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Malik (4/18/05)  

I didn't get too much gaming in this weekend. Too much to do one day and too much sleep lost the other. Sleep dep is an interesting thing... 

Anyway, the little of Jade Empire I played was enlightening. I'm not quite as turned off from the battle system...although I still feel that it's under-whelmed me a bit. I mean this is not the battle system that was described so much when the game was in development. Comparing what we were told about the system and what it really is is like comparing an anime with an English translation of an anime; It can be good at times, but it still doesn't live up to what it should have been. 

I haven't really gained anything new in battle styles...besides another transformation (Horse Demon). I'm not big enough of a transformation fan to care, so it sits, untested. The problem with transformations is that they just don't make up for the loss of chi (MP). A transformation can leave you drained in only 10 or so seconds, while normal combat will use less (if any) and leave you open to use chi to restore your health...I personally like to have healing abilities over a cool looking, but short lived, transformation. 

Actually, I did gain one more style; Drunken Master. It's not a bad style, and the animations are really cool looking. However, to use this style, you have to have a certain person in support, and you have to grab the bottles of booze he throws around the battle field. It's too much work to just use another style. 

On the note of your followers, I finally fixed my issue with them dying too often. I am now just using Dawn Star in support, which means she doesn't fight any, but my chi gauge slowly fills as time passes in combat (too bad it doesn't work out of combat). This ensures more time to use both ice magic and healing. I'm hoping to say Earth magic and healing, but I'm not goody-goody enough...yet. 

I'm still trying to play this game as a good character, or as the game calls it, "open palm". It's hard. I mean the moral decisions aren't too bad, but I've found several missions for evil (closed-fist) people, but there are none for the good side, at least that don't have an evil equivalent mission. Also, the loss of money is a hard thing to deal with. It's hard to make good money when you're a good guy who keeps turning down monetary rewards for some extra open-palm bling. At least being good does open Earth magic, so there is one reward. However, at the same time, evil people can buy new styles with their money and get storm (or some word like that...tempest?) magic. Blah. The game constantly pushes one towards evil in it's how the best equipped gems (you can equip gems to boost your skills) are only for evil people. It's a lot like KOTOR in this regard, but more so. 

At least I'm finding the quirks of the controls, so combat is more entertaining now. I'll find my avatar pulling out his sword less and less in combat when I simple want to use ice magic. Also, I've learned to never button mash...never. If you button mash for an instant, it will be queued up in your actions and it will cost you some life...every time. Also, to make things better, you start to get into more one on 50 battles...well, not 50, but a big number of enemies. It makes things far more interesting when you have a large number of enemies and you only have your own abilities to count on. 

In one case, I took on a bunch of cannibals in a ruined building. In this fight, I first had to take on a mini-boss guy while his dozen or so followers came at me. Then, after a while, I had him beaten, and had demolished his people. That's when then next wave appeared. That was a good fight. You both had a good amount of foes to consider, making it feel like an old Kung-Fu movie, and you have a ruined inn/tavern to fight in, making it further feel like an old Kung-Fu movie. That is what I've been waiting for. I care not for these one on one fights, these fights with demons, these fights with ghosts who cheap shot you by spamming both seeking projectiles and freezing magic. No. I find these fights pointless. It's the many people (or "people-like" monsters) versus my lone self that makes the game fun. 

Sadly, I can't say the story is all that entertaining. When Suikoden came out, it used a fresh approach to the classic story, "Outlaws of the Marsh"...a book I've read and whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who likes a long (2000+ pages with small type) story of ancient China set to a world of both corrupt politicians and mystical elements. Sadly, Jade Empire has a more shallow of plot, and it's too closely related to Outlaws. For example, there's an old inn you find in JE that is needing some people from a neighboring town to come to it and help to protect the people of the inn from ghosts. If you tone down that request (in Outlaws, they would never want as much attention as to call for help from a town...just a lone adventurer) and have read Outlaws, then you know what's coming...almost word for word, and event for event. I mean you can probably see what would be coming, but I knew what was coming. At least Suikoden used this one type of event as a minor thing in a grand story...JE used this as a big event and just beat the small event of Outlaws into the ground. 

If you thing that I may just be over-reacting, try to read Outlaws of the Marsh and play this game...way too many coincidences. Sagacious Zu, with a mysterious past and great fighting abilities, in JE is nothing more than Sagacious Lu in Outlaws, but with a slightly more appropriate, to JE's plot, background. The inn I told you about. The corrupt political system that must be saved by a single man who was destined to greatness and wronged so dearly and so many times...a man who must gather the forces of good from various backgrounds and places. 

Sorry...I'll stop nit-picking before I actually finish the game. I may end up being proved wrong with seeing this as too close to Outlaws of the Marsh...I doubt it, but I'll remain open minded. At least the game is still more entertaining than not. 


