Before Genshin Impact: A brief history of Chinese RPGs

THE BOOTLEG TRANSLATIONS

A translated manual for Ultima III
Issue #2 of Jingxun Magazine from 1986, teaching how to play The Bard’s Tale.
Without access to the original code, they recreated the entire game by hand.
MX-151’s title screen, overworld map and combat screen.

THE EARLY YEARS

  • Xuan-Yuan Sword (軒轅劍, 1990). Although it’s a Dragon Quest clone with a simple story, Softstar’s first RPG is already quite professional, with nice artwork and presentation. Its setting stands out, mixing martial arts with fantasy elements (a genre known as Xianxia).
  • Legend of the Chivalrous Hero (俠客英雄傳, 1991) is a more primitive Dragon Quest clone, this time developed by Kingformation. You play as a lone martial arts hero that travels the land to defeat evil-doers and can choose one of five maidens to marry.
  • Eight Swords of Shenzhou (神州八劍, 1991) is a simple King’s Bounty clone created by Soft-World, with you visiting cities to recruit armies, battle enemies and earn money for larger armies until it can defeat all evil kings and unite the land.
  • Fantasy Zone of Computer (電腦魔域, 1991) by Softstar has a gamer being dragged inside his computer, exploring the circuits and battling demon-virus. Despite the unique setting, the gameplay is still very basic.
  • Book of the Sword Saint (天外劍聖錄, 1992) was created by Dynasty International and offers a plot far more complex than its peers, telling the tale of the last surviving member of a martial arts sect, trying to uncover the mystery behind the sect’s destruction. At release it was praised as a Wuxia (martial arts fantasy) novel in RPG form, showing a path forward for Chinese developers.
  • Empire of the Angel (天使帝國, 1993). Also created by Softstar, it’s one of the first Strategy RPGs to come out of Taiwan, featuring only female warriors. Inspired by games like Fire Emblem and Langrisser, it got several sequels in the following years and a remake in 2000.

THE FIRST CLASSICS

Chinese Paladin (1995) — Fan translation patch
The 1995 version and the 2001 remake
Xuan-Yuan Sword: Dance of the Maple Leaves (1995)
Heroes of Jin Yong (1996)
Heroes of Jin Yong 5, a free fan-made game released in 2018.

THE GOLDEN AGE

Xuan-Yuan Sword 3: Beyond the Clouds and Mountains (1999)
Legend of Wulin Heroes (2001) — Images from Nyaa’s excellent translate Let’s Play: https://lparchive.org/Legend-of-Wulin-Heroes
Tales of Wuxia (2016) and Path of Wuxia (2021)
  • Tribulation of Heaven and Earth - Prequel: Legend of the Phantom Blade (天地劫序傳:幽城幻劍錄, 2001), aka “Castle: The Forbidden Divines”, is part of the popular Tribulation of Heaven and Earth trilogy. A cult classic with great visuals, it's know for its extreme difficulty, multiple endings, satisfying combat and complex story about the pursuit of love vs the burdens of fate. This game has a very devoted fanbase, a fan translation into English was in the works but, sadly, seems to be dead now.
  • Swordsman’s Romance: Moonlight Destiny (剑侠情缘外传:月影传说, 2001) is the third game in the series, a real-time isometric RPG that focuses on a romantic story with multiple endings (ranging from a harem to suicide!). It’s also famous for its soundtrack, and for being released in Japan.
  • Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Millennial Destiny (軒轅劍外傳:蒼之濤, 2004) is another high point in the series. Set 500 years BC, its complex narrative mixes Chinese history with time travel and questions about ambition and nationalism. With no romances or comic relief, it left many players bored or lost in the plot, leading to sequels being more lighthearted. But those who manage to delve into its heavy writing defend it as a masterpiece.
Tribulation of Heaven and Earth — Prequel (2001), Swordsman’s Romance: Moonlight Destiny (2001) and Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Millennial Destiny (2004)

THE B-SIDES

You can see more screenshots of all these games at http://kudgame.blogspot.com/search/label/%EF%BC%B2%EF%BC%B0%EF%BC%A7?&max-results=20
Empire of the Angel (1993), Legend of the Hero of Time and Space (1996), The Legend of the Fancy Realm (1995) and Wind Fantasy 5 (2006)
Flame Dragon II, The Fighting Blast and Thunder Force
  • 1998’s Tun Town (阿貓阿狗), a kid-friendly RPG about a boy who can talk to animals. Made by Chinese Paladin developers, is extremely polished, with a style and tone similar to LucasArts Adventure games.
  • 1999’s Bodhidharma (達摩), an RPG where you play as the titular Buddhist patriarch (also known as Daruma in Japan).
  • 1999’s Battle for North Korea (决战朝鲜), a tactical RPG where you control Chinese troops in the Korean war, dealing with supply lines, limited ammo, permanent injuries and far better-equipped enemy forces.
  • 2002’s Heroine Anthem: The Elect of Wassernixe (聖女之歌~人魚的新娘), a really unusual RPG about a girl that gets turned into a mermaid, combining freely swimming across the ocean with turn-based battles.
Tun Town (1998), Bodhidharma (1999), Battle for North Korea (1999) and Heroine Anthem (2002)
A special attack animation in Legend of the Chivalrous Hero 3 (1997)
Water Margin (1995), The Devouring of Heaven and Earth III (1996) and Investiture of the Gods (1996)

(ALMOST) GOING GLOBAL

Blade & Sword (2002), Prince of Qin (2002) and Seal of Evil (2004)

THE ONLINE BOOM

A Meteor Blade duel
The MUD version of King of Kings and the graphical one. The bottom of the screen is filled with MUD-like text commands.
Fantasy Westward Journey (2001)
Cards sold with MMO game time
Honkai Impact 3rd (2016)
https://web.archive.org/web/20070216205153/http://pc.ign.com/articles/092/092316p1.html
Graph showing the decline of offline PC gaming, from ‘Video Games Around the World’ by Mark J. P. Wolf
Fantasia Sango 2 (2005), Chinese Paladin 4 (2007) and Gujian 2 (2013)
2016's Chinese Paladin 5 Tv series, based on the 2011 game of the same name.

GOING TRULY GLOBAL

Genshin Impact (2020)
Chinese Paladin 6 (2015), Gujian 3 (2018) and Xuan-Yuan Sword VII (2020)
The big Chinese RPGs from the past years, all available on Steam in English, all struggling for attention.
The Scroll of Taiwu (2018), Sands of Salzaar (2020) and Tale of Immortal (2021)
Library of Heaven’s Path page on webnovel.com, with 2,268 chapters and 172 million views

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Brazilian living in Japan, Marketing dude and Gaming History enthusiast. Creator of The CRPG Book: https://crpgbook.wordpress.com/

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Felipe Pepe

Felipe Pepe

Brazilian living in Japan, Marketing dude and Gaming History enthusiast. Creator of The CRPG Book: https://crpgbook.wordpress.com/

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