Jade Empire - Review  

...and then you would punch a mountain. In space.
by Brian "Choco" Hagen

Easy to Hard
20-25 hours


Rating definitions 

   Though its developers over at BioWare are Canadian, Jade Empire's oriental roots hold strong in the soil that is the Xbox. While the game isn't literally set in Asia, its world bears much resemblance to our own when it comes to attire, customs, and more. With only a few minor problems to hinder the overall experience, the game literally shines.

   Jade Empire starts out a little bit differently most of BioWare's RPGs. Instead of choosing a class and then changing physical appearance, one is allowed to pick from a set of pre-made characters and change their "class" (through statistic distributing) and starting martial styles. There isn't too much customization to be done at the beginning of the game, though, so it's not much of a change. The reasoning behind this change is because of DVD disc space. The prerendered cutscenes in the game had to be redone for each of the playable characters, so there's a good reason behind the lack of extra customization.

   When the game is begun, the character starts out in a small martial arts school as the most favored student out of all who attend. BioWare weaves in many believable personas for the NPCs in the game. Like their other games, the amount of people with unique personalities and responses is staggering. But unlike their other games, Jade Empire is quite short in comparison to them. We do not want to give away any crucial details of the excellent story, though. Let's just say it takes that player through many turns of everyday life, politics, war, and extremely large amounts of death.

Caption The placid Scholar's Garden.

   Speaking of death, there's a good bit of combat to be had in this gaming experience. Gone is the turn-based systems of BioWare's past. Instead, a real time combat engine has been implemented, giving one's character ample room to show their prowess in battle. Because combat is in real time, though, there's a lot more to the game than battling to level up. Of course, leveling up does play a nice role in how powerful a character becomes and how effective certain styles are, but skill plays the most important role when it comes to battle.

   Of the current generation of systems out, the Xbox has been hailed as the most powerful of them all. It's really hard to imagine this game running on any other system and still looking as good as it does. The graphics hold a dreamy feel to them throughout the entire game because of one (admittedly popular) graphical technique used. Just like colored lighting took games to the next level of prettiness, taking that colored lighting and making it glow is one of the newer techniques used in Jade Empire. Lighting sources glow beyond backgrounds and models realistically, causing a stunning array of eye-candy throughout the entire game. Even in caves and such, the torches or colored crystals around the areas give much flair to commonly drab-looking areas. As one progresses through the game, there's never an ugly moment that might disinterest someone to the point of quitting for the time being.

Caption Where'd my Arena fans go?!

   Like all BioWare titles, Jade Empire sports an array of good voice acting, even if they do decidedly sound out of place in the oriental nature of the game. Even the masterful John Cleese, of Monty Python and Harry Potter movies fame, makes a vocal appearance as an Outlander far from the west who "educates" the easterners away from what he believes to be foolishness. Eccentric tales, told by party members The Black Whirlwind and Kang the Mad, are also given a special touch through voices that really fit their characters.

   To dive deeper in to the audio aspect of the game, the sound effects and music don't leave much to be desired. Perhaps a couple of the weapon striking sounds could use a little "oomph," but they are crisp and solid for the most part. The music fits the game and its many atmospheres well, though how well it would fit outside of the game on a music CD is debatable, diminishing its value some. It fits well as simple background music in the game, though, and that's the important part.

   With so many styles of combat at one's disposal throughout the game, some might consider the game to have a very difficult and cumbersome control scheme (especially when the Xbox's controller is considered). However, everything in the game comes together quite well, making dodging, blocking, changing styles, and attacking very smooth. Even changing targets and crowd controlling area attacks are easily executed. The white and black buttons make Chi Strike mode and Chi Healing a little difficult to access, but combat itself isn't so frenetic that the player won't have time to reach and press one of these buttons when necessary.
Caption Turn! Pose!

   Jade Empire incorporates a morality system akin to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic's system, allowing the player to follow either the Way of the Open Palm, or the Way of the Closed Fist. As one can imagine, there are many things that are exclusive to one path or the other, such as quests and gems. There's a different ending for either path, as well. Though this game is very short, the replay value present is very reassuring for those who don't think a simple 20-25 hours is long enough for a full priced game.

   Overall, Jade Empire is a satisfying product with a lot to offer. Though it requires the player to build up skill in combat, it's not so difficult that a casual gamer couldn't enjoy the game. More devoted gamers will probably blast through the game much quicker, however. With plenty of graphical flair, character building, dialogue choices, and replay value, Jade Empire can be considered a good buy for anyone who is open to a nice oriental-inspired adventure.

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