The Legend of Tianding – developed by Creative Games Computer Graphics Corporation and published by Neon Doctrine – is a stylish side-scrolling brawler, with plenty of platforming segments and secret hunting. Mechanically, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but the novel setting and fantastic presentation help it stand out.
The Legend of Tianding feels like the opening act for a series of games, based on the exploits of Liao Tianding – a legendary Taiwanese Folk Hero fighting against the authorities during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the early 20th century. The state of the world, characters you encounter, and several events are supposedly based on reality, but Chinese manga style coupled with radio-play interludes quickly reveal The Legend of Tianding is a more fantastical experience.
Liao returns to Taipei city, after months of isolation and Kung Fu training in the nearby mountains. He repeatedly flees from an overbearing master, who insists he remains hidden after having had a vision that Liao’s fate was to die that year. Tired of hiding, and keen to weaken Japanese colonial rule over the citizens of the city, the adventure begins in earnest when Liao goes after a Japanese tea trader trying to drive off local merchants and sell counterfeit goods.
It doesn’t take long before Liao’s actions see him recruited by the rebel group – “28 Mansions” – and discover his master belongs to an order tasked with guarding an ancient tomb, housing untold riches and a cursed blade wanted by the local Japanese colonial authorities. This kicks off a multi-stage quest that sees Liao stealing several ancient plaques, avoiding a bumbling detective hellbent on his capture, assisting several friends in the city, tackling members of an assassin order, and dealing with a bloodthirsty secret police agent – while evil twins scheme in the background during chapter interludes.
Despite the swashbuckling vigilante narrative, the overarching narrative goes to some dark places and demonstrates the oppression faced by Taiwanese under Japanese colonial rule – through bureaucracy, informants, and police brutality. That said, the violence always feels stylised rather than gratuitous and Liao primarily defeats his foes using Kung Fu. Depending on the side quests you complete – and you can complete them all before triggering the final battle – there are several endings available. Just be warned, several plot threads are left unresolved for potential sequels.
When it comes to gameplay, The Legend of Tianding is fast and fluid, with a focus on slick traversal (through city streets, underground sewers, moving trains, and ancient tombs) and stylish brawls against hordes of enemies or a single tough boss. As in the Guacamelee games, the Kung Fu moves you learn – think rising kicks, flying kicks, and downward strikes – are used for both combat and traversal. Liao has a grappling hook to leap over hazards, and a sash used to grab and fling around weakened enemies, stealing weapons from their grasp (for temporary use) and pickpocketing items.
With detailed animation work and plenty of visual flourishes during combat, it always felt great leaping across roofs or stringing together a flurry of kicks to juggle a tough enemy. It may not offer a massive repertoire, but reaching out of the way secrets, avoiding traps, and surviving boss encounters quickly teaches you to string together moves with perfect timing.
In addition to unlocking new Kung Fu techniques as the plot dictates, The Legend of Tianding has several simple progression systems in place – and feel most vital when playing on the highest difficulty. The most developed system involves collecting and equipping charms, which buff Liao or specific attack types. Each charm has an associated point-cost, so you have to pick and choose which ones you equip to complement play style. The other systems feel somewhat underdeveloped but give you a reason to spend the Yen you acquire from battles. A blacksmith can upgrade your blade; a chef can increase your stash of health-restoring pork buns; while finding secrets or donating to beggars will net you collectables that provide incremental upgrades.
In contrast to the stage-by-stage progression of traditional brawlers, The Legend of Tianding lets you freely explore several small areas in the city between linear segments in unique locations. The city offers simple side-quests, player upgrades, and a few random combat encounters. However, the longer you play, the more it begins to feel like padding as you bounce between important NPCs. Oh, there’s also a traditional Taiwanese board game called “Four Colour Cards” you can play. However, I had no idea what the hell was going after several rounds, lost too many Yen, and swiftly moved on.
Of note – the side-quests, including those essential for getting the good endings – are resolved by bringing secret collectables to several NPCs. Should you find yourself missing a key item, your only option is to “relive these memories” at a certain NPC. This means re-exploring stages and potentially grinding boss fights in the hope your pickpocket attempts to liberate the required item rather than a health item or coins. It is possible to get all secrets on your first run, but it’s much easier when you have new skills or equip a charm that pings when you’re near a secret.
For those not comfortable with tough and technical brawlers, The Legend of Tianding offers two difficulties from the get-go. “Gentleman Thief” is perfect for those more interested in the story, with only the boss fights posing a significant challenge if you’re reckless. For those familiar with the genre, “Wanted Outlaw” provides tougher enemies and crams even more hazards into the linear stages.
It bears repeating just how phenomenal The Legend of Tianding can look in action, using a side-scrolling perspective of 3D environments and characters, which use flat but detailed textures to make it look like a Manga comic panel. Traversal and combat animations are slick and detailed, with onomatopoeia and damage symbols for added impact.
The soundtrack feels appropriate for the period and is catchy as hell, though it does get stale when you find yourself back-tracking repeatedly or replaying the linear stages. When it comes to voice acting, there’s little outside of a few greetings and emphasised words – a fact that this only serves to highlight a major presentation issue. There are too many poorly translated lines – at least in the English version I played – that undermine scenes by making them unintentionally comedic. It’s hilarious at times, but distracting during more poignant scenes.
The Legend of Tianding is easy enough to recommend for its engaging narrative, simple but empowering combat system, slick traversal, and great presentation. Replaying levels to hunt for side-quest collectables is fairly bland and the odd rough translation can kill the mood, but they do little to diminish the overall experience.
Even if the gameplay elements don’t introduce anything new to the genre, The Legend of Tianding might still be worth a look if you’re curious about the historical setting and legends that are rarely covered by videogames.
A review code for The Legend of Tianding was provided to gameblur by the publisher
The Legend of Tianding (PC) ReviewThe Legend of Tianding (PC) Review
Story7/10 GoodA strong element thanks to the novel setting and stylish presentation. That said, dodgy translations can ruin some scenes.
Gameplay8/10 Very GoodThe limited moveset allows for easy combos, the combat is fast, and traversing the environment feels slick. There's little novel here but it's done well.
Visuals8/10 Very GoodDespite running in a 3D engine, the result is an impressively detailed and well-animated Manga comic experience that flows between gameplay and cutscenes.
Audio7/10 GoodCombat sounds impactful while the soundtrack is authentic, catchy, but limited - a fact made more noticeable should you find yourself replaying stages or boss fights for collectibles.
- A hopeful, albeit sometimes dark story of rebellion against oppression
- Beautiful Manga comic-panel presentation
- A limited move-set that allows you to string together impressive combos with ease
- Completing side-quests can lead to different endings…
- …but these side-quests are tied to secret collectables, which can mean replaying missions
- Dubious translation work is entertaining and distracting in equal measure