Malik (4/29/05)

Jade Empire (XBox)

From Bioware

So, this is the one that Bioware kept promising and showing off for so many years and for so many faux-release dates. This is the game that would revolutionize combat in RPGs. The game that would include Bioware's first original RPG world. The game that should know the deal by now. 

So, when the game was announced, it was meant to expand on so many of the RPG conventions we hold dearly. However, the ultimate question is if it would be a game for all to enjoy, a game that only a select few would enjoy (like Fable was), or a game that would promise so much and end up not delivering anything important. Well, let's see how it did... 


The world of Jade Empire is completely unique, in the sense that it's not an actual world that's been used before. JE takes place in a place that strangely enough is called "The Jade Empire". Go figure that one out. It's a world that blends many Asian myths and legends with many of the fighting styles that represent this part of the world in an age in which technology doesn't exist as we currently know it. In other words, it's basically set in mythical Ancient China. Too many of the influences are obviously Chinese to call it "Asian". It's like setting a game in London and saying it's based on Europe...both comparisons are true, but one is more true. 

In the time of JE, the Empire has just recovered from a time of great peril. 20 years in the past, a great drought faced the Empire. People were dying by the thousands and conflicts were arising due to this state. So, the Emperor, in his great wisdom, announced one day that the drought was over (three years before some mystics declared that an end would come), and it was done. The land was saved. It's about this time that you, as on orphaned infant, was taken in by your martial arts teacher; Master Li. 

For the last 20 years, Master Li had trained you, along side a dozen other students, including Dawn Star, another orphan who arrived 17 years ago. You were the most gifted of Li's students and also one who was told would be destined to change the world. 

All was well in your distant village of Twin Rivers (where this school is located), until one day a group of pirates arrived on the shore. These pirates terrorized your neighbors and you were called to help in the ensuing battle. So, using the martial arts training you had, you and Dawn Star go forth to meet the enemy. However, the leader of the pirates, who identifies himself as an "assassin", is too much for you and you have to be rescued by Master Li. At this point, the pirate leader is amazed by seeing Master Li in "such a remote area" and then Li annihilates the poor fool. 

About this time, you are told to finish your training as a student and to prepare yourself for you destiny. This is the point that your rival, a student named Lesser Gao, decides to snap. He challenges you to combat, fails, breaks some rules of the school, and is expelled into the world. After this incident, your master reveals a great secret to you, that Gao overhears and tells his father (an infamous crime lord). You finish your training to find your destiny is truly great (let's avoid some spoilers), and you emerge from your final trial to find Dawn Star missing. Obviously Gao kidnapped her, and it's up to you to save her. 

This is where both the game really starts, and your little world is shattered by the actions of the foolish rival. Things are actually this abrupt and rushed at the start, but they soon smooth out and start to make more sense. 

In typical style, Bioware uses a good deal of plot twists and slow revelations of the game's secrets to keep you interested in the plot. However, also in typical Bioware fashion, you will guess 90% or more of the secrets several hours before you were meant to learn them. 

That is to say that this game is about as cliché as any RPG ever made. You can tell certain facts just from remembering how they would play out in any summer blockbuster or past RPG. There is little in the plot that is new. However, the characters are interestingly acted and portrayed, so this will keep you wanting to play more. 

However, as a warning, if you've ever read any Chinese literature that deals with ancient times, like Outlaws of the Marsh, you will know half of what's coming without even thinking. Hell, even a few characters come straight from that book; Sagacious Lu (I mean I don''s the same character as in the book Outlaws of the Marsh), Black Whirlwind (even the same name as in Outlaws), etc. There are no surprises in this game, unless you've never read any books or watched any movies in your entire life. 

Game Play 

This is where JE is supposed to be the ground-breaking, revolutionary, uber-game to end all RPGs. Well, it doesn't live up to this hype. 

