Reviews: Jade Empire
Great, but not perfect
Jade Empire is kind of the unloved middle child of Bioware. Their first original IP, it has elements of earlier licensed games and later original games, as well as its own unique properties. First: story and setting. Jade Empire's setting and writing may be better deconstructions of fantasy tropes than Dragon Age (which at first come off as more a knockoff of A Song of Ice and Fire), to say nothing of being based on Imperial China than Medieval Europe. It starts as a deconstruction of the Chosen One and Old Master stereotypes and goes from there quite adeptly. Second, gameplay: the game goes for simplicity the complicated systems of other Bioware games, yet manages a depth that lends a certain elegance to play. An incredibly simple inventory system only adds to this: you really only have one magic item, which you can customize on the fly to meet your needs from moment to moment. The companion system is also somewhat unique. You're only allowed to bring one with you, which is somewhat of a downer, but given how powerful the support mechanic can be it's obvious why this is. As for the characterization, it ranges from competent to good. There are few destined for fan favorites, but each is very much their own person. Third, the morality system. An attempt to move away from the light and dark side of Star Wars, Open Palm and Closed Fist are more philosophy, but unlike Mass Effect's Renegade and Paragon these philosophies are only rarely reflected in game. Closed Fist had potential as a sort of Randian mysticism, but too often ended up as being a dick for no reason. Meanwhile, the final boss was arguably an exemplar of the Knight Templar tendencies of Open Palm, but there were no opportunities for the PC to explore it themselves; at worst you come off as a sort of busybody. Halfway between philosophical debate and morality system, it fails at being either. The game's codex system was a newish feature, and it shows. You get experience for reading books and scrolls, but there isn't an actual codex for you to read them later; you either read them when you find them or lose them forever when the game advances to a point where you can't go back. Overall, the game is a product of its time, the missing link between Bioware's older and newer games, and it shows—but it's still worth your time, and these days, certainly worth your money ($15 at most).
My favorite Bioware game of all time.
Well, read the title! I love this game so much. I love it enough to admit its flaws: the Karma Meter doesn't live up to its full potential, the companions can be a little flat, the battle system is easy to break, and the story as a whole is rather short. But, really, that's about it. I love the gameplay! Quick, combo-based style-switching kung-fu fighting is fast, fun, and satisfying. Much as I appreciate their other games, most Bioware titles either rely on uninteresting click-and-wait quasi-MMO nonsense or marginally-better third-person shooting with pause. Jade Empire is more like an old-school beat-em-up, and it keeps new styles coming frequently enough to remain novel and satisfying. And the lack of "equipment" in favor of a small pool of gems and putting points into styles minimizes tedious micromanagement. The story is great. Good overall plot, plenty of interesting backstory mingled with interesting player action, and a couple of genuinely good twists, that are neither inadequately foreshadowed nor incredibly obvious. And the sidequest stories are often creative and fun. Most of the companions are fun to talk to and learn about. The opportunities for roleplaying may not be as polished as other Bioware titles, but they still happen. Even its brevity works for it: freed of the siren song of making a franchise out of it, Bioware felt willing to give the story an appropriate and final end. Most of all though, I love this game for the setting. Art direction is beautiful, full of color and energy that spit in the face of Real Is Brown. It has tons of character and style, everywhere and around every corner. The Chinese influence over the trappings of Medieval European Fantasy makes it unique and interesting, a joy to learn about from scrolls and books because one hasn't necessarily heard it all before. At the same time, it manages to be respectful enough to its source material to avoid outright cultural appropriation. One review made a comparison it to Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I find that apt. This was a fine game that Needs More Love. There will probably never be a sequel, but as the game's main weaknesses arise from its lack of polish, a new game from a more-experienced studio would have been something special.
An excellent Action RPG that would make a good series
Jade Empire, while more action-oriented than other Bio Ware games, enables players to make choices affecting themselves and the world, and as such is a deep and enjoyable game. The story, taking place in an empire plagued by restless spirits and corruption in the imperial court, is much more complex than it appears at first. Several twists radically change your perspective of it, and while they are quite surprising, they are also well foreshadowed. This increases replay value, as it is enjoyable to play through again and see all the subtle clues. The characters provide a diverse array of combat specialties, and with their support abilities, they complement different playstyles. Unfortunately, while they have well developed backstories, they lack personal quests, although you can learn plot-relevant secrets by developing your relationships. Combat is fairly easy to grasp, similar to some fighting games, yet requires thinking to win. A Rock Paper Scissors system for attacking and defense (for example, blocking defends against standard attacks, but not power attacks, and power attacks can be dodged or interrupted by regular ones) ensures that no attack is dominant, and no defensive maneuver cannot be countered. The equipment and skill system is quite flexible; while it is best to specialize, the gems enable you to modify your build as your playstyle and situation demand. While there are few non-combat skills, being able to choose between Charm, Intimidate and Persuade adds depth to dialogue, requiring you to consider which is your best skill, and which is most appropriate. The quests are varied and interesting, ranging from battles with enemies to simply working out issues by talking with people. There are quite a few different solutions for each quest, often a standard good or evil one, but also at times, various ways to twist the situation to your advantage or reach a compromise between two people. Unfortunately, while the moral decisions offer opportunities for great compassion and cruelty, they don’t quite live up to the promise of a system that enables choosing between self-reliance and charity, and instead boil down to good and evil. This is not a shortcoming in and of itself, but the advertised idea would have been better. Jade Empire is well-designed, enjoyable, and well worth playing for those interested in Action RP Gs
Bioware's Weakest Game
Jade Empire is a frustrating game, while it arguably processes their strongest story (save one Dethroning Moment Of Suck near the end), full of Xanatos Gambits, interesting twists, an inspired villain, and a unique amongst games art design, everything else is either mind numbingly average or....lame. Combat: Unsatisfying, each style consists of one combo and one strong attack, despite being able to map four styles to the D-Pad, the feelings of repetition sink in fast as the rate of encounters is very high, and the variety of enemies is low, the feedback from attacks is non-existent, feeling like you're brushing a feather against a rhino, on top of that, the lousy camera makes it difficult to determine how far away you are from enemies, and on top of THAT, the majority of combat becomes a cake-walk when you nab Mirabelle. Dialogue: For this game, Bioware decided to try and step away from the "Pure as a recently cleaned angel or as evil as Satan himself when he's in a bad mood" style of morality, instead going for more different shades of good morality as seen in Mass Effect, unfortunately, it seems the writers mistook this to mean "Make them more black and white than ever before" since all the Closed Fist dialogue is so Stupid Evil it makes my eyes hurt just looking at it, while there's no option for different ways of saying things outside these two moralities. In addition, the normal dialogue throughout the game is very stilted, with everyone speaking exactly the same, and sounding nothing like any human would speak. Characters: The most disappointing part of the game, it's usually a sure fire bet that if nothing else, Bioware's characters will be up to scratch, so it's a shock when all the characters here turn out to have little to no personality, with waaaay too many characters to fit into a 13 hour game, the writing team clearly stretched themselves too thin and it shows, with limited backstories and either cookie cutter or non existent persona's, coupled with weak voice acting from people who should be doing better jobs, and it's unlikely you'll care about any of them, not even that little girl who speaks like an adult. Overall: Great story, shame about everything else.