Monday, 1 August 2016

Heart of China - WON!

Written by Aperama

Heart of China is finally over! Well, I say finally – it feels like it only just started. It's pretty fair to say that I do feel a little bit like I was expecting more – but at the same time, the rather obscenely short playtime really allows the little things to stand out, good and bad. I imagine that if this were a game I'd put real money into, I might have replayed the silly tank minigame or the fight at the end a little more, perhaps? But I won't waste any more time with these thoughts. There's heaps for me to get through (not enough for two posts but almost too much for one) so straight to it!

Solid advice to live your life by, Ama

When I last left you guys, I was trying to work out how I was going to fight Bojon, the evil ruler of Kathmandu. See, turns out he has a 'sacred scroll' which denotes him as the chosen ruler of the town. Wikipedia says that this is completely wrong, I should add – but that is very much a digression. Sardar, the caravan leader who says 'HAHAHAHA' a lot, feels that all the people of Kathmandu need to declare their independence is to take these sacred scrolls from Bojon. On attacking his manliness (a common theme in this game) Sardar mentions that the issue isn't that Bojon is well loved by many, or that there's a huge amount of soldiers – it's just that Bojon and his singular faithful guard Jyapu have.. well, they have a gun. Not even multiple guns? A single gun. I tried fooling around, but I discovered that the kid's mother was out for Lucky's blood for offering him a trip on the Yankee Eagle, so I had to truncate Kathmandu to talking to Bojon, tricking him into mentioning that he carries the sacred scroll around with him, and giving the gun to Sardar.. this can only have ended well for making a democratic political society!

I'm hoping that in the true spirit of the Wally Lama, I'm sure that they're only going to use this gun peacefully..

… well, mostly..

And so, we're headed to Istanbul, because apparently the Yankee Eagle won't make the full trip to Paris!

I didn't understand how it was that I was going to end up on the Orient Express. I knew that I had to in order to lead to the 'best ending', though, so it was a certainty that I had to come towards something in that regards.. enter Istanbul, or as I sorta thought of it, Quest for Forced Tension. As our trio make their way to Istanbul, Lucky and Kate are still pining for one another, Chi is still hungry.. and Lucky is privately hoping that the 'Nabob has forgotten about it'. The exacts of what 'it' is aren't really explained – he's keeping his cards to his chest in this much, so we land in Istanbul happily enough. The airfield is virtually just a patch of dirt with a fuel tanker in its centre, and Lucky has a little trouble negotiating with the lone mechanic there.. largely due to the fact that he's only a worker there and can't actually let Lucky in on the petrol reserves. (Well, he does offer to break rules for $50 USD and 'his woman', which Lucky takes a little while too long to refuse.)

What a great deal! I mean, no offence meant Kate, but at the going rate of petrol these days...

Unfortunately, he isn't willing to simply take a lot more money as a bribe without Kate as a deal maker regardless, so we have to find another route through Turkey, or wait a little while. The game's 'timer' is all based around events, so simply waiting around for the person in charge of the airstrip isn't really an option. Chi tells the pair of potential lovebirds that he'll avoid being the third wheel and have a nap in the plane. This is fine, really, though it does make me wish I hadn't left the roast chickens in his inventory – they're probably gone from here on in. (I mean, the game is clever enough to not actually have any critical items from previous areas be easy to leave behind/necessary for the following area – or at least I didn't see anywhere that could have happened outside of throwing the gun down on the ground back in Hong Kong!) The mechanic mentions that the only place to find a phone is the British Officer's club, and the only other exit in Istanbul leads towards the Palace – which Lucky is very uninterested in going towards. He clearly just wants to bumrush through town. This leads to a big part of what decides the ending you'll get – a conversation with Eugene Lomax. There are a few ways to finish your conversation, but on being just a little bit threatening and shooting high on negotiations, Lucky can secure the 'best end' as offered in the manual. Mind you, this means that whatever happened beforehand wouldn't have made the biggest impact, right? (I sorta get the feeling that maybe Kate wouldn't have been too happy to meet Lucky and Chi fresh from the sewers, so maybe that's the real path you can't 'get through' so to speak.)

