Jade Empire ReviewCain Dornan
The creative geniuses at BioWare are at it again. Not content with the range of quality Role Playing titles already under they belt, the team has brought yet another serving of high-quality RPG goodness to the Chinese table. Jade Empire, loosely created around ancient Chinese myths and legends, is quite different from the usual RPG formulae. There is no extensive character-building element, in addition to a limited amount of attack customizations to play with. Rather, Jade Empire is a simplistic, yet engrossing title that allows the player to get-in-and-play, rather than spending a great deal of time accurately modifying your characters abilities to perfection. On the other hand, Jade Empire offers an extensive, compelling storyline that allows the player to both fly through the game knowing the bare essentials of the story, or delve deeper into a world of deception, cruelty and corruption.
Despite the game being based on ancient China, Jade Empire features a great deal of advanced, modern-day technology. Flying contraptions is just one example of the influence of technology upon the game, although the machine is rather ancient looking. Nevertheless, the inclusion of such technology adds great variation to the title, delving the player into a complete fantasyland.
To begin the game, you are first required to select from a small list of fighters, with all offering their own unique abilities. Some fighters, for instance, have considerably more power, all packaged in a large, muscular and intimidating image. Despite these characters obtaining the ability to swing weapons with an incredible force, the speed of swinging such a weapon and reacting to events is considerably more delayed than a smaller, more nimble fighter. As one would expect, there is an equal number of weaker, more nimble characters available. Appropriately, there is also a small collection of fighters that have relatively balanced abilities, allowing for variation within battles, rather than using sheer might or quick movements. Naturally, it is appropriate for you to choose a character whose abilities best match your playing style.
You begin the game as a skilled, respected student at the renowned Two Rivers School, learning to become a highly skilled warrior under the careful guidance of Master Li. After your village is ruthlessly burnt to the ground and all residents of the school and nearby village murdered, you set out on your epic quest to locate your missing Master and end the trail of destruction and government corruption.
Although Jade Empire isnt essentially centered on saving the empire from pure evil, rather, you are apparently aiming to rescue your kidnapped Master, you will find that more time is spent investigating and eradicating the numerous evil organizations found throughout the game.
Although the storyline starts off on a reasonably slow and uninteresting pace, the creative spark of the BioWare developers really kicks into gear once you leave the Two Rivers School. Traveling across magnificent countryside into stunningly detailed, vibrant and lively cities truly kicks up the excitement of the game several notches. Each town or city is filled with interactive citizens who often have requests for your assistance on many matters. Feel like helping an overweight, uneducated man find his true love? How about assisting an old, friendly woman to regain ownership of her stolen teahouse? The sheer number of side quests on offer is impressive, with many of these having absolutely no relation to your main quest. This is a welcomed addition to the game, as it adds considerable variation to the storyline and offers a range of quests requiring you to do everything from locating lost items, acting as a bodyguard or even battling rogue ships to obtain valuable stock. The freedom of Jade Empire allows you to be a helpful, supportive person and assist people out of the goodness of your heart, or demand a hefty income in return to your services. This is largely where the good and bad aspects of the game come into play, as good deeds will give you an impeccable reputation, whilst evil doings will result in townsfolk refusing to socialize with you. Although the good or bad scheme isnt quite as advanced or involving as the likes seen in Lionhead Studios Fable, the addition of such a scheme adds additional gameplay depth and replay values.
Unlike many Role Playing Titles available, Jade Empire gives the player considerable control over the outcome of the game. Each conversation allows you to choose what your characters says, resulting in friends or foes being formed depending upon the dialogue in which you choose to speak. Speaking politely will result in a certain character willing to assist you in almost anyway, whilst intimidating a character can allow you to access restricted areas or retrieve scarce information out of pure fear. As one would expect, developing friendships with the right people or groups will affect the course of your game. One example is the choice to assist rowdy sailors in abusing and robbing the local townsfolk, which will allow you to reap the monetary rewards. On the other hand, you can help stop the sailors abusive behavior and receive gratitude and items from the locals. Considering that there is almost as much dialogue on offer as raw action, developing solid relationships with the right people can be an essential aspect of the game.
Your main quest is further affected according to your actions. The first occurrence of this is when you arrive in the same village that is being destroyed by ruthless sailors. In order to rid the town of them, the mayor requests that you close the nearby dam, ultimately raising the water level and allowing the stranded sailors to leave the troubled township. The quest is then further complicated when you meet a local merchant, who has been making a fortune off the wealthy sailors. He requests that you break the seal of the dam to prevent anyone from closing the dam, stranding the sailors in the town virtually forever. In return, he offers a handsome sum of money for your evil deed. Depending upon your actions, different rewards will be obtained, in addition to your slightly changing.
