For a little while, China has been taking an increasingly important part in video games. One example is the giant Tencent, which controls Riot and Supercell, and has invested in Epic Games. But beyond this business aspect, Chinese games have also shown a little more internationally in recent years. We all have the event launch of Genshin Impact in mind, but we could also talk about the noise made by the first images of Black Myth: Wu Kong. It is in this context that we are interested in Xuan-Yuan Sword VII, which after an international release on Steam, is published in the West on PlayStation 4.
(Xuan-Yuan Sword VII test on PC via a commercial copy of the game)
Once upon a time in china
The fact that Xuan-Yuan Sword VII or Chinese is already an interesting criterion. Chinese culture holds an important place in video games, but is rarely told by those concerned. Thus, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles, Total War: Three Kingdom or Shenmue II all locate their action in China, but are respectively Canadian, British and Japanese games …
Here we are, facing a game inspired by Chinese mythology, told by Chinese developers. We can therefore give him some credit in advance as to what he is going to tell us. No worries about the title VII, a bit like a Final Fantasy, if the license is indeed rather old (although we discover it with this episode), no need to know the previous games to try it.
In an intro that will inevitably make us think of A Plague Tale: Innocence, we witness the sacking of a village, and the murder of the parents of a little boy who will become the hero of the game after having managed to escape by taking his little sister with him, still a baby. Years have passed and Taishi Zhao – that’s his name – has grown into a gifted bounty hunter, carrying out various missions to survive, as well as to be able to provide his sick little sister with the medicine she needs.
Unfortunately, trouble reigns over the country, and Taishi and her sister will find themselves caught up in a fight that is not their own. The young girl will be killed, and Taishi’s head put a price on it. The latter will agree to render service to a mysterious deity who could return his body to his sister who has become a specter. We also imagine that the events at the start of the game did not happen for free … What mysterious force has Taishi pursued since his childhood?
The game is set during the Han Dynasty (around AD 200), a time troubled by Civil War. We discover Mohism, a current of thought dying at the time, disappeared today, crushed by Confucianism. The Mohists are pacifist, and advocate peace, love and equality. “Weak people”, the classic video game bad guy will conclude!
In the game, the Mohists are also owners of a very advanced technology which resembles watchmaking. Complex gear systems allow them to keep certain doors closed. It is this fantastico-historical folklore that makes us discover the game, and which represents its main interest. Served by a more than honest AA production, we stop at the sets, the clothes, the villages… The trip is worth the effort!
The corridors of time
For the gameplay, it’s less brilliant. Too bad, since in a video game, the game is still a little bit central! Third-person action-RPG, Xuan-Yuan Sword VII borrows heavily from The Witcher III, minus the horse and mastery. If the world is a priori open, we will actually advance in corridors between two points of interest. Very narrative, the scenario advances through cutscenes made in the game engine, giving us the controls only to get from point A to point B (from one cutscene to another, in truth), and stupidly fight the mobs that we will meet on our way.
The fights, in fact, are anything but interesting. Accompanied by our “party” (RPG requires), the game tries to set up a varied combat system, with special moves belonging to the allies, and a fatigue bar supposed to bring a little strategy. In fact, we will spam the attack button, until exhaustion, then we will retreat a few meters to reload the “stamina” before returning to spam the same attack button. We were even able to let the allied NPCs take care of a boss, as we ran around the arena …
In the end, the gameplay will be reduced to following corridors and frantically pressing the attack button in case of an unfortunate encounter. The rest happens passively, in the form of kinematics, and this is very regrettable because it is also there that the most “interesting” happens.
The only element that will have caught us will be the equivalent of Gwent in The Witcher III: a mini board game, the Zhuolu Chess, a kind of variant of the noughts and crosses in which you have to align 3 pawns of your color. Like the cards to be collected in the adventures of Geralt, coins with special abilities are to be collected as the games are won, making the game mechanics a little more complex. The mini-game is very successful, even more so than the main adventure !!
We can feel the intention behind Xuan Yuan VII, and we would have liked the game to be more successful. It introduces us to a folklore that we rarely come across, and which makes us positively curious. Technically, the title holds up well in its AA game category. Unfortunately, the gameplay as flat as it is repetitive will quickly tire the player who will try it …
In the 90s, “made in China” was synonymous with shaky and unreliable copy. If the Chinese industry has changed a lot today (from Huawei to Lenovo passing not OnePlus, to name a few well-known names), Xuan-Yuan Sword VII is nevertheless a Witcher made in China, in the 90’s sense of the term …