Lomax can be convinced pretty easily, so long as you're willing to convince him that you'll defile Kate – that's totally fair to have as a needed move, right?

Unfortunately, the Nabob does remember Lucky.. c'est la vie!

From here, we finally get the free reins to Istanbul. It's not the most vibrant city – the shots are clearly to emphasise individual small areas and people unlike Kathmandu which gave plenty of nice, sweeping shots that really gave that 'huge area' feel. Kate is, to be fair, in an undeniably dangerous environment. Even though this isn't shown (which I kinda wish it had been) Istanbul as a foreign woman in this era could not have been a good place to be! She can't get into the British Officer's club due to her feminine appearance, and she only has a small amount of money which Lucky palmed off to her after exiting the plane 'just in case'. She does, however, have enough for a cabin in the Orient Express – if we want, the game can end right here and now. For whatever reason, we can't find Chi to either use as an assistance in fighting to save Lucky (it was my first instinct) – and it appears that the only place the cash she has on hand is good for is the train station which leads to Paris, anyhow. She does have a small family heirloom that is worth a small amount of the local currency, the sheckel – and there's also a street gambler playing a shell game, and we can alter the speed of the gameplay. Profit!

Google suggests that currently, the Turkish lira is 33c to the USD. The Israeli Sheqel is 26c. I don't think she's getting a great deal.

That seems abusable!

… Very abusable!

Nowhere near as good as the 'new job on the high seas' idea, but Kate's 'solo escape' plan wasn't perhaps the best ending we could find

Unfortunately, if there's another way through.. again, I'm simply not seeing it. Kate has a pretty clear plan towards rescuing Lucky. My first thought was to bribe the palace guard to perhaps get in to see Lucky and 'fix up' the 'misunderstanding'. The game doesn't even act like I have done anything whatsoever as I try this, so instead, it's first to the antiques store. It's the only way I have to get any money – the highest he'll go is 65 sheckels, if you're all wondering. He also has three items, one of which is absolutely necessary (a hacksaw to free Lucky from the palace), a guitar and a hookah/shisha pipe. Again, I could find no need for those two things – that's not really a problem, given the shell game gives us nigh-upon infinite money and there really aren't that many things to buy regardless – I'd love to know if they're red herrings or real missed opportunities for another way through the game if anyone knows. I'm definitely going to search up a hint book for this game for the Final Rating post! So, after cleaning out the gambler and the antique store, there's really nothing left in that part of town. We have a few places left to go, though – the palace, around the palace, and back near the entry to the town..

The palace? Not so helpful..

Around the palace? Kinda.. entirely frightening and not in a good way..

And back at the entrance? Camels and oranges! (Sounds like a messed up nursery rhyme.)

Kate's choices, armed with approximately 300 sheckels after expenses, a hookah, a guitar, about a thousand US dollars and a hacksaw, are as such notably limited. I struggled a little here because the area can't be finished off if you don't work out that Kate can go to pick up a single orange in order to speak with the young child running the store for his folks (I see a pattern here between this and the Kathmandu boy running the junkyard – to be fair, it's probably because the developers wanted to get their kids in on the 'dressup' game, but it's still a little distressing to see this level of child labour in a game I could easily have been playing at the age of 10 or so!) Doing so has him fawn over Kate quite a bit, and while Kate is perfectly willing to make up for the damages, he instead insists that she take a gift of a flower he has on hand from him instead of letting her pay. Despite her having the money. Strange kid! Across from him is a camel merchant. He'll sell one for 200 sheckels, so I buy it without even seeing a particular need for it. (I guess that when I think about it, the idea that a camel is worth about four golden pendants sounds decent – until I point out that the antiques salesman charged 35 for a hacksaw, which means around about 6 hacksaws is worth a camel. Definitely bad economics.)

Someone definitely had fun with the dialogue in a few spots here. Makes sense, given this game could well be considered set near the Great Depression

I am really struggling with this conversion rate. Does that mean he'd have sold me a camel for $75 USD? I feel like that's not even a decent payday for the meat alone!

