Published on February 7th, 2023 | by Ali Arkani
The Legend of Tianding Review
Summary: The Legend of Tianding is a short game, but it provides such a memorable experience that makes it difficult to wait for the next title from the team behind it.
True Indie Spirits
The Legend of Tianding is a game by Creative Games Computer Graphics Corporation. The Taiwanese game development studio speaks of “dedication to promoting Taiwanese stories through game development” but how successful are they in realizing that goal?
Based on the Taiwanese Robin Hood Liao Tianding’s biography, The Legend of Tianding is set in the 20th century during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. While the people are suffering under colonial rule, a young martial artist called Liao Tianding rises as the protector of the poor and oppressed. His valiant acts soon put him on the Japanese radar. Now, Liao must fight the occupying forces, find a lost pirate treasure and stop the Japanese commander from setting his hand on a legendary sword that can bring the people of Taiwan to their knees.
The game’s narrative is its strongest suit. It is a coherent experience that is expressed in different mediums. The hand-drawn art style of the game gives the vibes of living through a comic book. Cutscenes and boss fights are narrated in different panels like comic books and at the end of each level of the game, a summary of the events is broadcasted through a radio that prepares the players for what is to come.
Like most action side-scrollers, The Legend of Tianding is a mixture of combat and platforming. Liao uses a knife and his waist sash to fight enemies. The waist sash can be used to steal enemy weapons and disorient them. Liao can also add special Kung-Fu moves to his combos for extra damage at the cost of some automatically-generated adrenalin. The game’s combos and Kung-Fu moves are pretty limited, but stealing weapons from enemies and some variety to the combat provides tactical opportunities during different combat scenarios. For example, stealing grenades from soldiers lets Liao take care of groups of enemies in no time.
There are other micro-mechanics in the game, but most of them provide no significant benefits to the gameplay. The player can equip talismans that increase stats such as stolen-weapon durability, upgrade main weapon damage by visiting a blacksmith pretty late in the game, play Taiwanese card game, and switch between two defensive actions that create clones of the player or make them invisible during combat. Defeating enemies and completing side-quests will reward the player with money. The money can be given to the poor for permanent stats upgrades or spent at the blacksmith or the card game but as already told, the blacksmith is introduced pretty late in the game and the stats upgrades are not really impactful thus, the pseudo-economy of the game is practically useless. That also makes engaging with enemies also useless due to the lack of a good risk-reward system in the game.
Platforming on the other hand is another bright side of the game. Unlike most games in the genre, The Legend of Tianding uses combat maneuvers in the platforming as well. For example, there is a Kung Fu special move that launches the enemies and the player into the air for mid-air combos. This very move can also be used after a double jump to go even higher and the players need to execute such combos to get past some obstacles in the platforming phases of the game. The aforementioned Kung-Fu moves chained with other tools such as grappling hooks and mid-air dodges make the movement in the game really fluid and enjoyable.
The Legend of Tianding is a great indie title. The game has the true spirit of indie gaming: it tells a story that could still be relatable considering the political climate of Taiwan, represents the cultural and social aspirations of a nation, has a unique visual identity, and knows its limitations. The Legend of Tianding is a short game, but it provides such a memorable experience that makes it difficult to wait for the next title from the team behind it.