The majority of the game is well laid out and standard issue, but not a distraction from entertainment. It handles much like KOTOR. In fact, normal exploration is exactly what KOTO had brought us back in 2003, and KOTOR 2 brought back in 2004. You walk around, open boxes, search through the environment, talk, equip stuff, buy stuff, blah, blah. This is not bad by any means, but it just doesn't require too much explanation. 

Like with KOTOR, you can use the L and R triggers to constantly keep selecting new targets to interact with. This means you can keep on the look out for hidden goodies without having to strain your eyes. I've always enjoyed this in KOTOR, and I still love it in JE. 

Also, like with KOTOR, you have many isolated environments that can only be reached by a vehicle that doesn't require your direct control to use. In other words, each of the areas that you explore is almost 100% isolated from anything else. While this keeps exploration focused on important areas, it does leave one lacking in background information to the world. Things like, "what is life like in the country-side?", "how big is the Jade Empire?", and other related questions will NEVER be addressed. It doesn't take away from the game any, since the plot is quite focused, but it doesn't add to the game like how larger RPGs, like FF7 and Morrowind, do with such a higher level of world detail. 

The other part of KOTOR that is obvious in JE is the dialogue. You still talk to people in the exact same way. Once again, this is not bad, but it sure as hell isn't novel. When you talk to someone, all of the lines are voiced by the people who are involved in the conversation, with the exception of the main hero. You, however, make up for this flaw by having the ability, like in KOTOR, to select a wide selection if dialogue options. These options, like in KOTOR (getting sick of that comparison? Well, this game, besides combat, is JUST LIKE KOTOR), include both different questions you can ask to learn details of the plot and alignment effecting options. You can also use some special "conversation skills", which are based on your three main attributes (read on), to help influence people to tell you more. These skills are; Charm, Intuition, and Intimidate. 

Like in KOTOR (I'm getting sick of typing that phrase), you do have an alignment. Instead of "good and evil" or "light side and dark side", you can become either open-palm or closed-fist. It's supposed to be more about philosophy than about your intentions, however, in the end, it does all boil down to good and evil. In a dialogue, you can gain one or the other alignment points by selecting to either be nice or to be a greedy bastard. Nice options include the standards; "no treasure for me, please", "let me help", "I forgive you", "I'm a wuss", blah, blah. The evil options tend to be along the lines of; "give me money or I will kill you", "don't sell her as a slave...because I'll kill you and sell her myself", "how about I just kill you?", etc. It's all standard issue stuff. 

As your alignment shifts in JE, you will have access to a few different side missions, an extra two possible party members, and one different (not EXTRA...different) combat style. That's about it. Also, the ending is different according to alignment. That's it. So, if you like to be under-powered, or if you like to play "in character", go ahead and be good. I like being in character, so I was open-palm. However, if you like treasure, money, power, and all that fun stuff, be a closed-fist bastard and enjoy. Plus, with closed-fist, you can still say you're playing in character...why didn't I play closed-fist? 

So, is there any way this game is so revolutionary? No...I should discuss the battle system, anyway. 

The battles of Jade Empire focus around a few basic concepts. The first of which is the three stats or attributes that define your character. It doesn't matter which avatar you pick at the start of the game because all can be 100% modified to be just like any other in all ways except for their appearance and what gender the game recognizes them as (which effects dialogue options and romantic sub-plots with back-up party members). These attributes are body, mind, and spirit. The stats for these basically determine how many HP (body), chi (or MP...derived from spirit), and focus (bullet-time and needed to swing a weapon...derived from mind) points you have. You will have 10 points of each plus 100 for each point of mind, body, or spirit that you have. So, if you start the game by giving yourself 5 body, then you'll have 150 HP to begin the game. It is that simple. Also, how many mind, body, and spirit that you have will effect how many skill points you have in each conversational skill. Each of these skills is derived by two of your attributes. It's a boring mathematical equation, so just take my word that something like charm and intimidation will both be based off of body and each will also be based off one of the other two attributes. However, you can get permanent and temporary boosts to both the attributes and the conversational skills by learning new techniques (which are permanent stat boosts...but they sometimes will lower one stat to raise another) or by equipping power gems (which you can equip between 0 and 7 at a time, depending on where you are in the game). 

