|MS Game Studios
| Blood and Gore, Violence
| The Good
Great audio and graphics
Good and bad paths allow for replay
| The Bad
Long load times
Combat could be deeper
Hot on the heels of the much celebrated Knights
of the Old Republic, Bioware has taken their successful
RPG formula and used it as the core for a story-heavy RPG
of a different flavor. The world of Jade Empire is
a fictional land patterned after the mythology of the ancient
orient. In it, your main character starts out as a promising
student off in the far flung corner of the empire. After evil
raiders attack the town, you're set upon a quest for revenge
and self-discovery that has you running into a number of odd
allies and even odder enemies. As should be expected, the
story is rich and deep (especially if you take the time to
talk to everyone) and should feature more than enough twists
and turns to keep you happy.
As with previous BioWare efforts, Jade Empire is rich
in conversation. A large portion of your game is spent talking
to NPCs and your fellow party members. Most of this is to
either progress the story, delve into the gameworld's past
or to just acquire new sidequests to perform. Initially, the
game may only present a few sidequests to handle, but by the
time you get a few hours in you'll be managing more than a
few requests, some of which will contradict other quests.
Much like the KotOR series, Jade Empire features a "Good Side/Bad
Side" dichotomy in which you lean towards either Open Palm
(good) or Closed Fist (bad) as you make decisions throughout
the game. Most of these decisions are pretty black and white,
though I give credit to BioWare for throwing in the occasional
"gray" choice to mix things up.
Instead of focusing on turn-based action hinged on an established
RPG system, Jade Empire features real-time action where
the player controls their main character and fights using
action standards: a normal attack button, a slower more powerful
attack button, a block/dodge/jump button and a button to go
into a slow-mo Focus mode. While this set-up may not seem
all that spectacular, it is augmented by the fact that you
learn a number of "styles", which can be mapped-to the D-Pad
and selected on the fly during the middle of the fight. These
styles range from standard melee to magic to transformation
and a liberal application of these styles is always helpful
during a fight. When you earn a new level, you'll be given
points to distribute to the various styles to improve their
speed or damage.
Along with a health, your character has Chi and Focus. Chi
is used in magic and can be used to heal by pressing a button
during battle while Focus is necessary for the aforementioned
Focus state and if the player chooses to use a Weapon Style.
While one might want to ration these, the overabundance of
powerups dropped by defeated enemies and Chi and Focus shrines
around every corner means you won't have to walk too far to
top yourself off.
Along the way, you'll manage to pick more than a few allies.
Throughout most of the game, one of these allies can follow
you around, helping out during combat or just adding their
own commentary as you perform quests. While some provide mostly
combat-oriented help, most can add a support ability, like
refilling you Chi or Focus gauges during battle. Unlike KotOR,
though, you can not switch to your ally at any point during
battle, so you have to hope they're smart enough to stay alive
on their own.
Graphically, Jade Empire is all about bloom lighting
(a lighting technique that makes everything glow and have
a fuzzy, ethereal quality; see also: Fable).
That's not to say that Jade Empire doesn't look good
on it's own. The game features massive levels with tons of
detail. And by tons of detail, I do mean TONS. Outdoor
areas look wonderful and the city areas are often bustling
with scores of NPCs, giving a wonderful life to the game.
The overall style is executed magnificently and the use of
some nice effects makes everything, including the transformations,
gorgeous to behold. If there's any flaw to be found its that
the character models for the NPCs tend to get repeated (but
not as badly as in KotOR) and I found a few of the
models to be a bit blocky. Outside of those nit-picking comments,
I can't fault Jade Empire's visual performance.
As with the visuals, the audio portion of the game is executed
well. Voice-acting is excellent and varied. As with most of
BioWare's offerings, the voice direction is on the money and
even the most minor NPC sounds good. Some of the performances
are so good, in fact, that they can actually incite laughter
when a good line is delivered. Sound effects are top notch
and aid in establishing a fine game world. The soundtrack
is suitably oriental in nature and works well.
What I find so interesting is that a Western developer tries
to make an RPG of Eastern influence, but in essence has made
an RPG that has the failings leveled against Eastern developers.
Jade Empire suffers from some noticeable linearity
(you are basically dragged through the story from one location
to another) and is HEAVY on conversation and story
sequences in comparison to the actual combat. And, I won't kid
you - the combat isn't overly deep and for all the cool oriental
names, there's very little "martial arts" to the animation.
Outside of the Drunken Master style, most styles feel like
your standard action melee fare. If BioWare had gone all out
with really perfecting various styles and focusing on their
strengths and weaknesses, the combat would have felt a lot
more in-depth. Also, there is a bit of shallowness to character
building, especially in comparison to the likes of KotOR.
Toss on some nasty long load times, and the whole package
takes a minor step back from greatness.
With those minor complaints being stated, Jade Empire
is still a damn good game. If you enjoy the BioWare style
of RPG, then a purchase of this game is a no-brainer.