Thursday, August 20, 2015

RPG Review: Yes, Virginia, there is a Feng Shui 2

I love the word “Zeitgeist”.  It’s a German phrase, meaning “spirit of the times”.  It refers to the dominant influence on the culture for a given period of time.

I was thinking, and it seemed to me that the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the X-Files are the shows that best capture the Zeitgeist of the 1990s.

I showed the Fresh Prince to Lily a couple months ago, because somebody had made a reference to the song, and she wanted to know what was up. So we tracked down an episode, and watched it, Korean subtitles and all.  Look at the aesthetic.

It’s more 90s than a Furby wearing a slap bracelet.  It’s firmly set in the 90s, and yet it had instant appeal to a kid born in 2006. And sure, part of it is because it’s a pretty decent show, and because Will Smith is insanely charismatic.  But it has an appeal that transcends its time and place.

The X-Files is different. The two leads had just as much charisma as Smith, and great chemistry besides. The 90s were the perfect time for it to exist, they were the only time for it to exist (as we will doubtless soon learn from the upcoming series revival.) The world has changed sufficiently that the tropes on which the X-Files is built no longer function. That, and while it was genuinely revolutionary in its time, it's been imitated and improved in so many ways, I don't think you can update what did work without losing that distinctive character, and just coming across as another X-Files imitator.

This brings us to Feng Shui. It’s not a period piece, but, like the X-Files, arrived at the only time it could have. Jackie Chan was at the height of his power, Jet Li was breaking into the mainstream, John Woo had yet to trade in Chow Yun-Fat for John Travolta.  Most importantly, Hong Kong was on the cusp of the return to mainland China. It was a time of change, and it seemed like anything could happen.

But it's 2015 now, and the world outside my window is no longer the world of Hong Kong action moves. Look at their list of recommended viewing. It's not exclusively from the late 80s/early 90s, but that's the era that dominates, and the few suggestions from this century seem like pale imitations of those artist's earlier works. That's all I have to say about it now, but I'll come back to this point at end.

The Good: I received my physical copy in the mail last week, and it’s an extremely nice looking book. Of all the books I own, only second edition Nobilis looks prettier.

The art is beautiful and evocative, but it’s also inclusive. This is something that almost every game gets wrong, limiting pictures of PCs to body builder dudes, and lingerie model women, each of them lily white, but we get characters in all shapes and colors, and men and women are evenly represented. I even came away with the impression that the gambler was gay, which was kind of cool.

I haven’t had a chance to run it, but my impression is that the mechanics are an improvement over the old game.  I particularly liked the inclusion of “Blue Moon” rules set off in their own section, which cover niche rules for situations that occur rarely.

The Bad: They lifted an awful lot of writing from the first edition. I thought the update to the spy’s quote was clever, and would have liked some more of that. (Original: "They never tell you this in training school, but really, the best thing to do in a situation like this is to get yourself captured so you can figure out what the enemy is up to." Updated: ""With all the torture these days, getting captured is plan B. But it's still a plan.") That's pretty much it for the bad stuff. It's a great book.

The Ugly: I’m not sure there is still a place in this world for Feng Shui, but you know what? I'm not going to be Feng Shui concern troll.

Maybe I’m wrong. I’d love to be wrong. It was a huge hit at Gen-Con this year. I think it's disappointing they rarely make kickass martial arts movies like they used to, but that doesn't mean I don't love the ones that there. So what if the real world has moved past the world of Feng Shui? It's brilliant thematically, and solid mechanically, and I love the stories you can tell with it.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Feng Shui 2. It exists as certainly as Hopping Vampires and Bags Full of Guns and Shaolin Warriors with bad attitude and Attack Helicopters exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Feng Shui 2! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which asskicking fills the world would be extinguished.

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