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Hidden Dragon: Legend (PC) artwork

Hidden Dragon: Legend (PC) review

"And the award for most ridiculous dub goes to..."

Hidden Dragon: Legend has a clear idea what it wants to be. Itís a delightfully unapologetic product of its developerís culture, for one. Until early 2015, there was a ban on exporting Chinese console games to the worldwide market (one must ensure all effort is focused on releasing a new MMO every other day, after all), so MegaFun Gameís first order of business was to give the world a 2.5D hack and slasher set in the imperial era of Tang China. In terms of pure exhibition, it has class to spare, ensuring it never places you in a drab, uninspired setting when it can instead wow you with eye-popping locations. You can run through the remains of a razed town, dashing across the spines of red-tiled rooftops, or take to the creaky wooden scaffolding that encircles the crumbling stone edifices of warriors past. You can travel through bamboo groves that lead to isolated and long abandoned villages which sit on the outskirts of mammoth stone forts illuminated by an army of lanterns.

The game wants to impress, often bullying the now groaning Unreal engine along the way. Itís all well and good standing around and admiring the backdrops, but the catalogue of sword fights you need to progress through are often things of pure spectacle. Starting by relying on only the most basic of combos, you need to slowly upgrade your swordsmanís arsenal by investing the souls of the slaughtered into new builds and flashy execution methods. Youíll not get very far with the pedestrian weak, weak, weak, strong, strong combo you hold by default (and will get exactly nowhere with uncultured button mashing), which forces you to utilise a variety of attack options that turn the best fought duels into orgies of air juggling, rush counters, animation canceling, combo breaking insanity.

Thereís no block button, so the only way to avoid attacks is either to get out of the way or time a rush counter that leaves foes open for a blistering combo of you own. Itís almost tactical; stray, hopeful slashes that fail to connect often leave you open to a furious enemy stab-fest, so your attacks need to be balanced and timed. Itís the kind of engine where you get out what you put in; on the easier settings, you could probably muddle yourself through the game with a few favoured combinations on hard repeat, coupled with a decent grasp of rush cancelling. Alternately, by taking the time to learn a number of special attacks and what vulnerabilities they can exploit, you have the potential to chain together hit counts soaring up into the hundreds while mowing down legions of hapless assassins and cultists with style. All highlighted with neon slashes sometimes registering faster than you can see.

Mowing through an army of foot soldiers without breaking stride is one thing, but Hidden Dragon also employs the liberal use of huge, screen-filling bosses with all that old school stuff you used to love, like attack patterns and exploitable weak spots. There are also quick time events, because of course there are. At this point, getting mad at a game for awkwardly shoving these in to cinematic events as a cheap attempt at interactivity is about as productive as raging at the rain for being wet. The awkwardly-phrased point being built towards here is that the further you move away from the spectacle of the gameís setting and the acquired intricacies of its combat, the weaker it becomes.

Some of its exploration elements work pretty well. You can often bypass fights and obstacles you may feel are beyond you simply by taking a slightly different route: dropping into a series of tunnels burrowed through sheer cliffs or jumping atop some roofs and running past threats whoíll never know you were there. Sometimes these are based around the gameís clunky attempts at platforming, or the use of a grappling hook that will kill you far more often than an enemyís sword ever will. Youíre also given the option to replay levels, which is not only helpful for grinding souls for struggling players, but also means you can revisit a sequence you once found too tough and gut its hidden wealth using a beefier character with a bolstered move set.

The campaign has a decent go at covering all bases. Thereís a reasonable if unoriginal story here about betrayal and murder which, oh dear, uses the fact that badarse swordsman, Lu, is suffering from the convenient amnesia plot device to retell everything. Copious flashbacks to his hazy, mis-remembered past pop up at opportune moments to remind him if he should be homicidally angry with someone, while the rest of the gameís otherwise rich lore is told through scattered notes and reclaimed artifacts. What really smarts is that, at its best, Hidden Dragon tells its tale wordlessly and organically. It doesn't rely on the hero's clichťd memory affliction to drive the exposition, and instead lets things unfold through his interactions with the world. So it's unfortunate when the scenario writers abandon nuance in favor of clumsiness.

Itís just not a particularly good tale. You wonít stick with Hidden Dragon just to reach its gripping conclusion and find out what other stuff Lu might remember. If you hang around, it will be to earn a few more souls and unlock that awesome looking mid-air combo reset, or because youíve got rush counters down so well youíre an ethereal, unhittable ghost on the battlefield and the misery of your enemies pleases you. Stylish murder sprees, thatís what this game does well... so long as youíre willing to invest the time and effort to get you there. Just donít count on the rest of the game battling as hard to maintain your interest.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (January 30, 2018)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Follow_Freeman posted December 31, 1969:

This was a really interesting review; it sounds like a game I can really get in to. I gather that China is a source of many budding developers that we may want to keep an eye on once the language/export gap is crossed. I recall an interesting article on HardcoreGaming101 on the matter; I can get that to you if you're interested in the topic.
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EmP posted December 31, 1969:

The console game ban from China was a weird one, but they have development houses churning out records amount of MMO's, so the talent is there.

I think I read that article, but link it through; it's an interesting subject.

Thanks for reading!
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Follow_Freeman posted February 08, 2018:

Whoa, sorry for the late response; I was checking notifications when I should have been looking at the thread itself! Anyway, here are three interesting articles on the subject:

I worry about little-known about video games being properly documented and preserved for future generations, but the thought of a country of over a billion people restraining its output of video games and other art from the world particularly concerns me. I appreciate any articles on foreign games since that may help remedy such a problem. Keep up the good work!

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