A Road To Guangdong review: we’re going on a bear hunt – I mean a road trip to Guangdong to get the family to cough up their secret recipe for shumai.
Other than a pleasant title screen image that’s been in circulation, I didn’t have much of a clue what Road To Guangdong was about other than a travel guide for people who wish to see the octagonal Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. Thanks, Wikipedia.
Imagine my surprise, dear reader, when it transpired that this is a beautiful road trip, sorta in the literal sense if you like low-fi graphics (I do), but of finding oneself and where you belong in a culture with a strong focus on family values.
Road To Guangdong Review
If this is your second time reading an incredibly sexy review by yours truly, you’ll know that I have a connection with Japan. While I’m not the kind of Japanophile (nothing to do with kids) that knows all about AOT or can show you what part is the safe part on a blowfish, the knuckles, I know a bit about the culture. Chinese culture? Other than martial arts, not much.
This lack of knowledge made it a little challenging to keep up with the names in the game – I’m not talking about given names, but informal family titles like in the West we would have Papa or Nana. I struggled to keep up at first with the likes of Ba Ba and Guu Ma, or even Sandy, which is the car you’ll be driving.
It’s essential to get this as the story in Road To Guangdong is about family. You play Sunny, a student who has acquired the family restaurant following the death of her father. The Guu Ma I mention is his sister, your aunt, and she comes for the ride, telling you how to treat the car and providing tips for running the family business.
There’s something very humbling about the relationships in the game, and I admire the hierarchy in the story, and the complications that Sunny faces. It’s incredibly difficult losing a loved one, but having to give up finger painting and smoking pot outside the refectory (she’s an art graduate), she’s now in this unfortunate position and heading down a path she didn’t necessarily choose. It chose her.
I also admire the courage of myself jumping into this game with little (read zero) knowledge of it, so was under the impression that it was a visual novel, with the flowing conversations. While I’m not a fan and don’t hide it, there was an immediate charm with the presentation, and something about it felt dreamy.
She’s Got A “Brand New” Car
All this talk about filling up the oil in the car and maintaining it at the start felt like a very poor mini-game, and I was glad to get into the car finally, rather, Sandy, and skip to the next dialogue scene. Imagine my surprise then when I could actually drive the car!
It was like witchcraft. While I’ve played driving games before, this segment of the game was like when you drink orange when you thought you picked up milk and your brain confuses you. Sure, you’ve had orange, and you had milk that one time in college, but when you’re expecting something different and then get thrown a curveball… well, let’s say Road To Guangdong had me by the nuts then.
If Sandy were a real person, she’d be hard work, and like the vehicle counterpart, requires a lot of maintenance. What should be a pleasant, uninterrupted drive turns into filling up the car with lubricants and new parts as if you were obsessed with marginal gains.
Between the locations in the game, you get the opportunity to stop off to fill up or replace a worn part with something like a K&N air filter. Not true, they’re unbranded. Still, it’s very much a resource management game as should you run out of money or fuel, it’s game over.
The butt-clenching in Road To Guangdong comes from making it to your destination in one piece. Aside from the maintenance of Sandy, you also need to make sure you don’t scrape her either. It’s almost impossible as the Romans may have as well built the roads as they’re straighter than a copper and not challenging.
This might be the bit where I say it was boring, but I liked it. It felt therapeutic like if you’ve ever been the designated driver on a long trip where everyone has fallen to sleep, and you have the road ahead of you and good music.
Music To My Ears
Like the GTA series, you can change the radio stations to some generic genres to pass the time/enjoy, and that includes traditional Chinese music. It was like playing Shenmue but in a first-person driving simulator and I couldn’t get enough of it. A sinophile (nothing to do with kids) may raise their hand and say it doesn’t resemble anything like Chinese culture, but to my uneducated brain, I found it quite endearing.
However, it was the interactions with NPCs that were the real highlight. Conversations felt quite natural, and once you start learning the names of the characters, it makes a bit more sense.
Dialogue paths aren’t about securing a chicken with a pulley in it, or asking someone for a monkey wrench as can occur in these environments, instead, you’re trying to extract recipes from them that you can learn and then implement in your restaurant – the real goal of the game.
Interactions are well written, and once again, Road To Guangdong exudes this charm and enchanting vibe that absorbs you through the brief time it takes to play through, but it’s not the type of game if you lack patience or want a higher degree of interaction.
Instead, it’s a sleepy hit that gives an insight into Chinese culture in the 90s, and while that doesn’t represent everyone and everything, it’s a snippet for those who haven’t directly experienced it.
The presentation was absolutely my thang, and the choice of colours and art style reminded me a little of The Sacrifice Series, i.e. The Outcast Lovers, mixed in with a little hint of The World of Golden Eggs, though without the comical approach. To be honest, I would have preferred that the characters didn’t have faces, but it’s done now. Just Add Oil Games and Excalibur Games made it.