I also pick up a train ticket whilst in this part of town, because I figure that breaking someone out of jail is probably met best with being fleet of foot (though admittedly, this leads to a cutscene with Lucky begging the air for a 'second chance' and a shot of Li Deng's right hand henchman, Tong, threatening the kid from Kathmandu who isn't 'willing to sell out bird man' – naww!) Given there's no 'plot branch' message from here, I decide it's the best way through and talk for a bit to the guard at the palace. He's a dead end, through and through, barely even wanting to speak to Kate and upon hearing of her association with Lucky immediately deciding she's not worth even a little of his time. Around the side of the palace is a goldmine, however. Almira, the game's token 'crazy lady', is sitting on a wheelbarrow outside the palace. Not only outside the palace, but outside the dungeon. This definitely doesn't seem the best little clearing to be sitting around in, and I'd imagine that the crazed guards who are extremely caring as to the 'Princess' inside would shoo her away – but instead, she teases us with her knowledge of where Lucky is and refuses to help. This all changes with the flower from the orange seller in inventory – it's a rare flower, a 'pseudo-epidymal angiosperm'. Google doesn't get the reference, and I'm not really so worried as to look into it. She points to the bars she's sitting next to, says we need dynamite or acid (but we have a hacksaw, and she decides that'll do) and moves her wheelbarrow so that we can slip in. Kate saves Lucky (albeit somewhat begrudgingly after everyone has told him the sort of 'person' he is) and we're off on a high-speed camel race!

Bonus CAPs to anyone who gets this joke? 'Masculine Algorithm' outta Latin, maybe?. (I don't.)

A bit premature for the 'things I do for this man' speech to someone you barely know, innit?

Tickle, tickle, tickle!

Not the most subtle exit in the world, but it'll do

Running their way through the city is not interactive, sadly, with the next choice coming in as we're controlling Jake. Kate gives away her camel to the goodly orange sales kid, who insists that Jake looks like a good guy. (This might be because he's with Kate, though.) From here, as we've set everything up just about perfectly, we go back to the plane to get Chi on the train before the Nabob's men come searching for Lucky and Kate. The plane.. explodes. I didn't see it coming at all. A body ends up slumped away – and then, we find that Li Deng's men are actually very close by, literally storming from the direction of the plane. This felt so unnecessary I was almost frothing at the mouth! Chi dying really added nothing of note IMO, and the rampaging mob was nowhere near the plane at the time of the explosion. A few clicks and we're on the Orient Express, where we have a short conversation between Lucky and Kate. This can go badly with Kate and Lucky giving one another the cold shoulder and going their separate ways – the end showing there is of Jake in a suit enjoying himself with a 'floosie', so that can't be good. It's really not awfully hard to have them kick it off pretty well, though, particularly if you have the end conversation from Kate's perspective. Basically, Jake is angry that his 'best friend' Chi (you know, the one he met four in game days ago) is dead, and Kate feels a little betrayed that he slept with the Nabob's daughter before they knew one another given she was likely too young to know what she was doing. Tong raids the train carriage and they end up fighting atop the Orient Express for the grand finale in another skippable arcade sequence that is quite easy once you get the hang of it. If you save Kate and Lucky's relationship, you save Chi as well – turns out he wasn't in the plane at the time, because.. you know. He's a ninja. The game ends with him masquerading as room service to drop in on them as a surprise 'not actually dead' and all three of them sipping champagne in a Parisian five star hotel room.. along with a very satisfying 'THE END'.

Seriously didn't like this!

Nor this, in truth – I'm almost completely certain it's spelt 'floozy', if nothing else

But this was pretty damned satisfying! (Forgive the crazy-long GIF, but it was the best way I could think to sum it all up!)

Session time: 2 hours
Playing time: 5 hours


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I guess we're supposed to expect ending up with the princess is bad because she's overweight? And people wonder why there are comparatively few girl gamers out there.