In the end, these points (HP, etc), will each be depleted in different ways in combat. If you get hit, you'll lose HP. If you use magic to either attack, heal (and you start with chi healing abilities), or to infuse your attacks with chi (which causes extra damage), you lose chi. If you either use a weapon or go into bullet-time (focus mode), you will lose focus. To regain these points, you will either need to pick up a instant refill item from a fallen foe, or you will need to use a shrine to meditate in front of (think an inn from a normal RPG). You cannot carry potions. In other words you cannot refill focus without a shrine, a pick up, or unless your current party member has a support ability to refill focus. It works that way, more or less, for all three sets of points. So, don't get hurt, use chi, and use focus unless you want to repeatedly run back to the last healing spot. 

The other part of combat is the combat styles. These are your schools of martial arts, your schools of magic, you supportive abilities (like paralyzing attacks, etc), your different weapon types (sword, two swords, staff, two axes, gun), and your magical transformations into demons. Each style has advantages and disadvantages in each fight. Mainly, this will be seen in the form of a given enemy type being immune to a given general style. For example, demons care not about support styles, ghosts care not for weapons, and usually your fists are the only constant and reliable weapon in the game, but they will not do shit for damage. Also, transformation magic is the wild card here. It is actually worthless. It will drain your chi with each second that you are in your acquired form, plus you'll be big and slow, and you'll have unfamiliar controls. In other words, transformations are only good to determine how big your chi meter actually is...if you can stay transformed for more than 15 seconds, then you're a chi master. BLAH! 

In the end, the real meat of combat comes down to the controls. These controls will basically be selecting a target with L and R, moving, selecting a style to spam away with the d-pad (only four styles can then be hot-keyed at a time with five general styles of styles...yup...that's lame), normal attack (the button that sends forth the spamming), power attack (it breaks an enemy's guard, but it will take so long to charge up, and can't be canceled, that the enemy will drop it's guard and kick you in the nuts while your waiting to pull it off), guard, focus mode (which drains so much focus that you can only use it for about 10 seconds at a time at the end of the game), and rolling. Now all you'll hit is normal attack and roll. Basically, in the game, you will punch a dude a few times (three hit combos), roll to dodge his attack, roll towards him (which is actually you jumping over him), waiting for the enemy to drop it's guard, and then you spam the attack button. That is about it...oh, wait...then you select the next target and repeat...then the next get the idea. It's not a bad combat system, but that's probably only because you only have to fight about 70-80 or so fights in the whole game. Plus, since you rarely can train or practice your moves, you'll always find something new to be interested with before you spam away the old "three hits and dodge" combo. 

The one other part of Jade Empire's game play that will be a major focus for the player, for better or worse, is the load screens.  Just like...let's all say it together...KOTOR, you will see load screens.  Not only will you see them for unreasonable amounts of time, but you will see them an unreasonable amount of times.  In other words, of the almost 30 hours (or more) that one will spend playing through JE the first time, most of the time will be lost in the blasted load screens.  There is no way around this.

Well, there is actually one other part of the self...blah...the game will crash from time to time.  So, as one should do with KOTOR, you will need to save in many save slots (which is good since there are many ways to handle a situation and you may want to try a different way if the results you achieve are less than ideal), and often.  In fact, I'll just say that with how random the crashes can be, you will want to save after every major dialogue event.  It's that simple.  It won't crash too often, but you will be glad that you saved often and that the HDD of the XBox is so big when it finally does crash.

Also, for those who like a little old-school fun, there is a fun mini-game of flying your "flyer" (air-ship) in a Xevious/Raiden style game that has you shooting down enemy planes and possibly trying to achieve some sort of bonus goal (like protecting an NCP flyer).  It's nothing major, but it is fun.


Just look at the pictures on the side.  This game is freakin' gorgeous.  You will be given the realism of a KOTOR style game engine for how people look, but the environments look like something truly special.  The game looks like a ancient Chinese drawing come to life.  The visuals are bright and vivid, but include that type of elegance that can only be found in ancient Asian art.

