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The World of Asian RPGs

Xuanyuan Jian

Xuanyuan Jian, also known as "Sword of Xuan Yuan" or "Hin Yuen Sword", is the leading Chinese RPG franchise. Even though Xianjian Qixia Zhuan series, also created by Softstar, might compete with it, and even surpass it in popularity, the first place undoubtedly goes to Xuanyuan Jian. It is the largest, oldest, and most long-running series of Chinese RPGs, and it has set standards for all other games of its kind. Xuanyuan Jian can represent Chinese RPGs as a whole, and has no equals in versatility of gameplay or depth of story lines. It remained faithful to concrete historical Chinese setting throughout its existence, and its particular strength was in combining powerful, emotional personal stories with exact historical background. The usage of real Chinese historical events and mythology made those stories particularly rich and credible. Xuanyuan Jian series can be compared to the best offerings of Japanese RPGs, adding a new dimension to the genre and expanding its themes and style.

The first Xuanyuan Jian was still very dependent on the Japanese prototype, and made an impression of a rather outdated game at the time of its release. The combat system hardly had any original features, and the story was not particularly deep. Nevertheless, by setting itself in a classical Chinese environment, "Xuanyuan Jian" was a definite starting point for all Chinese RPGs to come.

Xuanyuan Jian 2 was a big improvement over its predecessor. The graphics got a distinctly Chinese look, the dialogues became much more lively and original, the story was more detailed. The setting began to come to life thanks to the game's design and consistent usage of elements of Chinese culture. The series reached maturity and gained its own style in this second installment.

Xuanyuan Jian 2 Waizhuan: Feng zhi Wu started a tradition of side-stories for the series. Each regular installment was since then followed by such a side story, which utilized the same graphical engine and gameplay system, but told a different story. This made the technical development of a side-story easier, and allowed more focus on story line and actual content. This was already evident in "Feng zhi Wu", which was a definite step forwards in story development compared to its predecessor. The conflicts became more refined, the plot more complex, the characterization more detailed. Some of the recurrent mythological concepts were also introduced in this game, and its connection to concrete historical events became significantly stronger.

The third installment, Xuanyuan Jian 3: Yun he Shan de Biduan, has a unique position within the series and Chinese RPGs in general. Although the events of the game eventually lead to the classical Chinese setting, the game begins in Europe of the eighth century, and features a European protagonist who travels from his homeland to China through Arabia. The game was criticized by some fans for not being Chinese enough, but in fact "Xuanyuan Jian 3" was one of the most original Chinese RPGs, breaking a new ground. The gameplay system also introduced some new interesting concepts, such as mixture of items and the ability to capture monsters, which you could later summon in battles or use as items or equipment.

Xuanyuan 3 Waizhuan: Tian zhi Hen was the next side-story in the series. It returned to a traditional Chinese setting while retaining the basic gameplay system of its predecessor. "Tian zhi Hen" became the most popular Xuanyuan Jian game mainly thanks to its remarkably emotional story. It was possible to influence the ending of the game by performing certain actions that affected the relationship of the hero with the two main female characters. While this feature reminded of Xianjian Qixia Zhuan, the story of the game went beyond the romantic relationship, and was once again firmly rooted in Chinese traditions and legends.

The next game, Xuanyuan Jian 4: Hei Long Wu xi Yun Fei Yang, was the first Chinese RPG with fully 3D graphics. The story took us to 221 BC., the time of the famous First Emperor. Like in previous games, historical references were abundant, but supernatural and legendary elements dominated. The refined gameplay included battles that showed the turns succession of the participants, to add more depth to the strategy, and a new Heavenly Book system, which allowed you to use monsters you captured in battle for building various utilities, and forge your own weapons, armor, and accessories with raw materials you could find in the game world.

The side-story to the fourth game, Xuanyuan Jian Waizhuan: Cang zhi Tao, is one of the highest achievements of Chinese RPGs, and Asian RPGs in general. Utilizing the interesting gameplay system from the previous game and adding to it some innovations of its own, such as the ability to customize the spells of the main character, "Cang zhi Tao" delivered a very complex and outstandingly deep story that was primarily dedicated to patriotism and its conflict with personal feelings. The story paid equal attention to political questions as well as issues such as friendship, duty, and loyalty. In "Cang zhi Tao", the Chinese historical setting ceased to be a mere stylistic choice, and become an integral part of the game's content.

Continued: Xianjian Qixia Zhuan

Table of Contents: The World of Asian RPGs