Tuesday 21 June 2016

Heart of China - Immigration issues

Written by Aperama

Heart of China is already striking me as though it is a game that really, really wanted to do something amazing and unique, and probably found itself struggling a little with the effort of doing it 'all'. It's not that I'm not enjoying myself, but I've already found a few puzzles in the opening little area that have definitely made me shrug my head in spite of them being undeniably solvable. The game starts in Hong Kong, with Lucky Jake Masters (he insists that his name is simply Lucky, with several characters already having belittled him for that little idiosyncrasy in the little section I've played) having just freshly been told by Eugene Adolphus Lomax (E.A.) that he needs to go and rescue his daughter. Well, perhaps I come slightly ahead of myself here – the game actually starts with a little cinematic, and an incredibly long credits sequence over Lucky's flapping aviator's scarf blowing in the distance. The cinematic I feel is best summed up in a short GIF:

I particularly like the evil man's 'glint'..

This is definitely going to be a hard game to sum up without using huge amounts of animated imagery to take it in, but I'll try to go the opposite way to how Joe did in Willy Beamish – I know there were quite a few people who found that quite difficult to deal with. It's really important in the same sentence to say that this game is definitely one which has the feeling of 'motion'. It might not always have the best graphics to its little animations and the like – hell, a lot of it is already striking me as down-right silly – but the game definitely has a very 'movie-like' style. Indeed, the ability to use two different characters thus far gives a lot of internal narration already. I'm not too fond of the actual characters they're developing, but if they really were aiming to make an 'immersive cinematic experience where you are IN the world of Jake Masters' as the manual suggested it fell apart as soon as Jake gained the telepathic ability to tell the character yet not himself what the Chinese shopkeeper was thinking.. in Chinese, I think, but they at least translated that for us.

I somehow don't believe that she really thought 'Fiddlesticks', though

So, the game starts with about every cliché it could muster right out of the book. After showing Lucky's ludicrously long flapping scarf, the game starts a short narrative with an ancient Chinese quote – “The Chinese know there is only one truth in this world – 'This, too, shall pass.'” A short bit about the politics of the time leading to the people in middle Asia having the titular 'heart of China' (the centre of Asia) about ready to find itself as part of the New World, then a cheap segue into the fact that 'Lucky' Jake Masters is just like the world he finds himself in – a relic of the past about to find himself not knowing the forest about him for the trees. It then explains that E.A. Lomax has essentially backed Lucky into a corner whereby he'll never be able to recover without his help – his secretary and business partner ran off with all of the cash assets of his business Airborne Import, and had one of his goons 'lob a grenade into Lucky's sampan' at the docks. A sampan is essentially a little fishing boat if any of you were wondering like I was! Lomax's offer is $10,000 up front for expenses, $200,000 for the safe rescue of his daughter Kate.. minus $20,000 for each day it takes to rescue her. This seems like a terrible deal to me – but Lucky just has no choice! Poor him.

I immediately equipped his gun. This has made no practical change
to any character interactions, though – evidently, he's not that threatening

Four awesome choices! You only die if you visit -two- of them too early..

The game starts us out on the docks, where you can look at a whole bunch of nothing, admire the few bits of flotsam and jetsam that make up Lucky's former boat, and stare at a particularly rambunctious seagull. This seemed like a bad plan to me. My partner in real life has a bit of a phobia of birds, so I knew better than to let the sound of a seagull cawing and squarking to fill my lounge for too long. Instead, I decided to visit Lomax to see if he had any extra information for me. This worked wonderfully, as he first yelled at me to head out to Chengdu immediately – and then got Lucky this fantastic new gig 'somewhere in the South Pacific'..

I know, right? What a great deal! Didn't even need to fire his gun!

Unfortunately, the game did directly say that the best ending is the one where Jake ends up with a ninja as a friend, a romance with Kate Lomax and some free hotel meals in Paris, so I decided that this couldn't really count as the end of Lucky's journey, as delightful as it did seem to me. Instead, I made my way down to 'Town', the central district of Hong Kong. We're only given an extremely tiny area to play around in – there's two different businesses we can enter. The Herb House of Wu leads to Lucky getting to talk to an irate Chinese lady whom I may have introduced in a previous screenshot, to whom we're given the option of being 'snarky', 'angry' or 'mean'. Seriously, at least give me the option to pretend to be respectful if there's only a small number of choices to begin with! With her not speaking any English (well, certainly not to Lucky voluntarily), we're led by process of elimination to end up at Ho's Bar. Ho is obviously one of Lucky's local confidants, and is perfectly happy to have a chat with Lucky.. just not serve him alcohol. Turns out Lucky doesn't handle it the best.

