I’ve been going on about Chinese RPGs for… let’s say ‘too long’ and I honestly never thought I’d see a big-name Chinese game with an official English language release on a major Western platform, but here we are! ‘The Gate of Firmament’, as it’s being called in English, is the most recent RPG from Chinese titan Softstar and came out of nowhere. Just to see a big Chinese game on Steam would be shocking enough (sorry Rainblood) but with English and Japanese language support too? I still can’t quite believe it if I’m honest.
To try and express just how unlikely this situation is - this turning up on Steam out of the blue for £10.99 (post-launch-sale price) with both English and Japanese text is the Chinese RPG equivalent of Square-Enix releasing Dragon Quest X tomorrow in a dozen European languages for £4.99 with the entire game playable offline. It’s that unlikely, and that amazing.
There is something important out of the way before we go any further, and that is the quality of the translation. Let’s be clear: measured against typical modern RPG standards, the dialogue is often stiff and overly-literal. Was it ever going to be any other way? No. Chinese-to-English game translations just don’t happen, and for their first go the team had to contend with a Xeno-length script, poor things. Japanese companies have had decades to adjust to the Western market, creating dedicated internal localisation teams or forging relationships with reliable third-party groups – China’s had… about half a dozen games and a few free to play MMOs, ever?
Even with these issues the text is far from unreadable; the script has some odd phrasing (a combination of cultural differences and inexperienced localisation) but it’s certainly not machine translated, and while the UI text appears to have been handled by a junior member of the team the worst of it’s having to read things like ‘This move will cover your data’ to mean ‘This action will overwrite your data’. Awkward? Absolutely. Indecipherable scene-killing text? Not at all. Have a good look at the text in the screenshots used in this blog post – I’ve tried to include the best, the worst, and the usual to give you some idea of what it’s like in practise.
But there’s another hurdle The Gate of Firmament will have to overcome – it’s deep-rooted and utterly essential Chinese-ness. Japanese games have long passed through the ‘Ha! Look at those weird things the foreign people do!’ ‘What strange names!’ (remember when nobody could say ‘Ryu’?) phase to the place we’re now at where a character saying ‘senpai’ in an English localisation doesn’t even raise an eyebrow, but playing this is a lot like starting that learning process all over again. To be blunt, China is not Japan: the names sound different, the apologetic bows are different, and medieval Chinese fantasy values are not the same as the bushido-ish Japanese medieval fantasy values we’ve gradually become familiar with.
Softstar have made a bold if unpolished first move towards the international market, and if you ever wanted to make a difference in gaming now’s the time – you can be sure that Softstar and their rivals will be watching sales and reviews of The Gate of Firmament very closely. The success or failure of this title will no doubt determine whether we see the likes of Xian Jian 6 and Gu Jian 2 overseas or if this effort will end up a blip on an unchanging gaming landscape that will only accept Japanese games, Western games, or one of the previous two pretending to be the other.
The Gate of Firmament is rough and needs a significant amount of work to bring it in line with the standards we’ve come to expect, but it’s also an exciting adventure into a whole new world – are you ready?