Thirty years ago, the epic martial arts was the most popular genre in the country. Today, fantasy dominates the entertainment industry, in part thanks to the success of an 18-year-old video game.
In 2003, Taiwan-based video game developer Softstar released two sequels to its 1995 hit, The Legend of Sword and Fairy. Although the two sequels were released in the space of a few months, they hardly looked alike. Two-dimensional Sword and Fairy Legend II, produced by Softstar’s Taiwan office, stayed true to the first installment wuxia the theme and aesthetics of martial arts, while the three-dimensional sword and fairy legend III, produced by Softstar’s Shanghai subsidiary, had a radically different look based on xianxia, or “chivalrous fantasy”.
Even then, Softstar’s decision to release radically different sequels to an eight-year-old game in such rapid succession was puzzling, but the market verdict was clear: while the wuxia-The second installment on the theme met with a lukewarm popular and critical response, the third installment inspired by high fantasy proved to be extremely popular, selling hundreds of thousands of additional copies and scoring significantly higher on review aggregators like Douban.
The contrasting market performance of these two games has proven to be a turning point in the development of the Chinese video game industry. Over the next two decades, the center of the industry migrated from Taiwan to the mainland, while xianxia fantastic themes have overtaken wuxia martial arts stories like bread and butter industry. Just to give two examples, the hugely popular mobile games Honor of Kings and Onmyoji are both heavily influenced by xianxia. And while wuxia never completely disappeared – this is especially common in representations of Western game studios in East Asia – xianxia dominates the Chinese market – not only in video games, but also in online literature, television and film. Read on for the full article here
– This article originally appeared on Sixth tone.