Malik (4/19/05)  

You've probably heard by now, and I was thinking of passing on posting this, but EB and Gamestop are merging. Well, technically, Gamestop is buying EB, but since both companies are so together with this deal, and since both companies are about the same size, I prefer to look at it as more of a merger. 

I'm interested to see how this pans out in the end since I live in an area where it's like there's gang warfare and turfs. EB owns downtown Seattle while Gamestop owns the South-Side. Meanwhile, there are split battles in some other areas. So, I'm wondering if this trend will continue, if one name will be demolished, or what will happen. I'm also curious about what will happen with the service of the ultimately merged company. Will we see the good online service of EB still exist? Can we still see the poorly designed web layout of Gamestop? What features of each company will remain? Who knows? 

I'm just afraid to see that in the end we will have one less source for gaming competition. Of course, at the same time, the less dedicated stores will probably still fare better in the price wars...I mean if I go to EB or Gamestop, I can buy JE and Freedom Force 2 for a large chunk of cash, yet if I hit Frye's (here's some good advice if you're looking for either game right now) I can get FF2 for something closer to $20 (did it this weekend...sadly, I haven't played any, yet) and JE for $35 (that's both the limited and normal editions). So, who knows if this merger will help the poorly priced games at EB/Gamestop...however, here's some hope since it's a lot easier for me to not have to drive in the middle of an industrial park (Frye's around Seattle is in an industrial park with no other commercial ventures within a normal distance) to get cheap games. 

I am still finding more to love about Jade Empire. I have plenty of reservations about how this game has failed to live up to the hype, but I'm seeing more and more of the good, while learning better to deal with the bad. For example, the many combat styles are nice, but you only use one or two in any given fight. I mean, it comes more down to your dodging abilities than your mixing of combat styles. If a human comes at me, I simply pull out my sword and hack a few times, jump and roll to dodge, then hack again. I don't need to whip out my magic, then a martial style, then a transformation, then a support style. Nope. It's all about just focusing on one or two important styles. 

Hell, I thought it would be more complex, so I started with a magic based avatar. However, as I played, I soon learned that while chi is important for pumping the strength of my attacks and for healing, it's the martial and weapon styles that get all my love with powering at at a new level. 

At least the plot is getting more interesting...if not more cliché the game progresses. There are some poorly used clichés in the plot, but the overall experience is fulfilling. Also, that complaint that many have of this being a 20 hour or shorter game is full of shit. I'm in chapter 2 (out of something around 7...I know, some are supposed to be quite quick...) at over 10 hours. This game is only really short if you're avoiding conversations, side quests, and exploration. In other words, it's short in the same way Fable was "short"; it is only short until you start to dive deeper than the surface. You could probably beat the game really quickly, but you'd skip the conversations and many side-quests. Also, being closed-fist (evil) would probably make the game quicker, since the evil solution to most problems is not as deep. If you're good, you'll have to find the facts surrounding an event and then solve the mysterious deeper problems...if you're evil, you kill people, demand more money, and then kill the person who paid you. 

In the end, I'm thinking this game will prove to be far better than I first thought, but not for the combat engine, the character development, the various combat styles, or any of that stuff. It will prove to be good for the rather cliché plot, the awesome voice acting (with a few exceptions) and for allowing one to escape so easily into the game. Many people like to use the phrase of "escaping into a game" or "escapism" as an excuse for people killing others "in the name of GTA", but it's actually a good thing for those of us who have back-breaking labor and long commuting to do 9+ hours a day. I'd rather have a game that offers easy escapism than one that just has a fun combat engine. 

Anyway, I will need that later tonight, for I'm off to get my teeth drilled...yipee! 


Malik (4/20/05)  

Nothing like a trip to the dentist to both devour one's time and give some extra time for PSP...sorta a give and take relationship. Also, nothing like a trip to the dentist to leave one miserable and in pain. Novocain is nice, when it works (not on me...high tolerance...luckily I have a nice tolerance for pain, but that only makes me bitchier), but even afterwards you still have a bunch of puncture wounds in your mouth from where the needles worked (or didn't work...) their magic. 

Anyway, I did get in some more time with Untold Legends as I sat in that dreaded chair. I still have to say this is a great launch title. It gives "the grind" of an MMO, but with the knowledge that there's an ultimate goal. True, that goal includes completing a very lame plot in which you can't help but not care if the world lives or dies. However, despite a flawed plot, the "the grind" aspects of UL works in it's favor. 

Also, the amount of time required for completion definitely works in it's favor. I've played this game for about 25 hours, so far, and am still not finished. It's not often you'll find an action based RPG for a portable system that can actually go for this long. Plus, finding new armors and weapons is a nice feeling with how many variations there are on each weapon type, weapon add-on, and the factors of deciding what power-ups to take as you level. 

