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The Legend of Lotus Spring (Windows)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (168975)
Written on  :  Jun 28, 2004
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.17 Stars3.17 Stars3.17 Stars3.17 Stars3.17 Stars

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Surely a Chinese love story can be more exciting?..

The Good

The Chinese developers did a good job designing the game's visuals. The graphics are good for the most part, and the animated sequences are quite impressive. Some of the animations are pretty long, particularly the final one, which is also rewarding from the point of view of the narrative. The music is also appropriately Chinese and absolutely authentic. In the end there is also a very sweet Chinese pop song.

The attention to detail in object design clearly shows how much the developers were interested in getting the player acquainted with the Chinese culture. Enter every room and you will see veritable pieces of art - well, in fact, the whole game is something like a tour around the beautiful garden Yuan Ming Yuan, the Garden of Perfect Brightness - alas, destroyed by the Europeans and never restored.

Although the beauty of the game world owes a lot to the actual beauty of the original garden, the quality of the art is still high - objects don't feel "dead", many of them are animated, can be interacted with, taken apart. The graphical style is not too photorealistic, with a bit of hand-painted feeling to it. Check out for example the numerous animals that appear in the game. They are well-animated and are nicely integrated into the backgrounds.

I wouldn't necessarily count that as a plus, but the game follows the Chinese aesthetics rather faithfully. Traditional Chinese art values style and beauty more than inner dynamics and content. A great poem is a work that is technically immaculate, but that only insinuates in a beautiful form at something, without saying it directly. A great picture doesn't attempt to reflect reality; it only transmits a certain impression. Great music doesn't stir emotions, it calms them. While this is not at all the way I view art, it is interesting how this game tries to reflect this kind of aesthetics.

Beside the main love story, the game also recounts many other classic Chinese love stories, which serve as a decoration to the tale of Lotus Spring. You are free not to read the diary at all, ignore the "secondary" love stories and all the information about objects. But a lot of stiff stuff is more interesting than the main story itself. Of course, it doesn't surprise anyone that lotus ponds or peacocks are beautiful. But enter any room and you'll see how simple objects become works of art. Spoons, chopsticks, bowls, bird cages, not to mention paintings or musical instruments. Every location has an "information screen" attached to it: by accessing it, you can read about the important objects located in the rooms. The variety and the detailed descriptions of the objects are a real treat for fans of China and of culture in general.

In case you are bored with this "tour", you can neglect all those descriptions and concentrate fully on the love story. In every room a beautiful animation awaits you - Xian Feng's memories, awakened by this interesting world of inanimate objects he had shared with his beloved one. And every animation is connected in some way to another Chinese classic love story. During the 5000 years of Chinese civilization, I guess there were enough love stories to tell about...

Surprisingly enough, there is quite a lot to explore and a lot of stuff to interact with, considering the limited possibilities of the game's engine. Except the places where you must pick and use the six objects that are needed to complete the story, all other locations are not obligatory - you can visit them and ignore, it is up to you to decide. Of course, there is no way to know which location holds an important object, so you'll probably end up exploring every corner of the garden, but you still have the feeling of exploring on your own instead of being lead by someone.

The Bad

Although the developers did a commendable job in designing the visuals, they failed to do the same with the interface, which is the same old, uncomfortable, confusing, and very annoying "picture-jumping" kind of thing we all know (and many of us hate) from Myst. Your only means of doing anything in the game is the admittedly cute, but extremely uncomfortable doll-like cursor. If you care able to do something, it becomes animated when you move it over the correspondent point. If you can't, it stands still. In order to take two steps forward you have to click two times, "jumping" forward awkwardly, although you already see the destination point. And sometimes you have to click even four or five times, because the game often refuses to make a normal path for you, and instead forces you to walk like a drunkard, swinging from left to right. This is so ridiculous that it is not funny any more, it is simply aggravating.

You enter a room and immediately see a table with a musical instrument on it, you want to examine it closer, maybe to play it - but the doll refuses to take you there, you should first turn to the left, then again to the right, the camera perspective changes completely, making the scenery unrecognizable - until finally, after several attempts, you manage to access the table from behind, climbing on the bed, rolling your eyes to the ceiling to catch a glimpse of a traditional Chinese deity, and sticking your nose into a bowl with fish food, before positioning yourself in front of musical instrument and happily discovering the damn doll is now willing to play it for you.

There are some annoying touches of bizarre programming in the game - for example, when you want to save the game, Windows interface suddenly pops out, and you save it just by creating a file with an appropriate extension. It seems like a little thing, but it is so out of place in a modern game, that it annoys. If you don't adjust your Windows resolution to 640x480 before, the game won't run in full screen. Sometimes the animated sequences are slightly pixelated, and the graphics are technically not so great - object design is excellent, but outdoor areas are not very impressive. The two characters who appear in the game (while the box cover speaks about "encountering fascinating characters", you don't encounter any one but a ghostly apparition of Lotus Spring in the game - or maybe they thought turtles and fish were fascinating characters?) are nicely designed, but too artificially and awkwardly animated. There is no animation in the game except animated animals and cut scenes - when you move, you just jump to another picture. You can't rotate the camera, can't look up, down, or to the sides.

The initial premise of the game is interesting, but the love story is treated as a piece of Chinese art in the game, not as an actual plot. There is no plot, nearly no characters, no dialogues, little suspense, and hardly any situations. The entire game is dedicated to the memories of a man who has lost his beloved woman, and there is nothing more in it - except the "background" cultural information that is not connected to the main story directly.

But the biggest problem here is the fact the game barely has any gameplay. Legend of Lotus Spring offers absolutely no challenge. If you can get used to the awkward interface, you will be able to finish the game in a couple of hours, even if you've never played an adventure game before.

The absence of puzzles means that the entire game is composed of clueless and restricted wandering around. For a while you can be entertained with the educational material, but after a while you begin to want to actually do something that would reward you from the gameplay point of view. Alas, this moment never comes: the whole game feels like a pretty demo of a famous historical location rather than a real adventure.

The Bottom Line

I think Legend of Lotus Spring is an interesting game that should have gotten more attention from the "mainstream" community. Unfortunately, it harms itself by being more of an "edutainment" product than a real adventure game with a real narrative. It is still playable, but more for its "exotic" themes than for its actual value as a game.