So I finished this a bit before Christmas and now I’ve had the chance to get my thoughts in order and also somehow found enough free time to actually write them down too!
If you want the short version of my thoughts on this new Chinese RPG I’ll sum it up like this – beautiful game with a great plot that unfortunately overstays its welcome.
Well… sort of. There’s not anything wrong with any individual scene, or even with the overarching plot, but there’s just so much that even someone like myself who grew up reading The Lord of the Rings and likes the text-mountains in Falcom’s Kiseki series got a bit fidgety once the (charming, interesting) characters started to talk amongst themselves. The philosophy behind the writing seems to be “If we can write a great ten minute cutscene, can you imagine how amazing a thirty minute cutscene would be?!”.
These scenes are mercifully skippable and they’re even gracious enough to give you a short text summary of whatever you just glossed over, but with a game as wonderful as this one is it’s a shame to feel forced between making actual progress this evening or seeing the full visual splendour that they’ve obviously gone to great pains to create.
Which brings me to Gu Jian Qi Tan 2’s other major issue – graphical performance. Their design work is impeccable and if you’ve got the PC to run it seeing the sun break through the leaves of a tree and light up Wuyi’s gorgeous face is truly a wonderful sight to behold. The problem is that you almost certainly haven’t got the PC to do that and run the game at not-slideshow settings.
This isn’t just a case of sour grapes from a laptop user, but a genuine technical issue with the game. It never runs as well as it should, no matter how many fancy effects you turn off. You’d expect that setting the game up with sub-PS1 textures and a draw distance that barely extends a few feet ahead should get the game running decently on most modern systems, but the game still feels like it’s struggling. Likewise turning on most of the fancy things doesn’t hit performance as heavily as you think it would, and after much fiddling the whole way through the game I never felt I’d hit that sweet spot where the game was running as best it could with the tools I’d given it – something of a problem when your game’s being outperformed by (launch) Final Fantasy XIV, don’t you think?
This all sounds a bit negative and that’s unfair – there’s an excellent plot in there, it’s just a bit bloated, and the graphics are beautiful, but the programming behind them appears to be absolutely awful. The battle system’s good fun if you ever get it running at full speed and the real-time platforming/flying/swimming and QTE sections are generally brief and exciting rather than jarring gimmicks.
So to wrap this up – it was worth the wait. The original Gu Jian Qi Tan had the unenviable task of both setting up a new series from an freshy-minted developer and also taking on the latest entry in the one of biggest Chinese RPG series of all time. This sequel proves that Aurogon can produce a quality single player RPG as a matter of course and I look forward to their next one as eagerly as I did Gu Jian 2. But – there seems to be a habit of Chinese RPGs launching with terribly optimised engines; and this is especially unforgivable considering their games are only ever released on PC. Piracy is a real problem in the Chinese market and developers like SoftStar and Aurogon can’t keep expecting gamers who take the time to purchase their games legitimately to fight through the DRM (although in fairness Gu Jian 2’s is better than most) only to then find the game doesn’t run half as well as it should. The boost in graphical quality in recent years is a welcome one and something that Chinese game artists are using well, but the programming side of these teams need to be up to scratch too.