First time I’ve ever wanted to start a topic on a game here at QT3, but after playing it for a little over two hours I think I really like what I’m playing. 21-year-old me was a big fan of the 1995 sailing and exploration game Uncharted Waters: New Horizons on the SNES, and this game seems like the spiritual successor to that 28-year-old gem. Here’s the Steam page.
So far in two hours I’ve…
… sailed to ports around Iberia, France, North Africa, and Italy (with the rest of the world left to explore):
I’ve been playing! I’m fascinated by JRPGs like this, where you can play different characters starting at different places in the same world, and I’m especially fascinated that the world is our world in the age of discovery. This stuff is right up my alley! So I’ve played a bit of the Portuguese explorer dude, but mostly the Chinese scholar chick. I’ve been plying the waters of the East China Sea, exploring Korea and Japan, importing ginseng, looking for rare books, earning town rep, and even diving for sunken treasure. The (linear?) storyline is trying to move me down to Indonesia now, but this is one of those games where you can hang around and do “side quests” as long as you want!
I’m not sure I’m going to stick with it, though. The exploration and trading is fine, but not terribly different from a bazillion similar “fly/fight/trade” games. Which leaves the character/ship progression, and that part feels very JRPG to me (i.e. everything just kind of levels itself as you play along; you’re not really making choices so much as scooping everything forward). Sailing Era does make me want to revisit Nantucket, that whaling videogame, which did a much more imaginative job translating a sailing ship into game systems.
And then there are crucial systems in Sailing Era that – in my opinion – simply don’t work. I can’t quite figure out what’s going on with ship combat, but it feels like silly busywork, consisting mostly of whether the autotargeting lands a hit? And I’m at a complete loss when it comes to boarding/swordfighting. I don’t even. Wha? Huh? Also, where’s the fancy dancing at? That was my jam in SId Meier’s Pirates. I want fancy dancing!!!
So I’ve taken a hiatus and I kinda doubt I’ll go back into Sailing Era. But if I were to play a JRPG, it would probably be this one. I just wish the combat were more manageable, or at least less obtuse.
Nope, just wind direction, which can be a real bitch. :)
You can pop up a lookout to search for stuff, so there are some “search for the spot” elements. And to keep you entertained, there are resources you can pick up as you sail around (mostly just supplies for your crew). But otherwise, sailing feels mostly like busywork. Which is why you can autopilot via shipping lanes.
I haven’t, however, done much sailing between “zones” so there might be more systems later in the game.
I’m betting the game doesn’t let you play like a real Portuguese trader of the time, introducing Europeans to the joys of enslaving Africans as the basis of a globe-spanning proto-capitalist colonial economy.
Snark aside, while I love the structure and general gameplay of this sort of game, when the setting is so closely rooted in the actual past I get a bit uneasy. The tension between what is included and what is not, and the reduction of epic tragedy into a glaring gap in the narrative, or its transformation into a sanitized anodyne tale of “exploration and discovery” gives me hives.
The goofy anime characters should snap you out of it pretty quickly. :)
I get it, though. I’m keenly aware of the enormity of colonization. But I still love doing it in games, much the same way some people love games about shooting guns at other people. Imperialism 2 is one of my favorite games of all time, and I even revel in all the detail of Brian Reynolds’ Colonization, a game that literally includes genociding specific native American tribes.
But one advantage of Sailing Era is that the four different characters represent different approaches to the sailing era, each focusing on a different element of that era: exploration, scholarship, combat, and trade. I was particularly curious about the Chinese scholar’s start, which invokes Zhang He’s expeditions. This is a game developed by a Chinese studio, so it obviously wants to highlight China’s historical participation in global exploration; that’s not something you get in Sid Meier’s Pirates, for instance! @Benhur mentioned this feels like an SNES game, and that’s true, but perhaps more importantly, it feels like a Koei game to me: a familiar kind of genre told from a different cultural perspective. I remember there was a Koei Robin Hood game back it the day. It was so weird and cool and slightly awkward exploring the forests of Sherwood in such a fundamentally Japanese game!
So while I get your unease and even share some of it, Sailing Era provides a few extenuating circumstances. Of course, now you’re playing a Chinese game, so you also have to make peace with that. :)
I’ve been playing on a gamepad, as the game seems to be designed for it. For me the combat hasn’t been too bad, though it’s not the main focus for me. For me, it’s about exploring cool stuff (discovering places like the Pillars of Hercules involves more than just sailing by), finding interesting ports (that contain different buildings/NPCs and are even voiced in appropriate languages), buying different goods, and fulfilling quests. As you build up reputation in a specific port from doing quests or telling the governor about your finds, you’re able to get licenses to explore on land, or buy specific goods, and other stuff (I haven’t gotten all the licenses for Lisbon yet).
I can agree that burnout may be a factor after a few more hours, but for right now there so much stuff I still want to do… map out the coast of Africa, find more NPCs to hire (you can equip them with stuff and level them up), add more ships to my fleet, build ships (there’s a whole aspect to this that involves finding ship components and building a customized ship), see the New World, and try the different main character quests. As Tom mentioned, you can play as a Japanese trader, an Arabian pirate hunter, a Portuguese explorer, or a Ming scholar. I wanted to try the scholar first, but then I thought Europe would be a better starting area for me since I am more familiar with European ports and ships, and perhaps once I make my way over to Asia, I might change start a new game as someone else.
I had some doubts and watched a few hours’ worth of videos before buying, but I don’t regret my purchase yet. Also, understand there’s no reason to go in blind, so everyone should be able to have some realistic expectations. I knew ahead of time that the translation isn’t top notch, the storyline is implausible (young Portuguese sailor just happens to have a new ship fall into his lap), and some of the character designs are simply absurd (I don’t know what a Dutch cartographer is supposed to look like in the 16th century, but I know they’re not supposed to look anything like Joyce). But I knew what I was in for and writing some of this off as stylistic decisions.
Oh, it’s not something I’m riding around tilting at, for sure, and I play plenty of games that represent stuff I would not do or condone in reality, for sure. I just have an intellectual and professional interest in that sort of thing. I’m teaching a class this semester that focuses on digital humanities approaches to interrogating video games and the game space using variations of post-colonial theory, for instance. Just stuff I’m interested in, and while I think it raises important questions, the implications for a play/not play type decision are rather complex and nuanced.