Share this article

The Cultivation Indie Game Phenomenon that Has 10k+ Players Before Launch

By Johnson Ge
Nov. 23, 2022 updated 07:25

A new Indie game, The Path of Cultivation and Reincarnation (Lun Hui Xiu Xian Lu, 轮回修仙路), will release on December 2nd on both Steam and WeGame.

As a low-budget game made by only six developers, the game’s graphics and art won’t be winning awards anytime soon, and the combat felt awkwardly hilarious while we watched a wolf flying in the air and shooting energy balls from its mouth for the first time. This game looks and feels a lot like one of those cheaply made web games that tried to mimic Korean MMOs from the early 2000s. As a matter of fact, the lead developer was indeed a senior creator of those “bottom feeder” web games.

The game’s graphic performance is similar to those “bottom feeder” web games.The game’s graphic performance is similar to those “bottom feeder” web games.

However, some people just couldn’t seem to get enough of this game even before its release, despite very little promotion. By some, I mean more than 12,000 in the game’s very dedicated and active community. The game has six QQ groups (comparable to discord servers) that have reached their 2000 member limit, and as I joined the seventh group, its empty slots were also steadily vanishing.

The game’s graphic performance is similar to those “bottom feeder” web games.The game’s graphic performance is similar to those “bottom feeder” web games.

We can think of a few reasons why this game has developed a cult following. For one, it really captures the narrative and context of the current “cultivation” trends. Cultivation is a popular genre of novel in China, themed around using martial & mystical arts to improve health, increase longevity, and grow to become a powerful demigod. On Qidian.com, one of the more popular online novel platforms in China alone, over 720 thousand light novel titles are listed in the cultivation category.

In the game, players will play as cultivators (the people who practice mystical arts) in an open world, leveling up to improve their mystical ranks to the final goal: becoming immortal before they reach the natural end of their lifespan.

A gif of the 轮回修仙路shows a spiritual pet following the player.A gif of the 轮回修仙路shows a spiritual pet following the player.

It didn’t take us long to see the charm of the game. The game implements many common features mentioned in Cultivation Novels which makes the game feel familiar to cultivation enthusiasts. For example, the players can get tons of experience by absorbing the “essential power” of the world. Once players fill their experience bar, they will need to have a “breakthrough” to reach the next rank. If it is the key rank for ascension, they will face a “Heavenly Tribulation” in which they must try their best to survive a lightning storm sent by Heaven.

A screenshot of 轮回修仙路.A screenshot of 轮回修仙路.

The roguelike features in the game give it replayability and suit the lore of cultivation. If the player character reaches the end of their lifespan, they will pass away and reincarnate to try again. Each time the character will have different traits and “Spiritual Roots”, a key stat associated with a person’s elemental affinities that will greatly affect playstyle.

The game emphasizes cultivation culture heavily and uses very specific terms to describe simple game mechanics, like Qi and Blood for HP and Magic Treasures for character equipment. In the game’s community chats, people share their favorite in-game experiences with reincarnation and provide guides for new players to help them reach their goals, and they talk about these terms a lot.

A player is seeking advice from more experienced players in a group chat.A player is seeking advice from more experienced players in a group chat.

However, this use of terminology is important. It’s not a simple markup to hide the game’s old MMO-style grinding and combat, but more like playing a dumb character in Fallout - I know the dialogue means essentially the same thing, but it just feels better and more authentic when my character speaks gibberish. It just feels right, when its done right, and The Path of Cultivation and Reincarnation (轮回修仙路) has done it right. An example of another cultivation-themed game that feels this right was The Scroll of Taiwu (太吾绘卷), which sold more than 2 million (or 3 million, depending on the source) copies worldwide, and was a landmark for Chinese indie games.

Of course, we’re not saying that The Path of Cultivation and Reincarnation (轮回修仙路) is going to be the next Scroll of Taiwu; these are two very different games in many respects. What we’re trying to say is, cultivation novels are one of the hottest literary genres in China, and it’s a bit surprising to see only a handful of games that can really reflect on the cultural phenomenon. When one of these comes out and scratches the itch of the millions of cultivation fans, it is bound to get a bit more momentum as a head start.