The Eagle-Shooting Heroes - Staff Retroview  

Anybody Like Kung-Fu Fighting?
by Michael Baker

Less than 20 hours
+ Multilingual text options
+ Good Chinese voice acting
+ Great polygonal kung-fu action
+ Interesting source material
- Easy to get lost in source material
- Some arbitrarily difficult puzzles
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   There are a lot of things in this world that can be lost in translation. Even more things may be lost because they never were translated. Much of the Chinese wuxia genre of fiction falls into this category. Like the American western or Japanese samurai novel, wuxia is based around a romanticized view of a historical period, with specific tropes and formulae that do not always translate well. The most successful and widely translated wuxia series would have to be The Eagle-Shooting Heroes (a.k.a. Legend of the Condor Heroes) by Jin Yong. Popular around the world, it has been adapted into many different movies, television series, and animated series — not to mention one RPG by Sony Computer Entertainment of Hong Kong.

   As far as novel adaptations go, The Eagle-Shooting Heroes the RPG does a decent job with the source material. The bulk of the backstory has been streamlined or waved away and the endgame takes some weird turns for the sake of cutting loose plot threads, but the core plot of the game follows the basic path set in Jin Yong's third novel. In fact, it's possible to use the details on Wikipedia's cast list for the series to better understand most of what transpires before the eighth and ninth chapters of the game. The most important characters — the protagonist Guo Jing, his beloved Huong Rong, and his rival Yang Kang — are played very close to the originals. On the other hand, all seven of Guo Jing's childhood mentors get compiled into one character, Jiangnan Qi Guai. The entire section of the plot involving Genghis Khan is unfortunately absent.

   Considering its roots, there is one thing that anyone might expect from this game, and that is kung-fu action. The Eagle-Shooting Heroes delivers. The character models are all well articulated and capable of most any pose required for a scene, which means there are times both in and out of battle when this game seems like a highly polygonal take on Enter the Dragon. A wide variety of body types ensures that all the fighting cast members, both major and minor, are readily recognizable. Considering the usual state of PSX graphics, this game could only be seen as top-knotch when it was released in 2000 — aside from the severe lack of noses on most characters, that is. The animated sequences found at the beginning and at other major plot points are as good as, if not better than, anything else of the period that was not produced by Squaresoft.

Caption Fast as lightning!

   Combat in The Eagle-Shooting Heroes is based on three flavors of chi energy. "Outer chi" is the energy of physical form and equates to hit points and brute force attacks. "Inner" chi is more or less the sort of energy seen thrown around in countless anime and fighting games. "Lightness chi" is the power of grace and agility, which is used for finesse moves, status ailments, high-jumping, or even flight for some characters. Both inner chi and lightness chi use up points attributed to their respective energies.

   Guo Jing and Huang Rong learn many different skills during their adventures, and knowing what to use when is the key to victory in many battles. From the combat menu, the player can select a particular attack to use and switch up formations to decide who will face whom first in the next round. Pressing the "go" button sets the kung-fu chaos in motion.

   The game uses a rough rock-paper-scissors mechanic between the three sorts of energy. Inner chi abilities will always knock back purely physical attacks. Lightness chi abilities can slip in to hit before inner chi attacks can finish. Physical attacks will just bat lightness skills away. When two attacks of the same type meet, however, sparks will jump and fists will fly.

   One last system to make the game interesting is habits. Habits are like special attributes that will sometimes kick in during battle. Most major enemies have one or two, as do many of the secondary characters that join Guo Jing in his quests. Only Guo Jing and Huang Rong can be taught new habits by the player; everyone else is already set in their ways. What's funny is that over half of these habits are indisputably bad. The habit of laziness causes a character to occasionally fall asleep during battle, for example, while indigestion can make a character sick. Short tempers and alcoholism can both lower one's attack power at a critical juncture in battle. The positive habits (i.e. the ones the player will teach to the two main characters) include focusing to increase physical or chi attacks, cheering to raise morale, and bragging to scare away weaker enemies. Guo Jing and Huang Rong can be taught up to ten habits, but only four may be active at a time. Thankfully, there is absolutely no reason to teach them bad habits, unless the player just wants to be funny.

Caption A little bit frightening!

   The music is very heavy on the oriental instruments, which is to be expected. The actual style of music varies greatly from theme to theme, however. There are completely traditional tracks, but then again there are also hard rock and jazz tracks that incorporate the exact same Chinese instruments to great effect. Strangely enough, the odd track out is the ending credits theme, which is completely western in style, with electric guitar and English lyrics. The Eagle-Shooting Heroes also avoids many of the issues that other PSX titles have had with voice-acting. Very rarely is there a conflict between voice and background music, with the characters sounding sharp and clear in the important scenes. Granted, it may seem different to someone who can actually understand spoken Chinese. In any case, the voice acting really helps set the scene appropriately.

   The Eagle-Shooting Heroes is rare in that it has three different language settings for the text: Japanese, Chinese, and simplified Chinese. Those who cannot read any of that will have a much harder time, as even the Japanese version has a higher than normal rare kanji count. While the main part of the game is quite linear, there are several puzzles that rely on the ability to read and solve riddles involving kanji. Some are incredibly difficult to solve without a guide. Once past the initial level the game isn't particularly difficult aside from those puzzles and the occasional quick-time or other special event. The entirety of the game can be completed in twenty hours, though online testimonials claim to do it in as few as fifteen.

   This title is sometimes given the distinction of being the first Chinese-developed console RPG. The material was well suited to a game adaptation, and Sony's Hong Kong branch did an excellent job with it. As China's debut onto the international market, it's a true tour-de-force.

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