Game Review: Jade Empire

Jade Empire: Special Edition
(8.5 of 10)
Platform: Windows
Publisher: Take Two Interactive

Developer: BioWare


I've probably said this too many times, but there's always a platform exclusive game that made me want a console. It was X-Men: Legends and Final Fantasy X that made me wish I had a Playstation 2, and for Xbox it was Jade Empire. Luckily, I don't need to buy an Xbox in order to enjoy Jade Empire since, finally, BioWare heard the cries of their RPG deprived PC followers and decided to silence it by porting their highly praised Xbox game into Windows.

Like in most RPGs, the main character starts out simple but there's always the "great destiny" shtick that waits for them. This is also the case in Jade Empire, where the player starts out as a student, under the tutelage of a humble master, in a martial arts academy of Two Rivers, a small and quiet village located at the edge of the empire. But a bandit attack reveals that your master is more than what he seems, and soon follows his abduction and the destruction of your tiny village. With no home left, you set out on a journey to find your master, or just settle for revenge.

Flyers are one of the magnificent things that can be found in Jade Empire.

While it starts out weak and cliched, the story slowly strengthens its grip on you as it progresses. The origin of your master and his captors, and a conspiracy theory, is unveiled slowly, bit by bit, until you hunger for more. And when you think you almost figure out what's going on, the story will abruptly twist. The story is well delivered through sterlingly written dialogues. The background setting, which are presented in scrolls and through stories, also makes the unique world of Jade Empire much more colorful.

Jade Empire is an action-RPG, which means there's more action than role-playing. There isn't much to do in character creation, except to choose from seven pre-generated characters. You can still customize your characters a little bit, like adjusting their attributes and selecting their starting martial style. Character development is almost non-existent too. All of the fighting styles in the game are mostly bought, not gained through experience. Experience will only improve a learned style, should you choose to invest points in it. Some of the styles, however, are gained if you follow a certain path.

Crimson Tigress Wu unleashes the Leaping Tiger style.

In Jade Empire, like in Knights of the Old Republic, you can choose to follow a path of good (Way of the Open Palm) or evil (Way of the Closed Fist). Following a certain path will also forge different endings, and may improve, or strain, your relationship with your companions. Some quests can also be acquired if you are leaning on a certain path. And gems for your Dragon Amulet can also be worn only if you follow a specific way.

The only thing I don't really like about Jade Empire, and I think it's the feature that makes it more of an action game, is that it doesn't have an inventory system. The Dragon Amulet, which can be fitted with various gems to improve your attributes, is the only closest thing to an item in this game. You can't wear any armor or jewelries, or wield any weapons that you like. While the game has weapons, they count as styles and not items.

The different fighting styles in Jade Empire.

The fun part of this game is probably the fighting part. While the game is considered as an action-RPG, it is far from mindless hack and slash. Opponents, especially spirits and demons, are usually immune to at least one type of style. So you will always need to vary your styles and strategy. Styles are classified into groups such as martial, weapon, magic, support, etc. Each styles has its own strength and weakness. Martial is the most balanced since nobody is immune to it. Weapons are good against human opponents but ineffective against demons. Magic are weak elemental range attacks. And support usually slows or incapacitate, but does not damage, your enemies. Varying styles quickly will also perform harmonic combos, a devastating quick kill attack that leaves power ups (restores attributes such as health).

Graphics and Sounds
Jade Empire is a two-year old game, and a console game on top of that. So it's normal that the graphics won't hold a candle against today's PC games, not even if compared to Neverwinter Nights 2. The game's setting, however, is very unique. It's oriental style mixed with a bit of steampunk enriches the game's atmosphere. My only gripe about the graphics is that there are too few head models, making most NPCs look exactly the same. The player character can't don any armor as well, leaving your avatar with the same boring look from start to finish.

Stone Demon Shen appreciating the stone sculpture.

The sound isn't spectacular, albeit it is above mediocre. The voice acting for the NPCs are passable, I suppose, but none of them really stands out. The far-eastern influenced music is inspiring and grand. However, the music in combat is just drowned down in excitement during battle.

I was overly excited when I heard that BioWare was going to port Jade Empire into the PC. So I pateintly waited for it. But now that it's here, and after playing it, I don't think the game lived up to my expectations. I kept wondering why many websites gave this game a high score (including IGN which gave Jade Empire a whopping 9.9). Then I realized that, maybe, BioWare was too late in porting the game to the PC. Still, Jade Empire is a fun action-RPG game with a great story and unique setting. It just lost its golden touch during its transition to the pc, especially in a post-Neverwinter Nights 2 gaming world.