Jade Empire
Game Info
Platform(s)
Xbox
Publisher
MS Game Studios
Developer
BioWare
Genre
RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Blood and Gore, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Action-based combat
• Great audio and graphics
• Good and bad paths allow for replay
• Deep story

The Bad

• Long load times
• Combat could be deeper

 
Grade
A-

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.

- - Kinderfeld

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