It’s always refreshing to see representation of different cultures, especially when it comes to video games. The Legend of Tian Ding joins its peers like Detention in bringing you an in-depth look into Taiwanese history and culture. Not only that, the game manages to pair this experience with fast-paced combat and platforming, allowing you to feel like a true kung fu master. It manages to stand out against its competitors with this great gameplay and riveting background.
STORY – THE TREASURE OF DADAOCHENG
The Legend of Tian Ding is set in Taiwan in the early 20th century. Liao Tian Ding, often dubbed to as the Taiwanese Robin Hood, has just returned to Dadaocheng to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Such thievery cannot go unnoticed, and the Colonial Japanese police are on the hunt for this daring vigilante. Meanwhile, the legend of an ancient vault brews in the background, starting a cutthroat race for the hidden treasures within.
The game’s story is based on real events. While different versions of the character’s story have been told several times, all of them portray Tian Ding as an elusive vigilante. The game puts its own spin on Tian Ding’s story, while keeping with the spirit of his character. The result is an easygoing, kind hearted, but incredibly powerful character that is easy to root for.
However, because it is based on real events, the exposition in between gameplay can get overwhelming. There may be long bouts of dialogue and text that give you context, and historical information. What’s more, there are unskippable cutscenes between chapters to deliver even more story. While the voice acting is charming, and it can give a good break in-between chapters, there are times where it seems a bit too much.
GAMEPLAY – EVERYBODY WAS KUNG FU FIGHTING
Perhaps after watching Shang Chi, some of us had an itch for a kung fu game that needed to be scratched. The Legend of Tian Ding fulfills this desire beautifully. You start with a dagger that has a basic 3-attack combo. You can steal the weapons from your enemies, all of which have their own movesets. There are also some attacks which also double as movement abilities to kick forward, upward, or slam downward. The beauty of this combat comes from stringing together your abilities to juggle the enemies. The game gives you complete freedom in your attacks, meaning you’re not locked into certain combos.
With it being a platformer, these movement abilities are used to climb platforms and jump across gaps. It certainly helps that you have this freedom to chain abilities, making your movement buttery smooth. The environmental hazards are themselves not very unique, but the design of them paired with the movement make for excellent platforming. Not to mention, these environmental hazards hurt the enemies too – sending an enemy flying into spikes is always satisfying.
Also, the game is filled with secrets hidden throughout each level. Those who aren’t so keen on secret hunting can rest, however. Once a secret area is found, it is clearly marked with a chalk treasure chest on the background wall. You won’t be questioning whether it’s an optional area or the way to go. Once you’ve obtained the secret, there will be an X marking on the treasure chest. This helps greatly when replaying levels to find all the secrets, so you don’t go back to the same place over again.
Difficulty with pacing
While both combat and platforming are usually challenging without being too punishing, the difficulty level spikes tremendously during some boss battles. This can be a turn off for some, but luckily there is an option to change the difficulty at any time, which will improve the experience for those of us who want it.
The progression of the game, however, can be quite uneven. Your health and damage upgrades are only available later in the game and are unlocked using coins dropped from enemies. As I replayed some of the earlier levels to find all the secrets, I found myself racking up a lot of coins. As soon as I could buy the upgrades, I had enough money to buy most of them already.
Gambling with stolen money
If the story between gameplay is not enough of a break for you, The Legend of Tian Ding also features a minigame called Four Color Cards. While the rules seem intimidating at first, it is fairly simple to learn, and most actions are automatically done for you. Just try to form pairs with the cards you have together with any drawn or discarded cards.
This minigame is quite relaxing in between combat-heavy levels. If that’s not what you’re looking for, you can go big or go home and wager more of your money. Although, people may not be too happy if you steal from the rich only to gamble it all away.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO – STEP INTO THE TAIWANESE MANHUA
The game is generally delivered to you through a charming manhua aesthetic. The story between gameplay is reminiscent of classic Taiwanese comics – bright, bold colors mixed with thick, dark action and shading lines. Even during gameplay, the game retains that with its bold outlines and signature comic book dots. It also helps that the streets in the hub world are filled with life and movement. Characters bustle around selling their wares or pulling rickshaws. This gives the world a unique flavour that isn’t seen in a lot of other games.
The voice acting is also equally charming. Most voices are delivered in Taiwanese Hokkien, the main language spoken by Taiwanese both today and during that period. The radio host between chapters gives a great and exciting delivery. I was especially amused by the enemies that taunt you during battle. It made it all the more satisfying to hear their “ai ya” when being hit.
Of course, no Taiwanese experience is complete without accompanying music. The soundtrack is carefully composed to produce a wide variety of tracks for different situations, while keeping the overall theme of a historical Taiwan. The atmospheric music pairs well with each level, and the music during combat enhances the excitement. Some of the tracks have more modern influences, but that does help the excitement in more epic sequences.
TAIWANESE CULTURE – TEA, BUNS AND CARDS
The best part of The Legend of Tian Ding is, of course, the fact that it is soaked in Taiwanese culture. The music and aesthetics characteristically Taiwanese. The save points are marked by tea tables and health pickups are meat buns, a Taiwan staple food. While Taiwanese games haven’t always gotten great reception, this game has pulled it off perfectly. If you’re a fan of Taiwan’s bubble tea and night markets, it will be interesting to have a glimpse of where it all comes from.
Most of us likely don’t play games for their education value. The Legend of Tian Ding doesn’t present itself as an educational one, but I believe it can be a good opportunity for anyone to look into its background to learn about a culture that’s different from ours.
The Legend of Tian Ding was reviewed on PC, with a code provided by Neon Doctrine.
(Soundtrack video by Chocoholie.)