Tradition advises never to judge a book by its cover. You might be fooled by brilliant colors hiding a drab story within, or be turned away from a classic by an uninteresting cover design.
I propose, however, that sometimes a product’s exterior design can be used to discern some of the problems you’ll eventually find within. For example, a beautifully colored painting in which you find a slight misalignment of the fingers, which makes you notice that one hand is bigger than the other, which in turn leads your gaze up to find that the character’s eyes are out of proportion with their head, until you realize you’re actually looking at a total mess that just happens to have been hiding behind pretty colors.
Take for example this rather innocuous screenshot below. At first glance your eyes might be drawn to the shiny water and rather high-res textures on the rocks, as well as the bright lighting. Then, however, you might notice how different your character looks from the terrain, and how low-res the ground textures are compared to the rest of the environment, and how odd and stiff looking this one NPC in front of you looks. You may look over the picture, expecting more information, and so glance over what little there is of an UI, consisting of nothing but a portrait and a couple of tiny icons that look like they were designed for ants. Eventually, what was an initially eye-catching screenshot has turned into a veritable World’s Fair of warning signs for a bad video game.
Walk not this road, weary traveler; not because it’s perilous but because it’s really boring.
This analogy could, in short, serve as a summary of my entire experience with Sangoku Musou: Empress of Tragedy, a “3D ARPG” (scare quotes quite necessary, as I’ll explain further on) by Singapore-based developer Red Dragonfly.
The basic premise of Sangoku Musou: Empress of Tragedy is this – you play as Wang Yuan-Ji, a sexy Chinese sword-maiden who has to save the world from an onslaught of monsters by fighting them toe-to-toe with a combination of her fantastic sword skills and acrobatic movement. Lose a fight, and you will be treated to an impromptu H-scene where your opponents will have their way with Wang Yuan-Ji’s tight little body. Sounds good, right? On paper it definitely is.
In reality, though, Sangoku Musou is nothing like this. It’s barely even a game, really. It’s true, all the concepts mentioned do sort of show up at some point or another – there’s a sexy Chinese girl, swords are swung, and monsters do rape. But this is all presented as a barely coherent jumble of unconnected and barely working pieces, none of which make sense either alone or together.
In fact, dear readers, the game is such a monumental mess that I’m having trouble figuring out where to even begin. Shall I talk about the gameplay first, but what gameplay? In what bills itself as a 3D hack-and-slash with RPG elements, enemies are nothing but hordes of shuffling HP-sponge zombies, barely animated and impossible to stagger. As for the RPG elements, they’re just not there. Every so often you might find a new slutty costume for your character, but it’s nothing but a visual change. There’s no “gear” so to speak except for weapons, which are so lazily done that they’re literally on a linear scale as multiples of five, I shit you not:
Astounding weapon variety, onii-chan!
What’s left here? Melee combat is ass, gear as armor and secondary weapons is non-existant, primary weapons are a joke bordering on the insulting. Maybe the skills the game touts as spicing up the combat will have something redeemable about them? Nope, not at all. There’s a grand total of three upgradeable skills, which work roughly whenever they feel like working (hint: it’s certainly not when you press the button), and which often don’t do much besides grant a temporary passive bonus when activated.
Okay, but there’s sex, right? Good porn can redeem an otherwise mediocre game by making it at least good masturbation fodder, but yeah, nah. Theoretically, the porn mechanic in this game is that certain “elite monsters” might knock you into a “recovery mode” with their attacks, and if they bridge the gap before you recover, then Wang Yuan-Ji gets her little Asian pussy destroyed by monster cock.
In reality, however, this doesn’t quite work, and when it does it’s lackluster. There’s no way to break out of recovery mode (it should be the H key, but it doesn’t appear to work), so if you’re knocked into it, you’re a sitting duck until a monster reaches your character. If for whatever reason a monster can’t get to Wang Yuan-Ji, the game’s over. I don’t mean it in the sense of the game showing you a defeat screen, I mean in the sense of nothing working while you’re stunned, including the menus.
Thus ends a journey of one thousand bugs as that tree monster can’t get to Wang Yuan-Ji (in spite of there being no obstacle between them), and suffers the worst case of blue balls ever recorded in the millennial history of China.
Now, suppose sex actually happens, against all odds. Don’t celebrate – it’s trash. You get a single sloppily done animation, with two speed buttons (normal and fast) that don’t change anything except how quickly the models clip into each other. The “cum” option is greyed-out, so there’s no way to finish a sex scene except by anticlimactically pressing the ESC key.
A typical sex scene in this game. Note the other monsters standing at attention and the fact that the now-invisible rapist has clipped through the ground and is fucking the protagonist (herself half-embedded into the soil) through the earth.
Alright. So, the gameplay’s a total mess, as is the sex. We’ve established that this is both a bad game and a bad H-game. But surely there must be something redeemable here, no? I mean, the screenshots look kind of pretty, and stories set in Ancient China are always entertaining, right?
Nope! It’s trash, through and through. There’s no plot to speak of. I mean, there is one, apparently somewhere, but dialogue is so poorly, so lazily programmed that the English subtitles blaze by in seconds, utterly unreadable. If you speak Japanese you might be able to discern some of the story through the Wang Yuan-Ji’s occasional voiced lines (to her credit, her voice actress has a lovely voice and tries her best). Otherwise, you’re out of luck.
Now, on to the environments. Exploration is always a big part of RPGs, and from a distance, Sangoku Musou appears to at least look pretty. When you actually play though, you find yourself in a mess of a world where high-res textures and assets clash with 90’s tier terrain, with no particular art direction to speak of, which makes the overworld look like this bizarre mish-mash of individually pretty rocks and buildings. The developers claim that their world was “created by one of the environmental designers of Witcher 3,” but not only is this utterly implausible on its face, it certainly doesn’t show anywhere in the game.
When it comes to character models, oh boy. Don’t even get me started on the character models.
The stuff of nightmares.
On the technical side of things, Sangoku Musou keeps disappointing. According to the developers it supports up to 4k resolution, courtesy of running on Unity. In reality, the game is so poorly made that I got framerate drops and stuttering at 1080p while using a Geforce GTX 970. Try to wrap your mind around that – a card that defaults to Ultra settings for AAA games laid eyes on Sangoku Musou and choked on its own vomit. There’s also half-baked, unusable “controller support”, you know, if you feel like not playing the game while holding an Xbox 360 pad. This litany of disaster continues for all remaining aspects of the game – sound, UI, music, all lackluster hack jobs.
Bottom line – Sangoku Musou: Empress of Tragedy isn’t just a terrible game, or a terrible porn game. It’s a hot mess of a half-finished proof of concept in a state that could best be called pre-pre-pre-alpha, and that’s if you feel like exercising a good amount of Christian charity. It’s also adding insult to injury, being sold on Dlsite for a whopping $21.61. That’s right, twenty-one dollars and sixty-one cents. Count ’em!
I would like to be humorous about this, as I try not to take games too seriously and it pains me to rip into another creator’s work, whatever the medium. However, this is pretty much beyond the pale. Somebody not only thought this disaster was fit for release, they also thought people would be stupid enough to shell out over twenty bucks for it. I find that a personal affront, and so I must warn you, my dear perverts – please don’t buy Sangoku Musou. It’s not only bad, it’s lazy, and that’s the worst sin of all.