The Mysterious World Of Oriental Gaming: Xuan Yuan Jian

Xuan-Yuan-JianAfter introducing our all new feature on The Mysterious World Of Oriental Gaming, it's about time we dove into the deep-end and took a look at some of the compelling obscure titles on offer. This time around we're going to take a look at what you could broadly consider to be the Dragon Quest of Chinese RPGs – Xuan Yuan Jian.

My introductory post seemed to go down well, so it’s about time I followed it up don’t you think? The Xuan Yuan Jian series started way back in 1990 on DOS-compatible floppy discs and is still going twenty three years later – there’s a new entry due out this August! Sandwiched between those two are a grand total of four main games, five side stories, four MMOs, an SRPG and a TV series. So all in all there are sixteen games in this series spanning over two decades… and yet we haven’t got so much as a half-started fan translation of any of them *grumble grumble*. All the games are PC only, with the exception of Xuan Yuan Jian 2 and Xuan Yuan Jian Wai Zhuan: Feng zhi Wu – those two have official iOS ports (commercial DOSbox emulator+game files).

The games are all RPGs, and by and large they follow a general turn based type of gameplay with some real time elements - think of a Final Fantasy game with the ATB setting set to “active” and you’re on the right sort of lines. Other familiar systems appear and work as anyone would expect them to, characters join and leave your party as the plot requires it and there’s a pretty overworld to walk around in between towns and caves. So what makes these games unique then? Well…

…from the second game onwards the games go out of their way to include a distinctly Chinese style of art, incorporating beautiful brush and ink work into the backgrounds. In Xuan Yuan Jian 3 this is as literal as is sounds – that game and it’s side story use scanned art for the backgrounds in places, while later 3D games in the series use a cel-shaded-ish graphical style and brushwork-like textures to create a similar effect.



That’s a relatively simple coating though (having said that very few non-Chinese artists really get shui-mo hua and other traditional art styles to feel right); what really sets these games apart are the stories they tell. Some games in series are set in particular periods of history and draw upon (fantastical versions of) real world events such as The Battle of Talas or even ancient belief systems like Mohism. Players aren’t expected to know about these facts any more than a Dynasty Warriors fan is expected to know about the history behind The Battle of Chibi, but by drawing upon Chinese culture in this way the games have a sense of depth and character that few of the same era can match.

From Xuan Yuan Jian 3 onwards the games have individual overarching themes such as “benevolence” “righteousness” and “ambition” that either underpin the player characters themselves or the situations they face. Another change from the sort of storytelling we’re used to is that very few have what would normally be considered happy endings (this holds true of Chinese RPGs as a whole too) – characters that don’t die (and even a few that do) at some point can often expect to live a life bound by duty, sacrifice, honour or any combination of the three after the final boss has been defeated. Don’t mistake the games as drama-riddled-woe-fests though; they certainly put on a serious face when it counts but it’s usually applied with care and balance.



Xuan Yuan Jian Timeline

  • 1990: Xuan Yuan Jian 1 released
  • 1994: Xuan Yuan Jian 2 released – this is a direct sequel to the first game, and was also translated into Korean and Japanese. Such is their rarity looking for these translations seems about as worthwhile as checking your local DIY store for elbow grease.
  • 1995: Xuan Yuan Jian Wai Zhuan: Feng zhi Wu is released. This is the final DOS game in the series.
  • 1999: Xuan Yuan Jian 3 is released.
  • 2000: Xuan Yuan Jian 3 Wai Zhuan: Tian zhi Hen is released - this is a prequel to Xuan Yuan Jian 3.
  • 2001: Xuan Yuan Fu Mo Lu is released. This is the only SRPG in the series.
  • 2002: Both Xuan Yuan Jian 4 and the first Xuan Yuan MMO are released this year. Xuan Yuan Jian 4 is the first 3D game in the series.
  • 2004: Xuan Yuan Jian Wai Zhuan: Cang zhi Tao is released.
  • 2005: The second Xuan Yuan Jian MMO is released.
  • 2006: Xuan Yuan Jian 5 is released.
  • 2007: Xuan Yuan Jian Wai Zhuan: Han zhi Yun is released. This is the second game in the trilogy started by Xuan Yuan Jian 5.
  • 2010: Xuan Yuan Jian Wai Zhuan: Yun zhi Yao is released, as is another Xuan Yuan Jian MMO. Yun zhi Yao is the final game in the Xuan Yuan Jian 5 trilogy. An expansion for Yun zhi Yao, titled Lan Yin Pian, is released a few months later and is set after the events of Yun zhi Yao.
  • 2013: Xuan Yuan Jian 6 is released this August, and for the first time it’s getting a nigh-on simultaneous release in both mainland and Taiwan/Hong Kong territories – before this mainland gamers had to wait years to receive simplified Chinese versions.

Xuan Yuan Jian Trailers & Gameplay Videos

The TV series aired in 2012 and ran for 35 episodes. You’d think that a live action version of an old RPG adapted for TV would be a recipe for disaster, but it did so well it topped the TV charts! If you’d like to experience the show you can watch it legally with English subtitles here.

Five years after the first Xuan Yuan Jian game Softstar released Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan, this would also go on to become a massively successful series and collectively the two are referred two as the “two swords” of Softstar.

Last Updated ( 07 July 2013 )  


+1 (Link to this comment) DemonicNinja 2013-07-10 11:11
Thanks for the article,these games look beautiful,
+2 (Link to this comment) Kimimi 2013-07-10 11:33
You're more than welcome :)
+1 (Link to this comment) Shereebedee 2013-07-10 12:09
Awesome article :) May take a look at the Tv Series!
+1 (Link to this comment) Kimimi 2013-07-10 12:22
Thank you! The video quality's not the best on Viki, but it's free, translated and legal so there's not much anyone can really complain about :)
(Link to this comment) ZombiesAteMyProfile 2013-07-10 12:38
Those are some incredibly pretty looking games, how in the name of all that is holy have these not been translated?! Also really like the way you write these, very easy to read haha
+1 (Link to this comment) Kimimi 2013-07-10 13:01
Now you can see why I have such a bee in my bonnet about them right? They're beautiful! I really appreciate the comment about my writing too, I do try to keep things accessible even when it's about a subject like this :)
(Link to this comment) DemonicNinja 2013-07-10 19:52
Imfoundvsome other articles that you wrote and I thoroughly enjoyed them, I love bullet hell shoot em ups too!!
(Link to this comment) Travesty 2013-07-12 13:59
Very intresting article. :)

Retro Game Database Search

Retro Gaming Podcast

Join the RetroCollect Squad as they discuss our gaming past in the all new RetroCollect FM - Retro Gaming Podcast.

Retro Games on eBay now

About RetroCollect

RetroCollect is your one stop for everything retro games and retro gaming. Featuring the latest classic gaming news around, informative reviews and an ever active forum, you'll feel right at home with other retro gamers.

RetroCollect FM - Retro Gaming Podcast

Join the RetroCollect Squad as they talk their way through the wonderful world of retro gaming.

Listen to RetroCollect FM - Retro Gaming Podcast

Join RetroCollect on the web