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Xuanyuan Jian (DOS)

Xuanyuan Jian DOS Title screen (VGA)


Published by
Developed by
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (171451)
Written on  :  Apr 02, 2006
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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RPG development in China begins with... a demo

The Good

Xuanyuan Jian... as I type those words, I think of the beauty, the drama, the excitement I have always had with this wonderful series of Chinese RPGs. As a certified fan of the franchise, and of Softstar in general, there was no way I could ignore the first installment of Xuanyuan Jian. It was the first RPG made by Chinese developers. I can imagine how much excitement this game brought first to its homeland Taiwan, and then to mainland China, where it immediately gained popularity.

While being completely dependent on the Japanese RPG template, the game distinguishes itself by being set in China. Of course, the Chinese element is still mostly a cosmetic choice in this game, but it certainly has its charm. Playing as a martial arts disciple, references to the ancient legend of humans and demons, characters taken from Chinese myths and literature - all these elements help to create a slightly different kind of experience,

The Chinese element is most noticeable in the game's graphics. Although overworld, dungeon, and town graphics are quite primitive, the character portraits are wonderful. Some town inhabitants have those portraits, which is really a good addition. Enemy graphics are quite good: although there is no real animation in battles, many enemies look interesting and are nicely drawn. One of the game's best parts are its cutscenes. There are maybe only two or three of them, but they are quite dramatic and well-drawn.

The music is another aspect that keeps reminding you that you are playing a Chinese game. Although its technical quality is pretty low, the compositions themselves are surprisingly good and authentically Chinese. The final boss theme was a "reversed-nostalgic" experience for me, because it appears in later Xuanyuan Jian games as well.

Gameplay-wise, Xuanyuan Jian offers (as long as it lasts) a typical early Japanese RPG experience. You must fight random enemies and gain levels in order to survive in the game. If you don't level up, the enemies in the next area will have you for lunch, and the next boss will decimate you. The system is as straightforward as it is simplistic: you fight some enemies, you gain a level, and everything changes drastically: the same enemies who killed you in one hit before turn into pitiful wrecks who can barely scratch you and whom you can hack to pieces in no time. The combat is very fast-paced. There is also an "Auto Battle" function, which makes things even smoother. letting you avoid button-mashing.

There is very little story in the game, but a couple of interesting moments make it a bit more than your usual "here's the big bad guy, he's waiting for you in his castle, go fight some enemies and then kill him when you are ready" business. The boss battles come quite unexpectedly, and I can guarantee you will never guess who the final boss is, even though you encounter him long before the decisive battle.

The Bad

Well, this is one game you would allow yourself to laugh at, if you didn't know it was the beginning of a great series. I don't know what happened there exactly - maybe the young developers ran out of money during the development, maybe something interfered in their plans - but Xuanyuan Jian, the first Chinese RPG in history, is clearly an unfinished product.

The game begins with "Chapter 1". The hero goes to the town on behalf of his teacher, solves a couple of mysteries, defeats a bad guy, meets a new party member, encounters a mysterious girl, gets attacked by another evil guy, finally a third party member joins for an extremely hard fight, you watch a nice cutscene, your party talks about future plans, the great adventure that lies ahead, and... the credits run. You watch them, refusing to believe. You wait until they disappear, and you are told that Chapter 1 is over. Yes, Chapter 1 is over, but so is the game... the entire game is just Chapter 1. I still couldn't believe what I saw, so I browsed the net and found a walkthrough and even a short story based on the game's plot, written by a fan. There were no doubts any more: this is where the game ended.

I really don't know how to explain that. I'm sure something must have happened during the development. The words "Chapter 1" clearly indicate that there will be following chapters as well. For the record, the next game mentions the story of this one, but you start an adventure with an entirely different cast. The story ends abruptly without any conclusion (although I admit there is a certain charm in the uncertainty of the heroes' destiny), and just when your third party member joins you. On the other hand, the final boss is as tough as only a final boss can be, and the hero didn't seem to learn any new spells while I was madly leveling up before the final battle, so maybe it was intended to be that way after all.

The obligatory leveling up process before the final battle is excruciating. There are only three bosses in the game, two of which are tough, but entirely possible to defeat. The final boss is mathematically unbeatable unless you level up insanely. I first tried to confront him when I was at level 17, which was pretty high for that point in the game: regular monsters could barely damage me. I had the best equipment, all the money in the world, and nothing to spend it on. After realizing it was impossible to win the battle, I went out and fought enemies for experience, returning to the final boss after every level gain. To make a long story short, I managed to defeat him on level 22. That's five levels worth of leveling up, which is about 25000 experience points, and the biggest amount of experience you can get from a single battle is 95. Now just do the math...

The Bottom Line

Even my admiration towards the series and Softstar in general was not enough to make me ignore the glaring flaws of this title. It is essentially an incomplete game that was made by people who had no experience in the field. It is too simplistic and much too short, resembling an RPG demo created by a couple of talented amateurs.