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 would...you 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Zu...no I don't...it'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
where JE is supposed to be the ground-breaking, revolutionary,
uber-game to end all RPGs. Well, it doesn't live up to this
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
So, is there
any way this game is so revolutionary? No...I should discuss
the battle system, anyway.
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.
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.
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 target...then...you 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"
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.
is actually one other part of the game...like...KOTOR...repeating
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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 KOTOR...it'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
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
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.
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
to load (screen) the game...
good heroes need an obviously evil villain to fight.
by making your avatar...
fight for the Emperor...why's he hanging with the evil looking
combat is about as exciting as this still image...
not as exciting as this shot makes it look.
saves for many bugs...
many combat styles, but so little difference in them.
like a game that includes dressing in drag!
Limited Edition includes Monk Zeng
Jade Empire Style