Chinese Video Game Highlights Complex Reality of War With Japan

Genre-bending indie title “The Invisible Guardian” is part choose-your-own-adventure novel, part wartime drama.

A screenshot from “The Invisible Guardian,” a prodigiously popular interactive drama set during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

It’s a showdown: In an antique-filled room, Japanese soldiers have China’s Communist rebels held at gunpoint. You — an undercover resistance fighter named Xiao Tu — have just been knocked over in a scuffle. Beside you on the floor lies a handgun.

The scene freezes and words materialize on the screen. You have 10 seconds to make a choice that could help or hinder the Chinese resistance during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Click “pick up the gun and aim it at the Japanese consul” and things go downhill quickly: Xiao has his shoulder dislocated with a deft counter, his forearm sliced open with a sword, and his torso pumped full of lead. Game over.

But if you choose “pick up the gun and aim it at Teacher Fang,” your friend and compatriot gets shot in the ensuing fracas. While you manage to survive, it’s at the expense of being branded a hanjian — or “traitor to the Chinese” — by the locals. But you also earn the trust of the Japanese officers and their battalion, which you’re hoping to infiltrate and plunder for intel that might be valuable to Shanghai’s underground resistance movement.

Whether to shoot a comrade is among the many gut-churning decisions that players face in “The Invisible Guardian,” a video game from Chinese indie developer New One Studio. Since its first half was released on Jan. 23, the game — or “interactive drama,” as it’s often described — has received rave reviews for its unique format, slick script, compelling voice-overs, and heart-stirring patriotic themes. Last month, the game briefly topped regional sales charts on online gaming platform Steam, and when the second half featuring four possible endings was released on March 5, the number of concurrent players peaked at 82,000.

The Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945 — or the “War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression,” as it’s commonly known in China — has inspired hundreds of Chinese-made historical dramas that have only become raunchier, more sensationalized, and more violent over time. While predictably casting Japanese soldiers as the villains, “The Invisible Guardian” represents a refreshing spin on an otherwise-stale genre by featuring a cast of humanized characters and by challenging players to resolve moral dilemmas. Read the full article here.

– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.