The swordsmen of China's beloved storyteller live on in the gaming world
How Jin Yong helped turn wuxia into the biggest fantasy genre in Chinese games
Call him China’s J.R.R Tolkien, or George R.R. Martin. Maybe even call him China’s Stan Lee.
Best-selling author Louis Cha, better known by his pseudonym Jin Yong, passed away at age 94 this week. Little known in the West, he was widely regarded in the Chinese-speaking world as the most important writer of the wuxia genre, fantasias of kung fu masters in ancient China. Since his first novels came out in the 1950s, they have been adapted into countless TV dramas, movies, comics, and games.
The wuxia genre features warring sects of martial arts such as Shaolin and Wudang. It’s like Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but instead of elves, orcs and dwarves, you get sword-wielding nuns and kung fu fighters set in historic China.
And more than just fights between different clans, Jin Yong’s works are also stories of chivalry, star-crossed lovers, and the rise and fall of empires. In more than a dozen serialized novels, he created a cast of colorful heroes and villains who walk on walls, dance on water, ride huge birds and leap from tree to tree in a bamboo forest -- complete with unforgettable nicknames like Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang.
These characters provide the perfect fodder for game developers to create blockbuster titles. Many companies have reportedly paid tens of millions of US dollars for the right to use his characters and plots.
One of the earliest Chinese games that have gained mainstream recognition was a Taiwan tactical RPG titled Heroes of Jin Yong.
This game, originally released in 1996 on PC, was part of the childhood memory of many Chinese millennials. I remember my cousin and I spent months playing it, trying to collect all the heroes in Jin Yong’s universe.
In the following years, other PC games based on Jin Yong’s novels were published -- including Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils: The Arrival of the Sky Buddha.
When MMORPG, or massively multiplayer online role-playing games, took off in China thanks to the global hit World of Warcraft -- Jin Yong's Demi-Gods became the source material of a highly successful MMORPG titled Dragon Oath, launched by Sohu in 2007. By early 2009, it claimed to have recorded 800,000 concurrent online players, not far from what World of Warcraft had in China.
In the 2010s, as Chinese gamers switched their attention to smartphones, developers started churning out wuxia mobile games.
In 2013, Changyou bought the rights to adapt 10 of Jin Yong’s novels into mobile games. Perfect World, China’s third biggest games publisher, owns the rights to the remaining four titles.
Gamers across China are now mourning the death of Jin Yong. Notably, players of Justice Online, NetEase’s own wuxia-themed MMORPG, are taking their characters to visit temples in the game, in honor of the literary giant whose legacy lives on into the age of smartphones and ebooks.