The central district of Hong Kong! Pictured: a little something that might be important soon..

A nice little wink to Ilmari, and everyone else who ever played Rise of the Dragon

Why am I talking about Ho, though? Clearly, the aim has to be to talk to Rose, who is sitting atop the bar. She is a lady of the night, and as such is sure to be able to find me a way to find a ninja! She offers me to spend the night with her, which I naturally took to be a euphemism for 'go and find the ninja'. Unfortunately, she is not Zhao Chi – she is just a girl in need of the ludicrous amount of money Lucky is carting around. An associate of hers knocks him out and leaves him to wake up in an alleyway without it.. several days later, meaning he's missed out on his chance to rescue Kate. Oops. Guess it turns out she didn't really make him 'lucky'. I found another way to get Lucky his dream ticket out to scrubbing decks in the South Pacific, though, so that's a bonus!

'I am lucky!' 'Rose mean REAL lucky!'

Jake sure seems to have a lot of enemies. I kinda feel like they might be deserved, though..

Foregoing the obvious temptation of performing some 'ninja research' with Rose, I instead speak with the barkeep, Ho. He has very little to offer, in truth – he insists that he's more than willing to help out Lucky, but as soon as Zhao Chi's name is mentioned he bottles up immediately. Pressing him enough leads to a 'goon' (they're fond of this word at Dynamix HQ) calling Lucky back out into the main room. They banter for a touch and finally, we're given some dialogue options that feel somewhat deserved as the 'goon' is very insistent that we not get to meet Zhao Chi at all, leading to a minor fight. I tried a few ways, and they all end up the same way – Lucky punches his lights out, gets ready for a bar room brawl and instead, a person pops out of nowhere to stop the fighting – turns out he's Zhao Chi, and doesn't want there to be any bloodshed on his account.

A good example of the sort of 'sterling dialogue' Lucky has to offer

As I say, this game really does 'move' throughout,
 using these little cinematics really cleverly to do so

Zhao Chi will essentially bowl over for Lucky more or less no matter what way you choose to convince him to join your crusade to fight for Kate Lomax. Why? Because he apparently owes E.A... and because he, along with the majority of the people in this neighbourhood, are extremely grateful for what Kate has done for their community. Turns out people like nurses – who'da thunk it? The only problem he has is that he's due to be flying – he doesn't fly, because it's not a natural thing that humans do. This coming from a ninja! I bet he could fly if he really wanted to. Still, it takes a little convincing to get Chi to think he's willing to board 'ARROW-PLANE' (he keeps insisting that it be called 'ARROW-PLANE' and I'm not going to argue with a ninja) – you might scroll up again to see that little picture. Turns out one of the flyers for Jake's business just happens to land outside after he finds himself incapable of convincing Chi through pure words, likely as he has minimal knowledge of the practical applications of flight from his speech. My mind went the exact same way the developer's clearly did. Paper aeroplane? Sign me up.

The first time you can make Lucky talk like a normal person – I took it

Not quite the 'rock and roll' moment you sometimes come up with on
a successful puzzle, though that is a pretty ridiculous 'concentration face'..

But enough to teach Chi about the 'inverse cosine effect of air travel'

Doing something I hadn't since the third grade was enough to impress Chi into my party for the low, low cost of $5,000 and 'all he can eat' – and just like an RPG, he has his own inventory, with some ninja essentials like.. prunes. And a ninja hood. He can also be used to speak to people on his own – talking to Rose, for instance, has him chide her for her choice of profession, insisting that she's bringing shame to her family. Thankfully, he speaks Mandarin.. and appears to be a good friend of Wu, the angry Asian lady who refuses to speak with Lucky. He's insistent we will need her healing herbs for when we go to Chengdu – I can't imagine why exactly, but I'm willing to accept that ninja knowledge is likely to be greater than my own. In the time honoured tradition of games that I'm playing lately.. I have to pick up bird crap as an integral part of a puzzle. At least this one is kinda befitting – Lucky is being shown up by Wu as much as anything for being quite arrogant to her. Chi also has a stern word to him as soon as I exit the House of Herbs, so I totally feel this lone instance is entirely warranted. Once. For.. for science, and stuff.