There is nothing much to complain about in this game's visuals.  The only issues at all will be some minor clipping in cinematic scenes, but this is nothing that can take away from the game.

In simple, the visuals of JE only build upon the beauty that Bioware first showed could be possible from an RPG with...KOTOR.  While the visuals are not anything original, it does nicely build upon that which Bioware first introduce 2 years back.


The sounds of Jade Empire, in a nut-shell, are wonderful.  These sounds are some of the best you'll hear from a video game.  The most obvious part is the sound effects, since you will hear these often in combat.  The sounds of any action, be it magic, weapon use, martial combat, or anything else, are simply amazing.

Beyond that, the music is amazing in it's ability to be both tranquil and inductive towards a good old adrenaline rush.  When you're simply exploring the world, you will be treated to classical music with an obvious Asian flavor.  You'll hear gentle, calm, and awe-inspiring  instruments that show us that maybe Dynasty Warriors is wrong to invoke the images of electric guitars with an game set (obviously, despite what Bioware may claim) ancient China.  However, when the action picks up, the same style of music is picked up in tempo and energy to get you blood pumping.  The music is simply something that must be heard to be fully appreciated.

The final part of the audio, and usually the worst part in most games, is the voice acting.  While some voices may not seem completely appropriate (like Brian Doyle Murray...AKA: Bill Murray's brother), they all do work perfectly in the ways in which they were used.  The voice talent does include some real talent.  I have never been as happy or impressed with voice acting in a game...with the sole exception being Tho Fan, the artificial language developed for JE.  To imagine it, think of Twil'lik in's annoying in sound, repetitive, and it seems like an easy short-cut for Bioware to not have to record so many lines and thus cut production costs.


In the end, there are some definite good points to Jade Empire.  Most notably are the aesthetics.  The sounds will never fully bring down the game, and beyond Tho Fan, the sounds will always amaze...especially during the end credits, when two of your party members will discuss, in a fictionalized way, why they tried out to be in the game's cast.  Plus, the visuals will always keep you amazed.  Some textures may be over-used, and others will be under-utilized, but the final product is beautiful.  Plus, the dialogue options and the methods at your disposal for solving issues are loads of fun.  Even the combat, which is very repetitive, is a lot of fun.

However, you still have some strong negative features.  Beyond the hours of load screens that you will have to endure, which will definitely take the game down a notch as you play it, there are the issues of how little variation there is to combat.  Battles are annoying and bland, but there are so few total battles that this will probably never wear you down...I mean how do you hate something that you can't participate in enough to love or hate.

However, the most obvious positive and negative feature of JE is the plot.  If you are naive, you will keep loving the plot the entire time.  However, if you like to do some thinking as you playing a thinking game, then you will be annoyed by having your intelligence abused by the cliché and obvious plot.  Luckily, even if you continue to think things through, the character development and one or two plot twists will keep you guessing...a little.  So, the plot serves as a wild card in this game.

In the end, with all the flaws and all the positives, Jade Empire is a fun game.  Also, if you are one to play games additional times to see alternate plot paths, you will have plenty of replay value in this title (there's good, evil, and neutral endings).  However, you will still have to deal with a shit ton of load times, a cliché plot, and a very simplistic and pointless combat engine.   So, with all of this being considered, I'd have to give Jade Empire a 8.25/10.  It's fun for a single play through, but just not that fun.


Time to load (screen) the game...

The good guys.

All good heroes need an obviously evil villain to fight.

Start by making your avatar...

...Who will fight for the Emperor...why's he hanging with the evil looking dude?

Yes, combat is about as exciting as this still image...

...and not as exciting as this shot makes it look.

Many saves for many bugs...

Another load screen!?!

So many combat styles, but so little difference in them.

Nothing like a game that includes dressing in drag!

The Limited Edition includes Monk Zeng

Raiden/Xevious: Jade Empire Style