Tencent Games steps back from an impressive cyberpunk tech demo, to release an understated title in The Everlasting Regret. It’s probably something English speakers are unfamiliar with, so here’s what it basically is:
Chang Hen Ge (長恨歌; lit. “Song of Everlasting Regret”) is an epic poem dated from 809, penned by the famous Chinese poet, Bai Juyi (772-846). It tells of a love story between Emperor Xuanzong of Tang and his favorite concubine Yang Guifei (719-756). It’s considered a literary masterpiece, one that hails from the Tang dynasty.
The Everlasting Regret, the game, is a very modest title, bringing this poem to a wider global audience. In keeping with its source material, the art style is extremely Eastern, the paintings of the old Chinese masters nestled in your mobile device. That in itself helps it stand out from many other games – mobile or otherwise – in the market, since most of them tend to employ either western, realism or anime-esque art styles.
It would have been a disservice to do it any other way, as another style could arguably not be able to bring out the true essence of the poem. Interacting with the game is simple: you are provided some tools – the first part has you use paints with meanings attached to them (bond, vivify, erase) – and you “paint” accordingly to the highlighted word of the text.
The paints – represented in colour and the characters 生, 情, 灭 for “vivify”, “bond” and “erase” respectively – will be the primary interaction you get for the first and second parts, symbolically breaking off in the second when Yang Guifei dies. The “colour” of life has been lost, and the Emperor is left behind alone in the mortal realm to grieve for her.
The game is available in both Traditional and Simplified Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean. I cannot speak for the other languages, but the English translation can feel a little stilted as it attempts to rhyme while keeping the meaning of the words. I can’t fault it too much there: translation is one thing, localizing is another, much less keeping the rhyme. The English text is also accompanied by the original Chinese, so it’s definitely a bilingual bonus for those who can read multiple languages.
The beautiful artwork is accompanied by simple animations. Just think of The Everlasting Regret as an interactive picture book, with traditional instruments providing the background music. Swipe from scene to scene, or learn more about the references or moments as depicted in the art by tapping on the appropriate buttons to open up the text explanations. There are some humourous moments to be found even in a game like this when you select the wrong action, like how I accidentally erased Yang Guifei from the scene with her attendants looking at the empty space in confusion.
There are achievements you can obtain, both “hidden” ones and regular ones. They’re more for flavour than anything else, really, to encourage you to play around with the effects of the brushes. It’s mostly intuitive, especially when later on you need to roughly draw in the shape or area of the object required. It takes a little bit trial and error, as you might assume to draw in the exact shape of the object in mind, but sometimes it’s just a few taps on the screen. Other times, you need to shuffle objects by swiping at the area as you cycle through the options until you arrive at the right one, signified by a light burst of colour.
In keeping with the original poem, it faithfully retells the sorrowful love story of an Emperor and his concubine, but it is nonetheless a beautiful work. In the credits, you can read about their inspirations to make this game: a simple, but heartfelt one. The ending song backing the credits is a blend of modern day conventions and traditional, and I recommend you to watch the names scroll by as you listen.
It’s a very short game, which you can breeze through in less than an hour even if you take your time to enjoy the art and the music as it goes through the roughly 120 lines of the original song. It really is just for the experience, the taste of a slice of Chinese culture that has been preserved for future generations and will doubtless continue to impact many more people to come.
A game does not have to be complex. Sit back, relax, and let this story wash over you, in all its happiness, and its sorrow of this love story that has managed to withstand the test of time.
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