Apparently I have been living under a rock. While talking to a friend of mine about The Gate of Firmament he was shocked that I had never heard of Xuan-Yuan Sword. Turns out he was right TGoF is just one of over a dozen entries to the series starting as far back as 1990. As a lover of RPG and a fan of JRPG I felt a bit guilty not knowing this series. After reading up on them I started getting excited to give this game a try.
My excitement left very quickly.
Well for the first chapter at least.
TGoF is a CRPG set in ancient China and you definitely get that feeling with the amazing soundtrack as you travel around colourful forests and villages with the four playable characters. You start of as a young man called Sikong Yu a master trap builder who strives to protect his village from raiders and neighbouring tribes. This does go a bit bad however and he gets told to escort a mysterious woman named Muyue back to her home who keeps telling us she is not a “divine being” also along the way you meet the other two companions Fengyu a man with ties to the royal house of Shang and Zi-Qiao a high priestess of Zi who is trying to find her betrothed.
The start of the game for the first 2 hours are a marathon of Cut scene after cut scene after cut scene then a quick 10 second walk and oh good, another cut scene. These cut scenes were here to establish character and story and it did that yes through the horrible translation, misspelling and text that would disappear so quick in some occasions you have no idea what that woman just told you to go get her so you just ignore her and carry on. I found myself hovering over the button to skip each cut scene so I could actually PLAY THE GAME but I didn’t. I stuck it out and hoped for the best.
Then this creature was introduced… The most annoying animal EVER to be part of a game. I could say that it is a more annoying character that Jar Jar Binks… yes. It’s that bad. The writers obviously wanted a companion like Pikachu to be all cute and snuggly but every time this pig said “oink” I swear I wanted to throw the controller at the TV.
I thought I was going to hate every minute of playing this game. But I was wrong. After the first chapter had finished and you start to learn the characters and the story the cut scenes become less tedious. You are free to walk around a limited area in each part of the map a lot more and grind. I’m usually not one for grinding but it was a breath of fresh air after watching so many scenes. I started liking the characters apart from the pig. I still hate the pig. The other characters however were growing on me. I loved the Chinese world, mythos and scenery. I was happy to see my characters levelling up and I could give them the usual upgraded armour and new abilities. The pig actually had some use in battle too. During a fight he can suck in enemies into a bronze urn that is strapped to its back. You can use these spirits to upgrade equipment, a part of the game that I enjoyed.
The fighting system is an active cool down system where button mashing is must with different combos dealing more damage. There is also a formation tactic enabling the party to be better against creatures from different elements. The fighting system started getting repetitive very quickly and I felt there could have been more thought put into it.