Herbal medicine, sounds great..


Yes.. really. Ugh. Just ugh.

The seagull at the docks takes one of Chi's prunes and immediately 'rewards' Lucky for it (Chi refuses to handle it – fair enough!) and Wu is then quick to make up some healing herbs for the pair. After a little egging on by Lucky, she also gives him a false passport (under the name Hun Fa Lo – less than handy, really) and sends him on his way, telling him not to let it be traced back to her. Sure thing! Oh, and an old map of Chengdu, which can only come in handy (it's rather rudimentary, to be fair.) This leaves only one place – an airport. Lucky owns an aeroplane, so it should be easy – but of course, there's another obstacle...

Something more terrifying than just about anything else
this game could throw at us – British immigration

… Who aren't so willing to take a bribe, or a false passport

This is a difficult puzzle, for me. Give him a bribe? He immediately arrests Lucky. Try to kill him? Well, it won't let you use a gun, or any of Chi's ninja tactics. The passport? Turns out that Hun Fa Lo is actually a criminal whose passport Wu was holding onto, with an outstanding arrest warrant for murder amongst other crimes. Of course, Chi immediately jumps in to tell Lucky off for volunteering Wu's name as he insists he's not Hun Fa Lo and decides he won't help.. sigh. The way out took a little for me to work out – you just had to annoy the living daylights out of him. After Lucky spends a good twenty text bars making fun of the way he pronounces no ('new' – ha, British accent humour there!) and he lets us on to the plane. The only positive thing is this didn't actually take too long – but if that sort of puzzle keeps up, I'm likely to be making an awful lot of missteps early, particularly if the game allows you to fall into any 'walking dead' scenarios.. Still. We're off to the fortress of Chengdu with a grappling hook, a metal pipe, healing herbs and a lighter amongst some other things – we're practically immortal in terms of adventure game item powers!

The plane..

And the 'Leia being dressed up by the creepy foreigner' scene with Kate as Leia

Session time: 1 hour
Playing time: 1 hour

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

 A continuation of a riddle, if anyone cares – (it's not Guybrush Threepwood, Raoul Desenti or Sea of Thieves/Shipwreckers)

 A tale set upon the High Seas
Of mostly lesser larcenies
His woman's aloof
His trial's by tooth
Of whom do I speak of, please?

A modern game, there is the key
Created by fellows from Germany
Of a man not obscene
For he is truly keen
To take out the evil Doctor...


  1. We all have so much to learn from Willy Beamish... Actually, no. Just me! :)

  2. Last screenshot calls to mind Big Trouble in Little China.

    1. Oh yes, true, an absolutely great movie. Lo Pan, one of the best movie villains.

  3. I don't know if I'd love the game, but I *LOVE* the art design. It's a beautiful game, at least in these still images.

  4. I think people aren't ignoring your riddle so much as not having any good guess to make aside from the obvious wrong guesses. It seems to be a pretty difficult one.

    1. Ironically, the game has actually been guessed before (back when Trickster was doing the riddles) - but not by an active commenter, even back then. I've played it myself, but on investigation note that the Wikipedia page isn't the best detailed.

    2. OK, having gone through all the riddles Trickster ever made - is it Wnpx Xrnar?

    3. It certaiinly is. Jack is a wannabe Guybrush who has an expert marksman hunting him down on the false pretense that he's done something horrible (but is actually his love interest by the time their beef is settled). He's sent to Tooth Island to stop Doctor T to stop him from some absolutely ridiculous evil plot. I think it made sense - just nobody knew the game, clearly!

  5. It's too bad I really don't know anything about modern gaming. I've tried to find a modern adventure game from German developers, with seafaring and an evil doctor, but every time I think this must be it, I always find some element that doesn't really fit. I think the third hint must be so obvious that it will be just a matter of who gets there first ;)

  6. I already finished the game several days ago. Characters were stereotypical but lively. I BTW wasted a few in-game days trying to avoid the bar rights before Chi automatically showed up on 2nd or 3rd try.

    1. Yeah, I'm a touch concerned that having met Chi in that fashion could be my undoing for the best ending, but I tried to make all of Lucky's responses as focused on saving Kate as possible instead of egging on Chi as Lucky is extremely apt to do.