As one would guess, Jade Empire is heavily based on ancient Chinese martial arts. As a result, numerous martial art styles are obtainable through training, making new friendships or by purchasing them. The good or bad aspect of the game also affects the fighting styles available to you; The Way of the Open Palm, for example, represents a style that utilizes skill more than pure strength. The Way of the Closed Fist, on the other hand, is the complete opposite; a fighting style that mainly focuses on pure strength, rather than skill. Either way slightly affects the different fighting styles that will be available to you.
Fighting styles can be divided into two main categories; one that is essentially combat based, whilst others are magical based. The combat category could then be divided into two subcategories; hand-based and weapon-based. Weapon based elements will require a certain amount of Focus, which is essentially the power and knowledge to use the weapon, which slowly depletes as you use the weapon. Hand-based attacks, however, do not drain any of your Focus, making these styles a perfect backup to your central weapon styles.
Magic based attacks are extremely similar to the attacks found in most RPGs. These attacks use magical elements, such as fire and ice, to inflict damage on opponents. These attacks slowly drain your Chi, which can only be replenished by picking up powerups after defeating enemies or accessing Chi shrines.
Unfortunately, Jade Empires fighting system is relatively basic and repetitive. Most battles will involve repeatedly tapping the A button to initiate attacks, followed by the B button to dodge, jump and roll. Naturally, the attacks issued will vary depending upon the fighting style that is currently in use, however, almost all battles will involve almost an identical fighting strategy: attack, attack, dodge, attack. As a result, battling the countless human and spirit enemies becomes a tedious task, with only the occasional creative creature involving a varied battle.
Interestingly, Jade Empire allows you to change the difficulty setting of the game at any time, even in the middle of a battle. Having trouble defeating a towering, flaming stone golem? Simply change the difficulty down a notch or two. This initiative feature allows Jade Empire to continuously flow at an even rate, rarely forcing the player to engage in extra battles to build up their skill or go out of their way to locate a specific power up, let along repeating the same battle numerous times after encountering a painful death. Although the level system still plays a central role in the outcome of the game, it isnt a main focus as what is seen in most RPGs. As such, it is quite easy for those who are usually turned off of RPGs extensive training and searching routines to be able to enjoy a quality, worthwhile title.
Jade Empire is a visual masterpiece. The environments, which are often flooded with a soft, warming glow in some of the brighter areas, showcases the high skill of BioWares development team and the powerful capabilities of the Xbox system. Grass, trees and other plants gently sway in the wind, and react realistically to any movement surrounding them. The various villages and cities that you visit, in particular the huge Imperial City, offer further jaw-dropping splendor. Buildings are intricately detailed, thoroughly beaming with ancient Chinese charm.
Character detail and animation is just as impressive as the environment detail. Each individual character offers their own individual appearance and style. Facial detail and animation is outstanding, with characters convincingly mouthing their dialogue. Facial animation realistically replicates a characters emotion, whether that is happiness, anger or sadness. Hair and clothing flows stunningly through the air, reacting to both wind or body movements.
Fighting sequences generally flow smoothly, with characters attacking and jumping in realistic fashion. Although gore isnt a central occurrence in the game, a major stab to any character will result in a spill of blood on the ground. Occasional lag is experienced when battles involves multiple enemies on screen at one time, however, this does not occur on a frustratingly regular basis, and rarely effects the battle in a major way.
Unfortunately, character movements during cutscenes arent exactly impressive, as characters will often shake repeatedly when attempting to walk. Not only does this ruin the overall flow of the game, but quickly becomes annoying when a character decides to begin convulsing for some five seconds or more.
More impressive than the visual side of the game is the superb voice acing. Each individual character, as with their physical appearance, offers a completely unique voice acting that thoroughly adds to both the storyline and authenticity of the game. The fact that you can venture through a huge, ancient city and undergo discussions with uniquely voiced characters is impressive. Each characters voice perfectly replicates the situation or mood that they are in. Further enhancing the authenticity of the game being based in ancient China, some characters speak in a different language to English, known as Old Tounge. Although this dialogue occasionally involves sentences being repeated, the sound of this language is quite pleasing. Some time has been spent ensuring that this language sounds more than a bunch of mumbo jumbo, and despite not being able to understand what the character is saying, the language is quite pleasing and believable.
Like all of BioWares previous RPG outings, Jade Empire offers superb music that perfectly suits the environment and situations that it is used in. Classic, oriental-styled music fills the peaceful areas, in particular city areas. During battles and action-packed areas, however, the music dramatically changes to a rapid, heavier music.
BioWares Jade Empire was surrounded with hype from start to finish. Its no sheer surprise, as BioWare has developed a number of high-quality RPGs in the past. Thankfully, Jade Empire can be added to the ever-increasing list of BioWares quality RPG titles, and definitely deserved the hype that has long surrounded the game. Despite its slight flaws, in particular with rather bland fighting aspects, Jade Empire is an excellent title that is surely worthy of an addition to any RPG fans collection.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.