In 1996, Soft-World – a gaming publisher headquartered in Taiwan – tasked one of their teams, Heluo Studio, to make a game based on the novels of famed wuxia writer Jin Yong.
They created Heroes of Jin Yong (金庸群俠傳), a tactical role-playing game where the player gets to roam China in an age of honorable martial heroes, populated by a mix of all Jin Yong novel’s characters and plots. During your travels it’s possible to change certain storylines and recruit over thirty characters to brawl it out with various villains and heroes.
Five years later, the same team made a sequel titled 武林群侠传 – loosely translated as Legend of Wulin Heroes (not to be confused with the tabletop RPG of the same name), and set one hundred years after the first game, with new characters and an original plot. It retained the open world and tactical RPG elements of its predecessor, but also introduced a new Princess Maker-like raising sim mode, where your character’s growth is determined by a weekly training schedule set by the player, presented in a humorous Chibi art style.
You play as a nobody who dreams to become a martial hero. He is guided by your hand in training, with up to 32 stats (not including hidden ones) being available for the player to improve. All of them are useful in one way or another – if perhaps not in battle, then surely interwoven into various events.
You’ll be able to learn several Kung Fu styles, categorized into Saber, Sword, Staff, Palm/Fist, Finger, Leg, Hidden weapon, and Music, with their corresponding stats affecting the techniques that your hero finds during his journey or learns from his master when he is pleased with his pupil.
The hero’s many base stats also affect his overall battle competency in battle, such as Flexibility providing a passive boost to damage and enhancing most sword techniques. In fact, some techniques have a third stat to boost its power, such as alcohol the for the Drunken Fist style. Yes, you can learn to become skilled in alcohol in this game!
Aside from preparing the hero for combat, you’ll also have chores like chopping wood or cleaning, and can choose to indulge in activities like fishing, hunting, smithing, herb gathering and gardening – each with its own respective list of diverse mini-games.
Your performance in these mini-games will determine the skill gain and add rewards such as rare meat from killing a bear while hunting, or a treasure chest as a no-error bonus when mining.
You can also learn more about different aspects of Chinese culture, such as Chinese Chess, Calligraphy, Acupuncture, Music and even Gardening. A lot of care went into these, and not only you’ll get interesting lessons, but you’ll later be asked to identify songs, calligraphy styles, acupuncture points or decide upon a Chess move – which your performance impacting the bonus your character receives.
After a certain amount of weeks has passed, the hero will be tasked with plot-related missions. While some will only be a series of battles, others allow you to freely roam around town for a time (such as until a ceremony begins), and you’re able to explore, talk to NPCs, buy items, do side-quests and find secrets.
There are often long-lasting consequences based on your actions and, depending on which faction you wish to side with, it might even be good to “fail” a mission, although generally not by losing in battle.
These missions also serve as a good wake-up call to let the player know if the hero’s Kung Fu is lagging behind – if battles are too difficult you can catch up during the next weeks of training.
Players are given the freedom to exercise their will upon each event and their actions will affect future events one way or the other. Up to 30+ NPC can be befriended through events and gifts, and they will greatly contribute to your success in future endeavors and possibly unlock certain events that lead to treasures and new Kung Fu teachings. Furthermore, six of these fellow companions are romanceable heroines with unique events for you to pursue!
The game can be difficult for those who neglect training their hero, but the versatility of approaches in each playthrough and the amount of freedom to raise your hero makes replaying the game highly enjoyable and part of the charm.
Overall, there’s enough variety of Kung Fu styles, skills, events, routes, endings, NPCs and achievements to guarantee at least three full playthroughs.
Regrettably, Heluo Studio was later disbanded, a victim of the large shift in the Chinese publishers (including Soft-World) towards MMOs and online gaming. However, Legend of Wulin Heroes remained a cult classic among the Chinese fanbase, motivating its original creators to reform Helio Studio with a new publisher – Phoenix Games – and create a modern, fully 3D remake.
Released in 2015 as 侠客风云传, it was the first game of the series to be officially translated into English, published on Steam in 2016 as Tale of Wuxia. Besides the many graphical upgrades, the remake also gave the developers the chance to refine and expand the game’s story and events, improve its mini-games, upgrade the combat to a hex based system, add a new day & night cycle with timed NPC schedules and increase the romanceable heroine to 10, with possibly more in future DLCs.
As of this writing there’s still some bugs and glitches that might manifest on certain system, and the crowd-sourced translation is rather uneven and messy, but the game is definitely worth playing. It’s a truly one-of-a-kind wuxia experience that you aren’t likely to find elsewhere. Nyaa