I also got in some, but less than usual, time with Jade Empire. I am enjoying this game more with each day of playing, despite the many flaws. The plot is, overall, rather cliché and lame, but the amount of character given to the world definitely helps to keep a normally cliché story from becoming pointless. It's just too bad that all of the plot is pretty damned predictable...for example; anyone who does an evil looking act, but is supposedly good, has a reason, anyone who acts too nice is just trying to take advantage, and there's never a single question on what course of action is really the most "open-palm" or "closed-fist". It's all obvious from the second you start the game and learn of the major players. 

I also wish the characters you find to team with you weren't so useless. I mean there are a few that are interesting to team with for the visual effects, but you'll almost always want to go with either Dawn Star or Sky as a support person so you will keep having either your chi or your focus meters fill as combat progresses. There's no point in using anyone as a combat person since all of your allies have severe problems with not being mauled by the enemy. I learned quickly enough to just put Dawn Star in support and leave it as that; she'll refill your chi (which can be used to also heal yourself) and she won't die within the first 5 seconds of combat when in support. It'd be a lot better if there was some way to heal your teammate during combat...but that is something that I guess will either never happen, or will show in JE2, if one is ever made. 

You also get your party members far too quickly in the game. Judging from what I've heard, I'm about half way through the game and have all but three optional characters and one required character, out of 12. Combined with how I never use any of these characters, it just feels like something is wrong. 

On a different note, I love seeing games in which historical figures who were not really ones to be labeled as "evil" in historical terms are labeled as "evil" in games. There was Oda Nobunaga in everything from Inindo (SNES) to Onimusha. He was only "evil" is you were not on his side. I mean without his way of thinking, who knows how the turbulence of cival war Japan would've turned out. Now there's Heike Kiyomori, from the conflicts between the Gengi and the Heike in Gengi (check out this link at Gamespot for more details). I've read plenty on this era of Japanese history, and I don't really see either side as right...I mean both the Heike and the Gengi were pretty full of themselves. Both sides tried to do some good things, but they both made some really poorly planned mistakes. However, I think that, as it happened with Nobunaga, since Kiyomori is the one that came out on top in the end that he must also be the "evil" one. It's amazing how if there's a major conflict between many sides that are, or could be, "right" that the winner must be the one who was wrong. 

Anyway, I feel pretty crap-tacular today, with how my face is still throbbing from the attack of the dentist. So, I'll log a little early today. 


Malik (4/21/05)  

On a different than usual martial arts theme...for those who've been watching Naruto, I just have to say I wish I knew when they were planning on continuing shit. I have always thought of Sasake in the same way that I think of all characters (in games, anime, or whatever) with this same one-dimensional personality; they are teh lamzor. He's a brooding anti-hero...yipee...I mean there's a point when focusing on one single character will always prove annoying for fans of a media. For me this point was reached with Sasake a few months back, but now even the fans of this one-dimensional whore must be feeling tired of this shit. 

Slight Naruto spoilers follow. 

For the last couple of weeks (including the episode from yesterday), the episodes are based on a simple premise that is annoying the crap out of me. This premise is that Naruto and Sasake will fight for long does a single punch or kick take? Then the episode turns into a long and drawn out history of Sasake and Itachi. Then the episode ends with Naruto and Sasake flying at each other , each about to land a punch. Then the next episode begins with Sasake landing his attack, Naruto flying away in pain, and then another drawn out and annoying flashback of why we should feel something for such a one-dimensional character...then the next episode ends as Naruto and Sasake, once again, are about to land another blow. It this supposed to keep me interesting and get me pumped for the next episode. At the very least, why can't they just show flashbacks with no false hints of a real fight until this whole back story is done. 

End of spoilers. 

Maybe I don't understand how others think, but I don't get the appeal of a character like Sasake, who is just the same brooding anti-hero we've seen in every other action based anime and most video games. He's Shinobi, from the PS2 game...he's Shadow from FF6...he's Ryu from Ninja Gaiden...he's Amarand from FF9...he's Seifer from FF8...he's Edge (without the humor and the lust for the ladies) from FF4...he's Vincent from FF7...he's...he's in every freakin' game, anime, whatever. It's the same one-dimensional character used in different bodies and names, and for some sick and f$#%ing annoying reason, everyone always loves this same character. Each week I keep hoping that Rock Lee and Gaara (two of Sasake's bigger rivals/challenges in past episodes) will show up, tell Naruto to chill, and then maul the shit out of Sasake. That would be awesome. 

Anyway, enough about Naruto. It's a good anime, but it really needs to progress the plot a little about now. I am just sick of seeing the same damned thing every week. In most battles, the show is good enough to not pull a DBZ (make the battle stretch out for a dozen episodes as new "revelations" are revealed), but it's getting close to pulling a DBZ with this current fight. 

