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Prince of Qin

Developer: Object Software
Publisher: Strategy First
Genre: Role-Playing Game / Action
Players: 1-500 (LAN, TCP/IP-only)
Similar To: Throne of Darkness
Rating: Teen
Published: 09 :25 : 02
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 7 = Good

Screenshots

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Minimum Req.: P2 266, 128MB RAM, 2MB 16-bit SVGA Video Card, 1(.8)GB hd
Reviewed On: P3 800, 256MB, GeForce 4ti 4200, SB, Win XP Pro

Intro

In the history of Ancient China, a deception was planned that would lead a prince to commit suicide. During the Qin dynasty, progress was quick and many accomplishments where made, but unfortunately, the First Emperor was cruel. His first-born son stood against him and was exiled to an isolated outpost, and when his advisors killed him, they went after his remaining family. In Prince of Qin, you are the prince that is led to kill himself, but this time, history is re-written as you've found out about this treachery and must now make things right. Take up the role of Fu Su and track down the detractors who killed your family and those who tried to take the life of your friend, General Meng Tian. This is the rich backstory to Object Software's enjoyable, albeit rough around the edges, entry into the RPG genre.


Gameplay: 7.5/10
Similar to Throne of Darkness, Prince of Qin is a more action-oriented RPG that features a party system. Based on the aforementioned story, Fu Su is on way back to the capital to find out what is going on. Along the way, he must also release the General, who was taken prisoner when he too refused to commit suicide.

At first, Fu Su is hiding from soldiers being sent to kill him, and he is left with only bare-bones material to use on his way to the capital. One thing that will become noticeable is that money is a rarity - unless you stumble upon a scheme, like re-selling wolf bones to a particular hunter, and don't mind going back and forth over and over -- and items are pretty expensive, but luckily enough, items can be made from material all over the gameworld. A killed wolf can provide skin and bone; a tiger can provide meat to eat for replenishing health; trees and rocks can also be checked for minerals and wood. A nice feature is that items from other characters can be used without needing to switch through all of the inventory screens: if a certain amount of bone is needed to make armor, all the bones will be combined, instead of having to give all of one item to the same character. With forging as an upgradeable ability and crucial part of the game, such a feature goes a long way.

All characters start off at level one and each have particular skills of interest, and with five different character classes and each having 20 or so abilities and skills, there's plenty to manage. While the variety was appreciated, I tended to stick with the basics, although there was a particularly cool move to jump and stun opponents, not to mention that the ability to control animals was also a pleasant surprise and one that I took advantage of often. Having these special abilities go to a designated hand and hotkey was unique and also a bit weird to get used to, though this is expounded upon in controls. There are also Elemental jewels that can be found to enhance weapons: Earth, Fire, Metal, Water and Wood, which enhance weapons and can counter enemies who are endowed by another element. For instance, if there is an enemy particular to fire and Fu Su is equipped with a sword that has a water jewel embedded in it, he will inflict more damage. While this seems like an easy way of giving the game a more strategic element, it does fit in with the culture of the times and fits into the RPG style very well.

Traveling from villages to cities was perilous as there were blood-thirsty robbers and endless wolves no matter where I went. They were worth putting up with, as interacting with the non-playable characters was a real treat. The extra bit of details given during conversations really felt like a throwback to text-only titles, and even with the rough translation, it gave the characters much more personality. This was also one of the few games where I felt as if the attributes given were really making a difference; if my fame increased by a point in a region, it seemed that people were more helpful, and although the charm might not have helped me barter down the prices of weapons or armor, I did get into a few locations at a bargain price. Without playing through each scenario again, I'll have no way of knowing if it was due to the character's stats or not, but it felt as such the first time through.

Prince of Qin is far from perfect though, as there are plenty of missions that are simply item-fetch quests. These missions can be particularly frustrating when the game decides to ramp up the difficulty and pit you against a man who isn't interested in giving an item to you so that you may return it to its proper owner, and proceeds to repeatedly introduce his staff to your face. Combat has an auto-pause feature, also discussed in detail in the Controls section later; however, I will say that when a fight seems to go fine and then drop down into the 'fight like hell' category, I found myself hammering away at the pause button to give myself a break and issue commands, which really isn't conducive to the premise of an action title as any real-time, frantic aspect is changed into a somewhat turn-based situation. As mentioned, the translation is a bit rough and the aesthetics of the game won't turn anyone's head, but all of that seems to melt away once you get into the flow of the game and really follow Fu Su on his adventure through escalating dangers.

