Ancient China has been the setting for any number of exciting martial arts-themed
Hong Kong action movies, but still, it’+char(39)+’s an era largely unknown to
Western audiences. Though the Roman Empire is sometimes considered to be the
first great civilization, China had been there and done that hundreds of years
earlier--the Qin (pronounced "chin") Dynasty, dating back to around
220 BC, had all the token features: lots of political intrigue, social conflict,
and outright war. It is in this setting that Prince of Qin, a role-playing game
from Beijing-based Object Software, takes place. Prince of Qin is inspired in
equal parts by popular role-playing games like Baldur’+char(39)+’s Gate and
Diablo II, making for an experience that should be familiar for role-playing
gamers, despite the unfamiliar setting. And though Prince of Qin is an epic
adventure in the same vein as the Baldur’+char(39)+’s Gate games, a decidedly
awkward English translation, some lackluster production values, and a poorly
implemented multiplayer mode all prevent it from having the same appeal as the
games that influenced it.
Ancient China makes a fine setting for a role-playing game.
Throughout the single-player portion of Prince of Qin, you play as Fu Su, a
prince living in exile. The main character of the game is actually a real historical
figure, regarded as a hero of the era, but one whose life was tragically cut
short by a false order demanding that the prince take his own life. The game
offers up a "what if" scenario in which the prince suspects foul play
when the order arrives, so rather than kill himself, he flees to investigate.
In so doing, he disguises himself as a simple commoner, and then goes off on
a lengthy adventure where he’+char(39)+’ll meet new allies and plenty of enemies
and discover the source of corruption within the royal family. Though the characters
and the places in Prince of Qin are based on historical information, for the
purposes of turning them into role-playing game material, plenty of liberties
were taken. The game doesn’+char(39)+’t just play it straight, but heavily incorporates
magic and mysticism into the gameworld, making for a setting that’+char(39)+’s
actually quite distinctive.
Those who’+char(39)+’ve played Baldur’+char(39)+’s Gate and Diablo II will
be quick to note that the gameplay of Prince of Qin draws directly from both
these games. Though the game can be played completely in real time, you can
pause the action at any point by hitting the space bar, a feature that will
frequently save your characters’+char(39)+’ lives in the middle of a battle.
The combat itself is reminiscent of Diablo II, in which characters gradually
acquire and improve in a number of different special abilities and can equip
a wide variety of different types of weapons and armor, all with various statistics
and special attributes. The combat isn’+char(39)+’t nearly as polished as that
of Diablo II, however. A generally haphazard pacing and some balance issues
make battles in Prince of Qin not nearly so addicting as in Blizzard’+char(39)+’s
hit game. Many of the skills you’+char(39)+’ll be able to learn as you gain
levels just aren’+char(39)+’t useful in practice, and despite the party-based
nature of the combat, it’+char(39)+’s difficult to get your characters to act
intelligently in battle short of micromanaging each of them. And a somewhat
counterintuitive interface interferes with the micromanagement. You can’+char(39)+’t
click on one of your characters to select him, but must instead click on his
portrait on the right side of the screen. Seemingly simple actions like exchanging
equipment between characters are fairly cumbersome to perform.
Prince of Qin does incorporate an interesting elemental magic system, based
on the ancient Chinese theory (which predates Aristotle’+char(39)+’s similar
theory by centuries) that the physical world is made up of five elements: earth,
fire, metal, water, and wood. A five-way rock-paper-scissors-style relationship
exists between the elements in the game, making some powerful against others,
but also making some able to bolster others. Certain combinations of elemental
equipment produce results greater than the sum of the parts. The game also has
a rudimentary trade skill system, whereby you can make new items by combining
raw materials if you’+char(39)+’re proficient enough and know the proper recipe.
Beyond all that, Prince of Qin is obviously similar to Baldur’+char(39)+’s Gate,
insofar as this game is likewise split up into a large number of relatively
small areas enshrouded in a fog of war that clears away as you move through
it. Many of the areas are towns, and you’+char(39)+’ll often meet characters
willing to send you on fetch quests or other simple tasks in exchange for experience
points and some other rewards. Leveling up in Prince of Qin is treated much
like in Diablo II, where you can spend attribute points to improve your characters’+char(39)+’
core stats, and skill points to gain or augment special abilities.
Hard-core role-playing gamers will appreciate that Prince of Qin doesn’+char(39)+’t
skimp on storytelling or character development for the sake of action. There’+char(39)+’s
a surprising amount of dialogue with nonplayer characters all throughout the
game. Unfortunately, most of the dialogue is poorly translated, often to the
point that it’+char(39)+’s difficult to understand. The occasional use of full
speech is even more awkward since, in spite of the voice actors’+char(39)+’
fluency in English, their performances leave much to be desired, and the spoken
dialogue itself is just as inane as the written stuff. For what it’+char(39)+’s
worth, forgiving or open-minded gamers might appreciate some aspects of the
translation of Prince of Qin, a game that reads like a script for a chop sockey
low-budget kung fu flick.
Prince of Qin’+char(39)+’s single-player mode is fairly open-ended and is actually
quite challenging, in part because you may have a difficult time keeping track
of all the different characters and your various quests, but also because the
combat can be very tough. It’+char(39)+’s a long campaign, and there’+char(39)+’s
also a multiplayer mode to keep you busy afterward. Supposedly. The shipped
version of the multiplayer game can only be played over a network or direct
TCP/IP connection, making it a poor choice for those expecting an alternative
to Diablo II. The multiplayer mode is different and much more action-packed
than the single-player mode, and it lets you create your own character from
a number of different classes, but it will also be effectively unplayable online
for most gamers. At least you don’+char(39)+’t need multiple copies of the game
to get it running over a network.
The ASPCA probably wouldn’+char(39)+’t approve of Prince of Qin.
The game looks and sounds decent, though some aspects of the presentation are
rather crude. You’+char(39)+’ll see some impressive scenery wandering through
ancient China, and many of the characters look pretty good, though a lot of
the creatures you’+char(39)+’ll encounter look silly, and the game generally
appears grainy and washed out. Sound effects are minimal and the voice acting
is poor, but surprisingly, Prince of Qin features a few really impressive music
tracks that do a perfect job of setting the mood for the game. Too bad that
the annoying combat theme often cuts them off.
All told, Prince of Qin is a decent role-playing game on its own merits, and
it’+char(39)+’s one that’+char(39)+’s easy to apologize for considering you
can tell some real effort went into it, and it was made by a relatively small
team. Oftentimes you’+char(39)+’ll have to work to understand what’+char(39)+’s
going on in the game, and you’+char(39)+’ll have to try hard to stay alive in
battle. But if you stick with it, you’+char(39)+’ll see some interesting sights
and maybe even gain a little insight into ancient Chinese culture and folklore.
So if you’+char(39)+’re looking for another role-playing game to while away
the time, this one’+char(39)+’s not a bad choice.
By Greg Kasavin, GameSpot PC