I'm still cranking away at Jade Empire. In fact, I guess by many peoples' bitchings, I have beaten the game since I've gone beyond 15 hours. Strangely, I'm only in chapter 3 and I keep reading of how you should beat the game within 20 hours, if not just blast through it in 15. However, I must also add that I've spent next to no time wasting time. Everything I do is new and important. I'm not power leveling (which is hard, but not impossible in JE once you hit the Imperial Capital), I'm not standing around doing nothing, I'm not talking to the same people over and over again. No. I'm simple talking to each character once (or more if a quest requires it), taking on all quests, and fighting battles as they come. Anyone who says this game can be beaten, 100%, in under 20 hours (especially on the first try) is full of shit. 

Just like with Fable, if you do everything, and not just blast through the game as fast as possible (JE is about's a cliché plot, but it is why rush it and skip half of the good stuff), there's a lot more game than the average player gives it credit for. I doubt I'd play through this game a second time (I just don't replay games that are not called "Xenogears"), but if I did I still wouldn't rush through the plot since there would be plenty to try as a closed-fist (evil) character. Also, there are a lot of fun things to try when talking to one's party. I mean I've had a great time last night getting Dawn Star to act jealous of Silk Fox in a desperate bid for my attention (I may be open-palmed, but I still need to mack). 

Anyway, I'm just rambling now. Too little sleep and too many things to do tends to destroy one's ability to remain concise. So, I'll go about now. I'm hoping to start preparing the beginnings of a JE review soon. So, there's something to look forward to. 


Malik (4/22/05)  

According to the bitchings of those who are full of shit, I've either beaten Jade Empire or am a complete loser. I've passed the 20 hour mark, and then some, last night. Supposedly, this game is one that only takes 20 hours on your first try to do everything. Strangely, I'm missing some things, due to being open-palm style (some quests require closed-fist) and am not dawdling any, yet I'm in chapter 3 out of about 7. So, I guess that either those who say this game is really short are full of shit or they simply rush through a game, rather than get their full money's worth, and then they bitch about how short it is. 

First off, as I've said before, a game is only "too short" if it's left feeling incomplete, or if so little happens that you actually don't feel like you should play more because you couldn't get invested in the game. Well, with JE, I feel both like I want more and I feel like things are somewhat complete (I can't say they are incomplete since I'm only half way through the main quest). If you want to see a good example of a game that was too short, check out KOTOR2; the game that was rushed to market and had the ending and a side quest completely removed but the evidence of these things still remained on the normal game. It took me 75 hours to beat that game and I felt like it was, the actual time matters nothing when the game itself is the real judge of how long a game should be. 

As for if the game is fun enough to warrant more time than a rushed 20 hours; it is. For example, last night I fought the battles of the Imperial Arena, in which you learn the back story of one person in your party, get a chance to earn some quick money and experience, and you get an awesome fighting style (if you play by the rules). The best part is that fighting style; twin-sabers. I especially like this style since I had many level up points saved up so I immediately was able to boost all of the style's abilities to the max. This means my new and powerful style (that also looks hella sweet) is fast as can be, does massive damage (took down the leaders of the arena in no time with this speed and power combination), and costs very little focus to use. With these type of bonuses in the game, how can you rush through this title? Only if you're an idiot. 

In fact, with playing for about 4 hours last night, I only barely progressed the main plot since I had so many side quests to work on. I mean I may be able to rush through the game and have it beaten by now, but I'd rather learn more of the back story and histories of the Jade Empire by actually trying to enjoy as much of the game as possible. 

Hell, there is so much variety in side quests that while I took a break from the arena I went off to be an extra in a play. In this quest, I was given some dialogue options that could lead to either the play failing, the play succeeding with the fans and not being noticed by the empire, or I could make the fans love it but make the empire extract revenge on the play's writer for adding slanderous anti-empire material. All of this while my Zen-style monk is dressed in a dress and makeup. Now that is what I like about a good game...not the cross-dressing...the ability to do so much to interact with all levels of the game's world. Even after all of that, I finished the arena battles and struck a deal with the organized crime syndicate of the Jade Empire world. That is something, however, that you can only really see IF you don't rush through the game. 

Anyway, I don't know when I'll actually finish this game. Despite how the vocal asses like to talk of how short this game is, it's just like with KOTOR (1 or 2) or's only as short as you make it. I like this game's cliché world (despite the cliché parts) and will take my sweet time to finish it. It's not that I'll just waste time (it's hard to do that in a game with so few re-spawning enemies that you can't just battle or level for the fun of it), but I will do everything. 

Anyway, I need to run since obligations are calling me away from JE I need to get in as much JE time as possible. 

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