Problems aside, a solid adventure awaits those willing to give it an honest shot and, regardless of whether or not the features are considered gimmicks or refreshing additions to the genre, it's a fascinating story that was told with care and imagination. When compared to Morrowind or Neverwinter Nights, it might seem obsolete, though it deserves some credit as it provides an adventure worth taking and is one of the key examples of a diamond in the rough. Give Fu Su a chance, won't you?

Graphics: 5.5/10
"Dated" is probably the best way to describe the world created in Prince of Qin. It reminds me of a modified Dragon Throne title, with a splash of Throne of Darkness tossed in for isometric-view measure. With limited animations and poor, sometimes overly-pixelated villains, there will certainly be no awards won here. However, the changing weather really did give some life to the world, as did the passage of time and serviceable wilderness. The characters sport some fairly solid design, but the animals tend to look odd: one need only look at the pixilated red tiger fish -- not to be confused with the grey or green tiger fish -- as the original image is blown up way too large for the engine to handle, and it becomes clear that the artists grasped beyond their reach.

Sound: 8/10
The environmental sounds of crickets and wind rustling do a great job of making the outdoors feel just so, as do the weather changes. With the effects on point, aside from some generic slashing of swords and thuds of blows, it's odd that the background music has the quirks that it does. The music is definitely nice and fits extremely well with the game, but the tracks have a tendency to cut off and switch to a new song in the middle of a frantic part, or have no music at all. The bouts of silence aren't as bad as it helps to show off the sounds of the wild, but having a deep, rich song kick on out of nowhere is a bit offsetting.

On a particularly positive note were the voice-overs; intentional or not, some truly golden lines are said within Prince of Qin. All of the voice actors were overly dramatic, and for all the parts that such a tone would befit, it comes off as over-the-top in others. At times, I couldn't help but chuckle at the dramatic pauses and exclamation in the voice: "OH! NO! GENERAL!". Good stuff.


Control: 6.5/10
This was a rough area for Prince of Qin as the basics were there, but far from refined. One problem I had was having my party 'select all' option being undone whenever I exited a building; this lead to many situations where a player went to a location alone and was caught off guard by attackers whenever the others in the group were still catching up. Special abilities were also allocated one slot and hotkeys would choose which ability would go in it; this was done because the right mouse button was what activated the ability, which was handy, but also troublesome. Generally, pressing a hotkey immediately performs the function, which just seemed like an added step that wasn't necessary, although it was nice to see the right button getting some lovin'. Although that method did prove to give the game a more arcadey feel and save time from choosing an offensive or defensive move, I still prefer the old standby.

Menu navigation and basic controls were all pretty rough. Most screens had to be closed one at a time and selecting a response for a conversation would become wildly difficult as the text seemed to have a 'hotspot' that my cursor would never touch. However, one nice feature was the auto-pause that kicked in before battles, as these can become unmanageable very quickly, and having the initial breather, and the pause whenever a character's HP is too low, was an immense help. Again, no aspect of the controls is horrid, but they aren't refined either.

Overall: 7/10
I really have to admire Object Software: Dragon Throne introduced new aspects into the real-time strategy genre that were overlooked and Prince of Qin really tries to bring a fantastic tale of China's history into a modern medium and in such a manner that keeps it imaginative and entertaining. Fu Su's journey is perilous and filled with many quicksaves, but it's one that's worth taking. It really isn't fair for Prince of Qin to have been released at this point in time, as this will surely go down as the highest point in an RPG fan's gaming calendar with Morrowind, Neverwinter Nights, Icewind Dale II and others, but there's enough here for it to hold its own. Rough around the edges and frustrating and difficult at times, Prince of Qin still has a lot of heart, and is an enjoyable RPG to boot.

(Note: The 1GB required for installation per the box's requirements was actually 1.8 on my HD. That has been taken into account)

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Related Links: Object Software | Strategy First
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