    1. Very much agreed. As I've tried to say throughout, this game is full of rampant stereotyping with a lot of it not so fantastic. The 'stuck in Turkey' ending is understandably less than ideal though, as Lucky is very much a free spirit and it has him essentially locked away by the Nabob's daughter who is unwilling to let Lucky get away again. I removed a little diatribe about that from my writeup as the whole thing just got too long - I trimmed a couple of paragraphs worth, so that went missed. Lucky actually really bugged me (he had a very 'well why wouldn't I have slept with the royal daughter and run out?' styled conversation ready if you went down that path) but the game was really trying to play the 'Indiana Jones' card here - a bit of a womanizer who goes around and essentially manages to get away with just about everything. The manual even declares that it's a 'light-hearted adventure in the feel of Romancing the Stone or Raiders of the Lost Ark', so I don't want to be too harsh about it. I had a little bit of a similar feeling to the way Alex was approaching the 'blackface' scene in Leisure Suit Larry 5, only it at least had a little comeuppance with Kate being very upset with Lucky (though if Lucky shows any sort of genuine remorse, it combined with Kate already feeling for him due to him generally seeming a hero when they first met they still get together.)

    2. Yeah, it feels weird to complain about a game over twenty years old, but that just got to me for some reason.

      It's not that I disagree with the ending being bad because Lucky is not the kind of guy to settle down, that's perfectly fine really. But the ending specifically calls out that Lucky only starts to regret his choice once he sees that: "The royal daughter has put on a few..."

      It just comes off as needlessly insulting and shallow, not from a in-game character point of view, but as a message from the game to the player. It reduces that particular ending to "lol no fatties" and I can't imagine that was any more polite in 1991 than in 2016.

      I guess games were allowed to get away with a bit more than they are now, though perhaps things aren't terribly better in 2016 either.

  3. Wow. Only five hours? I wonder how that will affect the final score. Does this seem like more of a vignette than a full game? Or are my expectations set too high for the "right" length for an adventure?

    1. Awesome, right? No filler, chock-full of action, comedy and winks to old-fashioned serials, AND it doesn't overstay its welcome. A big plus in my book!
      And no, I'm not trying to prevail on Aperama to award the game a high score so that I win the predictions for the top 5 spots. That would be unthinkable.

    2. It's funny how differently we measure the lengths of different media. If it had been a movie, Joe's reaction might well have been "Five hours???? Who wants to watch so freaking long film???"

      Just like Charles, I'd much rather play a short, but satisfying adventure game than extend it with some dead ends and pixel hunting. (And no, my approval of HoC has nothing to do with my chance of winning Full House. Absolutely nothing.)

    3. And some games are much longer than actual books! I'm currenly reading Brothers Karamazov, which has "only" about 360 000 words. But as said, quality > quantity.

    4. To be honest, the game is very fun. It's just.. well, it's simple. There's really nowhere to get lost because they've kinda thought of everything, making sure you can prevail more or less no matter where you are. In order to make the game more 'varied', the individual 'areas' all only have a few screens, none of which you can go back to after you exit a city.

      There again, I can beat Space Quest 1 in under an hour, knowing what I am doing and not stopping to smell the roses. Just that the majority of the 'roses' in this game were actually short cutscenes.

    5. I'm pretty sure the expression is "then again", not "there again".

      *checks online dictionary*

      Huh... I guess "there" is valid too.

    6. The average for all of our other 1991 games is 13.9 hours, so this does *seem* low to me. The only shorter game in this cycle is Hugo II.

      I think the trick is that games are getting LONGER. This game exactly falls in line with our average length of non-MC 1987 games, for example. Obviously they aren't getting longer forever, but it might be a fun thing to graph out play time averages per year... Maybe I will work on that...

    7. The Longest Journey apparently takes about 20 hours. My recent playthrough took 21 and 1/2.

      YU-NO (if/when it gets played in 1996) will definitely take 40+ hours - maybe even close to 100.

      The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes 2 will probably be very long too.

      Most adventure games are roughly 10 hours at most according to That site is a great site for playtime averages. Hey... maybe someone (one of our admins?) should submit The Adventure Gamer playtimes there!

    8. I imagine if someone went back and tried to find all of the plot branches, this might end up closer to the "expected" length.

  4. When surprised Lucky reminds me of Seinfeld.

    But only when surprised, like in the last gif here. And the more I see it the less Seinfeldy he looks.