Also available on Windows
With my love of visual novels - and often low budget ones at that - I'm no stranger to shoddy translations and straight up "Engrish." This game, however, takes the cake for astoundingly bad translations. Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Gate of Firmament is the sixth game in the series but the first one to receive a translation from Chinese. The Steam version saw a worldwide release, but this retail PlayStation 4 version was imported from China because I'm insane and pay good money for bad games just for the sake of sticking them on my shelf.
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Gate of Firmament (henceforth referred to simply as Xuan-Yuan Sword) is timer based JRPG somewhat reminiscent of the Tales or Xenoblade series in some aspects. Depending on what's going on in the story, you have anywhere from one to four characters in your party, and movement in the world takes place in a standard third person view with enemies appearing in the dungeon rather than randomly encountered and combat taking place in a fairly standard JRPG manner. You cannot move your character around within the battle - character movement is done automatically - but you have up to six attacks at your disposal depending on what skills you've unlocked and equipped and two items that can be used (you have to select a health item and a mana item of some kind from the pause menu outside of battle). From there, your actions are on a cooldown timer depending on what attack or item you chose to use. It's a pretty straight forward system that has some quirks here and there to learn but is largely going to feel right at home for any veteran of recent JRPGs.
The story - from what I was able to gather of it - is that you play as this guy from some random little village whose sister gets kidnapped by bandits because she's stupid and clumsy, and then you meet some chick who eats more than a fat kid in a bakery but stays skinny and wields an axe that looks like it was stolen from Soul Calibur's Astaroth, and the two of you try to save your sister and along the way find some space looking chick who's in a come or something. This chick seriously looks like if the Chinese tried to draw a human version of Princess Luna. Anyway, yall do plot stuff and go your separate ways, and then your character gets banished from his village because old men are stupid, and then the game's real story FINALLY starts...literally no less than five or six hours in. I've never in my life played a game that takes this damn long to get to the actual story, and you're easily halfway through the game before you have any clue who the antagonist is.
Part of the reason that synopsis is so flippant is because the story isn't that engaging anyway, but it's also partly because the translation is so bad that the details really aren't made clear. Like, the overarching narrative is that good guys want to get to heaven so the Jade Emperor (the creator god of the Three Pure Ones in Taoism) can recognize the ruler's bloodline which will apparently magically make natural disasters stop happening in their territory, but there are also bad guys who want to get to heaven and - somehow - force the Jade Emperor to destroy the world...or something. That part wasn't really that clear. Then there's a god who's a good guy but turned into a bad guy but he's dead but he's not REALLY dead and he's basically the "just wants to watch the world burn" meme in a nutshell. Another thing about the translation that makes it REALLY confusing to figure out what's going on is that seemingly at random, the wrong character's name will be used in a subtitle, so it gets REALLY confusing to figure out who's even talking to whom and about whom. There are also a couple of lines of subtitle that aren't even translated from Chinese - just these lines of Chinese characters mixed in with (very) poorly translated English).
There are also some real gems of awkwardly or just flat out badly translated dialogue that make the game next to impossible to take seriously.
"I didn't come this far to only come this far!"
"I has been a obedient child."
"The willagers were trapped all over the places!"
Yes. Willagers. If only they had a nuclear wessel they could use to escape. Like, this game may well have a brilliantly written and compelling story. I'll never know without becoming fluent in Chinese because they could seriously have just plugged the entire script into Google Translate and had a better English product. It's baffling that this made it past ANY legitimate game studio's QA department. It's not like this is some bootleg Vietnamese Pokemon game for NES; this is a fairly well respected and well received game series among Chinese literate gamers. It just blows my mind a tad; it honestly might have been better not even to bother translating it at all if the finished product is this quality.
So now that I've thoroughly expressed just how god awful the translation is, let's take a look at the graphics and music. It looks okay....if it were running on PS3. Honest to god, with only a few exceptions, it looks like an upscaled PlayStation 2 game. There was literally nothing about this game's visuals - not the character models, not the environments, not even the few pre-rendered cut scenes - that impressed me in the slightest. It doesn't look bad by any means, but it doesn't look like a game that came out for current generation hardware. Unfortunately, the last-gen looking visuals aren't for the sake of performance; the game normally runs between 20 and 30 fps, but there are section - one dungeon in particular - that routinely dips to 15 fps or so and approaches if not outright reaching single digit frame rates.
The game's music is actually quite good. It's traditional instrumental Chinese music, and it's absolutely gorgeous. The problem is that it's also absolutely relaxing, and when you mix that with an utterly boring narrative and repetitive gameplay, you get my snoring pretty promptly. I had to put on headphones and start listening to Liquid Metal on Sirius XM and my Slipknot station on Pandora just to stay awake long enough to finish the game. It seriously put me to sleep. The biggest problem with the audio in general is that there's not much consistency to the voice levels; some characters' voices will sound normal, some will be virtually inaudible, and some will be almost deafening. In general, that's not a MAJOR issue here, but it does get annoying.
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Gate of Firmament has a decent pedigree, and with an interesting (or at least coherent) story, the rather repetitive gameplay wouldn't be an issue. Unfortunately, the game is somewhat marred by lackluster visuals, inconsistent performance, and an utterly pathetic attempt at translation. Chinese is a complex language, and English has some confusing grammar intricacies - I get it - but this is just pitiful. The game plays like a mid-budget RPG, looks like a low-budget RPG, and is translated like a high school project. I absolutely cannot recommend this on PlayStation 4 (it's a total waste of money and time to import it from China), and unless you find it for less than $5, I can't even recommend it on Steam. Hell, even for less than $5, I'd have a hard time recommending it unless it's a gift or something. There's just nothing worthwhile or compelling here, and that's really a shame given the promise of an RPG steeped in Taoist mythology. If you do ignore my advice and buy it, though, at least it does work. It's a functional game; it's just not a very good game.
My Rating - 2 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.