ Intuitive gameplay
+ Has its own graphical personality
- Gameplay is not really deep
- Story and characters are nothing special
- Too short

There is surely a lot to like in "Heart of China", but lack of substance in the gameplay and the somewhat irritating light-hearted approach prevent it from becoming a true classic.