China’s blatant Breath of the Wild knock-off sparks outrage
Some lambast the company for being shameless, others said China’s games industry lacks self-respect
There's no other way to put it: the most talked-about game in China right now looks like a blatant knock-off of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Be it the look, the story or the game mechanics, Chinese developer miHoYo's new game Genshin Impact -- aiming for PC and mobile -- looks to have taken much from the Nintendo game, widely hailed as one of the best of all time.
Just like Breath of the Wild, Genshin Impact is a cel-shaded, open-world adventure game featuring a warrior who has awakened from a long slumber and journeys to rescue a loved one in an apocalyptic world.
And when it comes to the gameplay… I mean… just look at it.
All of the hallmarks from the latest Zelda game are here, everything from the stamina gauge to the dishes you can cook -- and it's all presented in the same style, with a similar interface.
OK, game clones are nothing new in China. But this one comes from a major Chinese game developer, miHoYo. Genshin Impact’s closed beta test attracted close to 800,000 reservations.
But it wasn’t until the testing opened that people realized how similar the two games are. Subsequently, the sarcastically worded hashtag #ZeldaCopiesGenshinImpact# has gone viral on Weibo, with related posts and comments tallying more than 4.3 million views.
Critics of the game said miHoYo’s blatant plagiarism reflects poorly on the Chinese game industry as a whole.
“If this game manages to survive or, god forbid, go viral, Chinese gaming companies are dead beyond salvation. They will die in terms of securing future funding or talent. We have to make some real originals!" a developer at Ubisoft Shanghai wrote on Weibo.
While many are trying to hold miHoYo accountable, others say they're not the only ones to blame here.
“The industry doesn’t self-discipline. The laws don’t regulate. The users don’t care. If [our own industry] doesn’t even take itself seriously, others won’t treat you with respect,” the co-founder of Chinese games media VGtime wrote on Weibo.
The criticism against miHoYo has gotten so heated that the company issued a public letter soon after the beta test ended. It acknowledged that it took inspiration from Breath of the Wild, but it didn’t apologize for copying.
Instead, it offered the excuse that when they started making Genshin Impact, they had no idea how to make an open-world game. They said they learned a lot from games beyond Breath of the Wild, like the Grand Theft Auto franchise and titles from Bethesda and Naughty Dog.
And not all of the reaction is criticism. Some are looking forward to the release of Genshin Impact.
A supporter wrote on WeChat, “This doesn’t necessarily constitute copying. If the two games are of the same genre, how do you expect it to look? Crossfire vs Counter-Strike, LoL vs Dota, there are many classic examples [of games looking alike]. As long as you find it fun, that’s good enough.”
Another said Genshin Impact has a market in China, because not everyone can afford to buy a console to play Breath of the Wild. “I don’t care. Either way I don’t have money to buy a Switch. I don’t care about Zelda. I am hell-bent on playing Genshin Impact,” one person wrote on Tap Tap.
It's not the first time a Chinese gaming company tried to leverage the fame of Breath of the Wild to its own advantage. Last year, a game briefly appeared on iOS App Store, claiming that it’s a mobile port of Breath of the Wild. But it turned out to be a completely different game.
That said, it didn’t generate nearly as much buzz as Genshin Impact. After all, miHoYo is not a small company, having amassed a huge fan base with its mobile game Honkai Impact 3rd.