China’s most expensive choose-your-own-adventure yet, interactive drama The Invisible Guardian 隐形守护者 is the latest espionage drama hit. With about ten hours of gameplay, complex characters, and multiple brilliant endings, the game allows the user to take on the identity of Xiao Tu, a student who has decided to go undercover in Shanghai during the Republican era. There, you must navigate a world where everyone is out for themselves, all the while making difficult decisions that often have no right answers. Pay attention, for there are hints in episode one that won’t show up until the very last episode.
The interactive drama doesn’t gloss over the complexity of human nature and the harshness of reality. In one plotline, you have the option of manipulating the masses Culture Revolution-style to smear the name of a former colleague. In another, you can join the Japanese army to save yourself. There are bad and good people in each party, and you can also end up in any of them by the end of the series. Can you maintain your original dreams when everyone around you seems to have betrayed them and you? Even if you’ve kept alive, are the sacrifices along the way worth it? Will you still be you?
By having the option of death, the series also gets rid of the “dumb decisions” issues that many dramas have. After all, one mistake and you’re dead. The series allows you to experience over a hundred endings in five main plotlines, including some that seem cruel but logical to you, but also some that are “losses” but might make your life so much happier. Sometimes even when you lose you might be winning.
Liu Xijun sings the theme for the Red Blossom plotline of the drama game, which is part stills and part video: