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Video Game / Jade Empire

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Jade Empire is an Action RPG computer game developed by BioWare for the Xbox in 2005 and subsequently ported to the PC and, much later, to Macs and iOS mobile devices. It is set in a fantasy world based on Imperial China in which all (local) myths are true: ghosts, demons and ogres litter the landscape, magic is fueled by chi, and a Celestial Bureaucracy keeps the world in harmony. And there are flying machines that shoot fireballs.

The story begins in the little town of Two Rivers, with you as the senior student in a martial-arts school run by the mysterious Master Li, a stern old man who is much more skilled than might be expected for a small-town teacher. Life is peaceful, though your friend Dawn Star is troubled by visions of angry restless spirits. Then the town is attacked by the Lotus Assassins, a sect of fighters who do The Emperor's dirty work. Li tells you he had prepared you for this day because you are the last of the Spirit Monks, warriors of the destroyed temple city of Dirge, guardians of the Water Dragon (a goddess of both life and death) and shepherds of the dead. Your training means you are The Only One who may restore the Water Dragon, who has been brought down by the Empire's rulers, and put the dead to rest. The story follows with twists and turns as you travel to various towns of the Empire, uncover the mystery of what happened twenty years ago, help the people you meet in their troubles, make new allies and learn new fighting methods.


Jade Empire was BioWare's first original IP, as well as one of the few occidental RPGs in the Wuxia genre. It shares features with their earlier Knights of the Old Republic, including a Karma Meter, but has a simpler gear system and real time combat with a variety of techniques. The Karma Meter tries to step away from "good/evil" in favor of a philosophy of "Open Palm" and "Closed Fist" paths, an idea which they would take further with Mass Effect.


This game features examples of:

  • A God Am I: Emperor Sun Hai says almost these exact words. Later, Emperor Sun Li, who steals the Water Dragon power for himself after his plan has come to succeed; and the player in the Closed Fist ending.
  • Aborted Arc: The first Lotus Assassin the player encounters has the ability to summon ghosts. While the ghost theme is eventually revealed as a major part of the plot and setting, and some people have the power to control spirits, the idea that it's possible for the living to summon them was never explained or followed up on.
  • Accidental Truth: When Sky first appears and is confronted by Gao's pirates, he directs their attention to the player and tries to scare them off by saying that the player is a deadly fighter. After the pirates are killed in the following fight, Sky admits he had no idea how right he was about the player's combat skills.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Averted with regard to ghosts, demons, and ogres. Some ghosts, mostly those of evil bent, are malign, and some have been driven insane by the screwed-up state of the afterlife, but others are benevolent and genuinely trying to make up for past mistakes. Demons are almost as likely to be benign as malign, and your party contains both. And while the player fights a tribe of savage ogres early in the game, the very next area features an ogre farmhand drinking sadly because he accidentally killed a beloved ox during a game they played together.
  • Anachronism Stew: While the vast majority of the game’s visual influence is Chinese, thus mostly averting the Far East trope, the developers weren’t so picky about which time period they copied things from. You get most NPCs walking around in Tang, Song or Ming dynasty-style clothes, but then there’s Dawn Star’s qipao and Qui the Promoters’ very Qing-influenced patterns, as well as guards in Han dynasty armour. There’s also a lot of gargoyle-like faces, from Shang and Zhou dynasty bronzes, in architecture and armour.
  • And Call Him "George"!: An ogre named Zhong in the Tien's Landing teahouse did one of these with an ox. Specifically, he used to play a game with the ox where he threw her up in the air and caught her (she apparently liked it a lot). But one time he missed, and she landed on her head. He's quite upset about it.
  • An Economy Is You: Subverted with Merchant Chiu, who tries to sell you all kinds of crap you don't need.
    • Although there is a supernatural being dedicated to making sure the the things you need are available. He ends up just selling them to you directly to save time.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Closed Fist practitioners in general. Including the player if he follows that path.
    • Gao the Lesser is probably the best example. His ego is what gets him expelled from his school and makes him want to destroy it, and he knows kung fu techniques.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: The second-most-important organizational principle of the Lotus Assassins is that the powerful lead, and murdering each other is a perfectly acceptable path of advancement. (Loyalty to Death's Hand and the emperor, however, is even more important than this.)
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Emperors Sun Hai and Sun Li, and the player character if Closed Fist or they romanced Silk Fox.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Drunken Master fighting style. It starts off twice as strong as the other fighting styles at their base level....but unlike them, Drunken Master can't be leveled up, leaving the player with little use for it later in the game. Plus, it can only be used while Henpecked Hou is the follower—and Hou is strictly a Support Party Member and won't directly participate in fights. So if a player wants to use Drunken Master, they'll be more or less fighting solo. You're better off just sticking with the other styles.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Fading Moon. Given her talk of her visions, it's possible she's mentally ill.
    • Black Whirlwind. While he isn't a constant threat to the player character, talking to him about his past adventures reveals just how crazy he actually is. Exploits include resolving a dispute over who got possession of a woman by chopping her in half so each party could claim her, and solving a rat infestation by getting all the rats drunk. Bonus points to the second one because it ultimately resulted in the building the rats were infesting burning down.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: One outcome, if the player chooses to taint the Water Dragon's body with the blood of your followers. You are the bad guy who wins. There is another outcome where the player can choose to let Sun Li wins, killing you and making you a martyr to inspire Jade Empire, which only serves to help Sun Li rule over the empire with an iron fist using you as a tool posthumously.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: This is happening to everybody as a result of the Water Dragon no longer being bound. When the game starts, twenty years worth of restless spirits have piled up, and the Empire's really starting to feel the effects.
  • Barrier Change Boss: Sun Hai can't be hit with whatever type of style (Unarmed, Weapon, Support, and Magic) he's currently using.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Turtle eggs were said to be an insulting gift in the game. In Chinese, "turtle eggs" (王八蛋) is an insult akin to "son of a bitch".
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Everyone in the game knows both the language translated as English and Tho Fan, so they speak in whichever they prefer. Lampshaded by the weaposmith in the tutorial, who will switch if asked.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The Forest Shadow might have done some questionable things, but siding with her is the Open Palm choice compared to siding with The Mother.
  • Black-and-White Morality: In practice. In theory the two philosophies are meant to be a case of Harmony Versus Discipline, but the developers don't really do a good job showing that Closed Fist is not always bad and Open Palm is not always good. The Open Palm option always involves doing something good/helpful to others, while the Closed Fist option is usually the most dickish thing you could possibly do. It's quite telling that two of the Closed Fist options literally involve siding with demons. While killing an entire inn of them could be morally right Closed Fist in theory, you have to side with them to be Closed Fist.
  • Black Comedy: Every story that comes out of Black Whirlwind's mouth usually involves him getting drunk and killing something he shouldn't.
  • Black Magic: Subverted. Gao the Greater is an Evil Sorcerer who's taught some of his magic to his son, Gao the Lesser, and Master Li prohibits the Lesser from using his father's magic in a duel. But nothing about the magic is itself evil. Master Li wants Gao to use it anyway, so he can expel him for cheating.
  • Blind Obedience: The defining characteristic of the Lotus Assassins is that they are honed into fanatically-loyal servants of Death's Hand. While their organization's ruthless internal politics and respect for strength and power might suggest a Closed Fist mentality, several documents in their fortress make it clear that they actually adhere to no moral philosophy whatsoever.
  • Boring, but Practical: White Demon style, which you can take at the start, is this. No flashy moves or complex combos, not very fast or much range, just simple, powerful kicks and backhand strikes that will kill things stone dead. Similarly, Iron Palm, which is more or less White Demon but slightly faster and less damaging blow-for-blow. And same for Toad Demon style, the first shapeshifting form you learn (without the Special Edition Stone Rhino form); you simply become a monstrous toad armed with claws, tongue and your own considerable mass; now go to town.
  • Boss Rush: If you make it to the Gold Division of the Arena, you'll have to fight most previously-defeated opponents in the same fight. There is a ten-second pause before the entrance of each one, so beating them quickly enough will keep you from getting overwhelmed.
  • Bragging Rights Reward: Defeating the Bonus Boss in the Imperial Arena earns you the Superior Warrior Gem. There are barrels and crates that give randomly-generated treasure that give better gear. Additionally, beating all of the Arena without losing once (for most Arena fights, you don't die on a loss) earns you a Technique (minor stat increase). Not surprisingly, this is one of the hardest challenges in the game, barring Save Scumming.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Henpecked Hou's wife didn't like his drinking, or his fighting, or his friends, or his friends' drinking and fighting.
  • Bullet Time: The oh-so-fun Focus Mode. This is also one of the very few games where an enemy can also use it. After all, Master Li did teach you how to do it.
  • But Thou Must!: You can't side with Kai Lan the Serpent in the arena. Before you can make a decision, Black Whirlwind bursts in and asks you to come with him so that he can tell you the truth about Kai Lan. Lucky Cho follows you down there, and you proceed to kill him, and Kai Lan decides there's nothing for it but to have you killed.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Not usually in the spirit of the trope, but your character will call out the name of the technique you've just selected.
  • Came Back Wrong: On two separate occasions, the Lotus Assassins offer to resurrect the loved ones of potential allies. Both of these potential allies (Gao the Greater and Sky) refuse, as they've heard stories about how this trope is what occurs when the Assassins attempt to do this.
  • Cassandra Truth: At the end of Chapter 1, after you're informed of Master Li's backstory, you can go up to all of the students at the school and tell them exactly who he really is. None of them believe you because they think it's too outlandish. You get the same reaction from Silk Fox if you attempt to tell her during your second encounter with her, and Sagacious Zu at the end of the first chapter is initially disbelieving.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: Based in broad strokes on the celestial bureaucracy of Chinese mythology, but given its own spin. You meet a representative in the form of an accountant who lost his job keeping track of all the death and destruction you cause because he could not keep up with it. (Apparently the fight with Gao the Lesser alone required over three thousand pages and cost the jobs or maybe even lives of three accountants.) He was replaced with a full department, putting you in the same category as Black Whirlwind.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Several characters note upon watching the player character fight that they think they saw a flaw in the player character's fighting style. At the very least, they identify an oddity in the character's personal technique. Fast forward to the defeat of the Emperor, a reunion with Master Li, and the master killing his student in one blow by exploiting the flaw exactly as he'd planned to do all along.
    • Several characters even comment how the supposed flaw works as a highly cunning trap, in that a skilled opponent will attempt to search for an opening and become distracted from the actual battle. They then usually compliment you or your master.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Master Li, who manipulates multiple characters and prophecy itself throughout the story to rise to power.
    • The Water Dragon herself, who uses the previous chessmaster's plots to advance her own agenda of restoring order.
  • Chick Magnet: One of your playable characters, Furious Ming, will get comments about the number of admirers he has. Granted, he is a constantly shirtless man with abs for days.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Part of a sidequest, with the twist that the Unlucky Childhood Friend trying to collect on the promise is a gang leader. Depending on whether you're playing the Open Palm or Closed Fist path, this can end quite badly.
  • Conlang: Tho Fan (i.e. the Old Tongue). Completely fabricated by a linguist to (supposedly) sound like it was from the region and time period. This was done to cover up lines that didn't need to be voiced for the story. Instead, the creator noted that most of the lines are references to cows. If you listen closely, however, most of the lines repeat themselves at various points, depending on the speaker's gender, age and tone (for example, one voiceover might be applied every time an old man makes a joke, and another might be applied to one where a young woman threatens someone).
  • Contrived Coincidence: Master Li's original plan was to direct the Spirit Monk to start their journey by visiting Tien's Landing and collecting the Plot Coupon there. They don't find out about this until their flyer crashes there by sheer chance and they're astonished to find he has an agent waiting to greet them. The agent is as confused by this as they are, but points out they would have had to go there eventually anyway.
  • Crippling the Competition: An early sidequest requires you to heal an injured fellow student so she can take part in a competition against you. The Open Palm choice is to get her a medicine that actually heals her, but if you prefer the Closed Fist, you can give her an ointment that only removes the pain, resulting in her starting the fight with much less health and ending up crippled for life. For extra adherence to the Closed Fist ideology (one of the few cases when it's actually used correctly) you can reveal to her what you did afterwards, and tell her that relying on you made her weak; she should have dealt with her problem on her own.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Averted with the player character. When your health level drops low enough, you start moving notably slower and dragging your feet as an indication of the physical damage you've received. Played straight with non-player characters, though.
  • Cruelty Is the Only Option: In the Special Edition, obtaining one of the pieces for the new Infinity Plus One Style requires you to do one of the darkest Closed Fist choices in the game—even though there are two Closed Fist choices and one Open Palm choice at that point, the more reasonable (and indeed more accurate to the concept of Closed Fist) choice gives you a component for the advanced Open Palm style instead.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Almost all of the scrolls with background information become relevant at some point in the game, except for one rather disturbing one in Tien's Landing that instead discusses what lies over the ocean to the west. This includes an endless tornado and something that sounds very much like either the effects of nuclear fallout or a volcanic caldera.
  • Cut Scene Power To The Max: Many of your followers get an establishing cutscene when you first meet them showing them very casually demolishing every enemy in their path. Once they actually join your party, however, they are amazingly incompetent, rarely able to take down even a single enemy on their own. (A common note among strategy guides is that most companions who have one are better in support mode, where they don't participate but give you some passive benefit, than in attack mode.) In higher difficulties, though, they're sometimes used as bait for the player to set up Harmonic Combos.
    • In a strange twist on this trope, however, when said followers pass under your direct control for brief periods near the end game they become possibly even more deadly than in the cutscenes, causing the mooks they fight during The War Sequence to explode in showers of gore after only being hit once or twice and racking up kill counts in the dozens.
    • Gao the Lesser, an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy, manages to stun an ogre and kick him into a cave wall, causing him to be crushed under rocks. Gao does use fire for part of the fight, which ogres are vulnerable to, but when you actually fight him, Gao is stronger than a single ogre but otherwise is a fairly easy boss. Justified, as his fighting style is better for ogres, but he is not as good against the Spirit Monk.
    • Likewise, Master Smiling Hawk, developer of the Hidden Fist technique manages to rapid-kick you through a wall with ease — one of only 5 people to ever canonically land a blow on the player character (the others being a ghost girl in Old Tien's Landing, the Fox Spirit, Death's Hand, and Master Li, most of which exploited the element of surprise). However, when fought in-game, he's only slightly stronger than Gao the Lesser was, and you fought him long ago and have no doubt upgraded since then.
  • Dark Action Girl: You'll definitely end up as one of these if you play as female taking the Closed Fist path. Dawn Star and Silk Fox can be encouraged to follow the path of the Closed Fist and become dark too.
  • Dead All Along: Several examples. Sun Hai, Death's Hand, Aishi's father and Master Radiant. Subverted with the last escaped spirit for the Necropolis, whose son paid Gravedigger Shen to bury him even though he wasn't dead yet. You can either actually kill the father, or help him and his son reconcile.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sky. And you can be too.
    Sky: I don't know how you can be so humble. Is it some kind of special training?
    Spirit Monk: Yes, years of intense meditation are required before you can say something nice.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Invoked with the Thousand Cuts style, which uses multiple light strikes to overwhelm an opponent's defenses. Even the so-called heavy attacks are really just a sudden rush of many quick jabs.
  • Decade Dissonance: Some places, such as Two Rivers, are ancient Chinese straight out of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Others are full of Magitek.
    • Truth in Television. Imperial China was very advanced in certain areas (Ming shipbuilding and medicine come to mind), but the degree of penetration varied from place to place; doubly so when Europeans made contact.
  • Deconstruction: Of pretty much every fantasy (Eastern or Western) Back Story ever. The definitive example within the work, however, is:
    • Old Master: Sun Li is on the surface a perfect example of the Old Master stock character seen in martial arts stories, being a father figure to the Spirit Monk. He's powerful to the point of sinking a ship with one blow, and is knowledgeable of the goings-on of the setting, particularly in regards to the Emperor Sun Hai, which turns out to be due to a personal connection to them: he is the Emperor's brother, and once his chief strategist. However, late in the game, after Sun Hai is finally defeated, Li comes into Sun Hai's throne room, takes the Water Dragon's heart, tells the Spirit Monk that they made him proud, how everything has gone as it should, that the Spirit Monk remembering the basics he taught them warmed his heart...and then Li throws the Water Dragon's heart up into the air, then kills the Spirit Monk in a lightning-fast flurry, and steals the Dragon Amulet before they hit the ground. He had earlier explained that he planned the siege of Dirge, but soon after his betrayal it's revealed it was his idea in the first place, and that he and his other brother Sun Kin tried to kill Sun Hai when Hai took the Water Dragon's heart. He fled after failing, leaving Kin to his fate, killed the Spirit Monk's guardian and took the Spirit Monk with him into hiding, where he trained the Spirit Monk so that he/she would be strong enough to kill Sun Hai while also having a flaw that Master Li could exploit.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: A number of characters remark that that the Spirit Monk's fighting style has what looks like a flaw in it, but in actuality is a fake that leaves their enemies vulnerable to a counterattack when they try in vain to exploit it. They then get confused when the Monk doesn't know what they're talking about, since it's so obviously built into their muscle memory at a fundamental level and must have been a major part of their training. It turns out to be an actual flaw engineered by the Monk's master that can only be exploited by someone who already knows what it is; once it's revealed the Monk corrects it.
  • Degraded Boss: The Lotus Assassins. In the first chapter, Master Li himself has to come out and stop the one assassin who's been standing back and letting his flunkies attack you, saying you would be no match for a Lotus Assassin yet. Chapter 2, you fight, but they're each at the center of their boss fights. By the end of Chapter 3, though, you've improved to the level where they're just another flavor of Mooks.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Judge Fang, although many characters remark that would be an insult to depraved bisexuals everywhere.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Both various people from, and books written in the Jade Empire claim that the Empire is the height of human culture, and everyone foreign is idiotic and violent. Sir Roderick Ponce Von Fontlebottom The Magnificent Bastard thinks the same of wherever he comes from.
  • Developers' Foresight: Even though you're only given control of characters other than the PC for a minute or two each, each of them has a separate objective and, in one case, a joke, in the quests menu.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?
    • By the time you fight Sun Li, he's fully capable of backing up his A God Am I sentiments, as shown repeatedly when you fight against his proxies.
    • Another example is the demon called Mother. Defeating — but not killing — her for the first time required a celestial embodiment of cunning arranging for the burning of a whole forest. But the PC manages to defeat Mother one-on-one (albeit with some celestial help in the background, a couple of allies, and a very convenient arena).
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: Zhong goes to hide in a tea shop after accidentally killing his master's ox, while playing catch with it. That is, he was throwing the ox up and catching her...and missed.
  • Doomed Hometown: The hero actually has two of these. Two Rivers in the prologue and the Spirit Monks' monastery in the backstory. Master Li is actually responsible for both: he orchestrated the destruction of Two Rivers to motivate the Monk into taking down the Emperor for him, and carried out the siege of the Spirit Monks' monastery at the behest of his brother, the Emperor.
  • Doppelgänger Spin: The Phoenix Unity style involves this. After you defeat the first enemy, six full-powered clones spawn.
  • The Dragon: Death's Hand.
  • Drunken Master: An actual fighting style once used by Henpecked Hou and utilized by having him in your party so he can keep throwing jugs of wine to you. If a bit unpredictable, it's still one of the more powerful styles in the game after the Game-Breaker styles.
    • The Black Whirlwind's greatest feats were all achieved while drunk, and when you take control of him in the penultimate battle he uses Hou's bottles as power-ups.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Sir Roderick Ponce von Fontlebottom the Magnificent Bastard, during his debate, has several good points about the Jade Empire buried in the storm of logical errors and ethnocentrism. The best one is where he is amazed that the Jade Empire doesn't use the Dragon powder to make guns.note 
  • Dying as Yourself: One of the people that the cannibals are trying to corrupt into another cannibal asks for you to kill him before the transformation takes hold. You can grant his request.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Other you face in the Water Dragon's temple is this, a being from outside the human and spirit worlds. You never actually meet it, however; to attack you, the Other summons three clones of your character.
    • It is possibly a reference to the Chinese mythological being/concept of "Hundun", the Formless Chaos before the world took its current shape, which could take any form.
  • Elemental Powers: The various Magic styles take this form.
  • Enemy Civil War: Master Gang is plotting to usurp Master Shin's position in the Lotus Assassin Fortress. Jia calls out her subordinates on petty power struggling, which undermines the Assassins' mission.
  • Enigmatic Empowering Entity: The Water Dragon is a good example of this. She frequently gives the player character new powers, hints, or advice, but is doing so so that the PC can help her in return. Notable in that the reasons for her vagueness is partially because she's weakened, but mostly because her plan to help you actually requires your Master to kill you at the climax of his own plot, since if you were told what would happen you'd likely not go through all the steps needed in the first place.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Gao the Greater is grief-stricken over his son's death, and wants to kill you in revenge. Averted with Sun Li and his daughter Dawn Star. If pressured he thinks about it hard, then decides that in the end the only reason he cared that she died was because his brother dared take something of his away from him, and her survival ultimately means nothing to him emotionally.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • As depraved as Judge Fang is, he knows that the Lotus Assassins are worse and attempts to bring them down.
    • Black Whirlwind also objects to mistreating children, particularly sending them into danger to pay back a debt.
      • It's debatable as to whether Black Whirlwind is truly evil or just a Sociopathic Hero. While he admits to having done many bad things in his life, one gets the feeling they occurred due to ruthless pragmatism seasoned by a dash of Dumbass Has a Point.
    • It's hinted that not every member of the Guild approves the way Gao the Greater and Kai Lan the Serpent get them mingled with the Lotus Assassins. While they don't agree with the way Kai Lan operates in the Imperial Arena without trying to keep his membership to the Guild a secret, it's more of a case of Pragmatic Villainy. However, when Kai Lan tries to have the player assassinated during a match, one Guild member asks Qui the Promoter to apologize to the player on the Guild's behalf.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Stabber Yuxi, one of the convicts who drowned when Old Tien's Landing was flooded, believes that Turnkey Shiji chose to come to the quarry instead of fleeing with the others because he wanted to mock the prisoners who were left to drown. In reality, Shiji tried to rescue them because he didn't think even they deserved such a horrible death.
  • Evil Colonialist: Sir Roderick Ponce von Fontlebottom the Magnificent Bastard.
  • Evil Is Petty: As opposed to the idealized "self-reliance" credo of Closed Fist, many of the in-game Closed Fist options are little more than doing jerkish things for no rational reason. Perhaps best exemplified that your 'reward' for going 100% Closed Fist is the ability to literally Kick the Dog for Chi and Focus orbs, which is pointless because dogs are only found in areas where Chi and Focus shrines exist.
  • Evil Uncle: Sun Li and Sun Hai to Silk Fox and Dawn Star, respectively, although their own fathers weren't any better.
    • Kia Min's uncle, Kia Jong, sells slaves and deals with the Lotus Assassins. Although he might give you a discount if you inform him that Kia Min is alive, if she's dead and you tell him he won't even flinch.
  • Evil Versus Evil:
    • Sun Li vs. Sun Hai. Sun Hai wants to keep the throne no matter what, while Sun Li thinks he could do a better job.
    • Judge Fang vs. the Lotus Assassins. The Lotus Inquisitor's quest requires you to keep Judge Fang from receiving a damning report on the Lotus Assassins. The Judge is a nasty piece of work who rapes and abuses prostitutes, but he's also a dogged opponent of the Lotus Assassins and, if he gets that report, could get in the way of their illegal operations with slavers and the Guild.
  • Evolving Title Screen: Depending on your progress in the game, the title screen will show which town you are at the moment.
  • Exact Words: Of Death's Hand: "That is the armor of a man who knows no remorse, no pity." Death's Hand is wearing the speaker's old armor.
  • Fantastic Foxes: Forest Shadow and her servants are fox spirits (huli jing in China).
  • Far East: Avoided, mostly. The Jade Empire is well drawn and, aside from the deliberate fantasy setting, sticks fairly closely to Chinese culture and folklore, with the Land of Howling Spirits as a fantasy counterpart of Tibet. There are dashes of Japan thrown in; Silk Fox is essentially a ninja, and Death's Hand has a samurai style from his armour to the way he wields one large and one small sword. There's a few bits of Thai and Laotian architecture as well.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient:
    • The Empire really does not have things together. Once the PC ends up on their radar, they announce a search for the "Scourge of the South" in the Imperial City with laughably incorrect and contradictory descriptions, and the PC can even talk to the crier who's making the announcement. The Imperial Army is forbidden from actually doing its job and guarding the city, while the Lotus Assassins are too busy with the Emperor's golem army project to even try to maintain order. The only way the government gets anything done is when they subcontract their job to criminal gangs.
    • The Lotus's complicated. On the one hand, the PC can get recruited as an acolyte despite being their #1 enemy, and once inside, they're shown to be so riddled with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder that it seems impossible that they can even keep their numbers up. The lives of acolytes and even full Lotus Assassins are of so little value that you can freely kill whoever you want without consequences, and even if masters die, you won't catch any heat for it: Their boss will just promote you over their dead bodies.

      However, it's not that simple. For the first part, they don't know exactly who you are; no Assassin has seen your face and lived to tell. And while their Social Darwinist methods appear self-destructive, it's telling that they've worked without a problem for around twenty years, turning out an Elite Army and Secret Police who are able to reliably project the Emperor's will anywhere in the Empire; the fact that the Empire is breaking down is because they just don't care to maintain it. Their methods only fail when the Spirit Monk arrives, because Master Li knows how they operate, and provided the Spirit Monk with the necessary tools to subvert and counter them. In short, they're normally effective, but Overshadowed by Awesome.
  • Fighter, Mage, Thief: A couple examples:
    • In general, the Three-Stat System of Body/Health, Spirit/Chi, and Mind/Focus almost but not quite matches up with Fighter, Mage, Thief. Body and Spirit match up with Fighter and Mage, respectively, but Focus ends up as a "Duelist" (mix of Fighter/Thief) rather than pure "Thief." When choosing your character, the types available to you include Balanced (Jack-of-All-Stats), Strong (Fighter), Magic (Mage), and Fast (Thief), though you can subvert it by customizing your character's stats after choosing.
    • The three Sung brothers in the Imperial Arena form this dynamic: Sung Bu fights with two swords (Fighter), Sung Sui switches between a staff and fire/ice magic (Mage), and Sung Bo uses the quick Monkey Paw martial style (Thief).
  • Flexible Tourney Rules: The Imperial Arena is supposed to be a place for martial artists to test their skills against one another in fair combat, with a few monsters thrown in for flavor, and nobody dies because the arena's warded to protect against such things. But under Kai Lan the Serpent, the former martial atmosphere of the arena is downplayed in favor of "providing entertainment to the people," as well as making Kai Lan money. Fighters are booked into uneven fights, forbidden styles are used in special events, other special fights are used to test Imperial Army weaponry, and this isn't counting actual cheating and poisonings.
  • Flunky Boss: Deliciously parodied in a segment late in the game in which The Black Whirlwind is put up against a Jade Golem and an endless wave of soldiers. The player could theoretically kill them all day, while the game parodies Quake with an announcer narrating the kills. After you kill one hundred mooks, the narrator breaks the fourth wall and yells "Just kill the damn golem already!"
  • Foreshadowing: There is a lot of foreshadowing to notice on repeat playthroughs, main quest and otherwise. The Water Dragon has been obliquely telling you what is happening and what will happen almost from the beginning, and Master Li's story at the start (and the accompanying rendered cinematic) are full of clues that are obvious in hindsight. Probably the most obvious example is when several characters, including Silk Fox, state that you seem to have a flaw that makes fighters think they can use it, but ends up being a trap. Only one person can exploit the flaw, as we find out later in the game, because he taught it to you for that express purpose.
  • Freudian Excuse: Deconstructed in the case of Aishi the Mournful Blade. The reason she commits the crimes she does is because she's haunted by the screams of the boy who Captain Sen drowned as a child.
  • Freudian Trio: The Sung brothers are a textbook example of this dynamic; the youngest brother Bu is the most simpleminded and has to offer only naive comments (Id), the eldest brother Sui is a coolly composed and educated astronomer (Superego), and the middle brother Bo is the most approachable with his sound layman demeanor (Ego). This comes well into play while conversing with the brothers; Sung Bo is the one you can question, with his brothers throwing in their own comments that are left for Bo to explain.
  • Freudian Slippery Slope: One made even more ridiculous by the guy sliding down it apparently having no idea how it comes across when he praises the Spirit Monk for defeating the Outlander in debate by calling them a "cunning linguist" with "oral skills" that had the "crowd gushing", against a foe that "manhandled every defense we erected". His assistant keeps giggling.
  • Gambit Pileup: There's two Chessmasters, and one honorable mention who's still running a scheme of his own. Most of the game's story is focused on untangling exactly what is going on.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation:
    • Some of your companions' weapons can damage ghosts, but not yours. Heck, when you're using your weapons as a ghost, they don't damage ghosts.
    • The philosophy behind the Karma Meter is described in some depth, and has almost no relation to how the game actually rewards points in it.
  • Gay Option: One male and one female NPC can be romanced by a PC of either gender. However, if you pursue a same-sex romance, the camera cuts away before they kiss, unless you install this Game Mod in the PC version.
  • Genocide Backfire: You're the last Spirit Monk alive and now you're out to stop the guy that made you that way. As further proof of Master Li's bastardry, he's the one that ensured you would enact this trope so you'd do his dirty work for him.
  • Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand: Basically what the game's two ethics systems, Open Palm and Closed Fist, boil down to.
  • Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: The Ancient Evil is almost a lampshade. For four chapters, you're fighting Imperial intrigue the whole way, and then in Chapter 5 your enemy is some kind of being from outside reality who has nothing to do with Master Li, the Emperor, or Death's Hand, and is only tangentially related to the Spirit Monks. It's never really explained or ever mentioned again, though it's strongly implied that it's patiently waiting for the Water Dragon to be completely out of the picture so that it can manifest. Its presence serves as a warning there's Always a Bigger Fish and that the Big Bad isn't prepared to deal with it when he ascends to godhood.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: Two NPCs in the town of Tien's Landing are a teacher and his student. Both are now mortal enemies, as they now represent opposing philosophies. However, once a year, they meet in Tien's Landing to play a game similar to Go. Without pieces. Or a board. After one of them teaches you a technique that embodies your philosophy, they finish their game and part, planning to meet again next year — assuming neither dies in the interim. They do not exclude the possibility that they could well kill each other if they appear on opposite sides of a conflict, but their dialogue suggests that they're just Vitriolic Best Buds.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Sun Li's manipulations have attracted a creature of... nothingness, which claims to be a power behind Mother. Had the Spirit Monk not put an end to Sun Li, said evil force might have grown too powerful for anyone to handle. As it is, it remains The Unfought.
  • Guns Are Useless: Subverted. Oddly enough, in a game about flashy martial arts, traditional Chinese weapons, and magic, the European-style musket is a borderline Game-Breaker when fully upgraded.
  • Half-Truth: The game has a visual example of this. All the events we see during the rendered cinematic of Master Li's story of the Battle of Dirge did actually happen, but Master Li's words warp the way we interpret them. When Abbot Song recounts the events, we see the same scenes, but with a truthful interpretation of them. Turns out the bearded man who ran away with the baby wasn't Master Li, and the man with the red mask wasn't Death's Hand. Note also the weapons that Death's Hand uses during the game, and who is carrying those weapons in the cinematic...
  • Harder Than Hard: The Jade Master difficulty level that you can unlock on the PC version.
  • Harmony Versus Discipline: In theory, with the Open Palm philosophy as Harmony, remaining true to your place in nature, and the Closed Fist as Discipline, challenging the present order and achieving your own goals. Much like the later Paragon/Renegade system from Mass Effect, in practice Open Palm and Closed Fist were criticized for boiling down their supposed moral complexity to Open Palm being good and Closed Fist being evil.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: The Black Whirlwhind. Not so much heroic as drunk and loves fighting and killing, but he's still portrayed as heroic (assuming you're Open Palm).
    • Henpecked Hou offhandedly mentions that he killed the entire family of his wife's uncle in an attempt to poison his wife to death.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: A popular theme, and even one of the Multiple Endings. In-story, one of the most poignant is Sagacious Zu.
  • Heroic Willpower: The only way for a spirit in the world of the living to avoid going mad. If they have will enough they can stay sane for decades.
  • High-Pressure Blood: Oh my, is it under a lot of pressure! Any decapitated enemies will stand upright for several seconds with a crimson geyser spouting from their necks. It even takes a moment for the splatters to start to fall around their (still standing) bodies.
  • Hopeless War: The ghost crisis. Without the Water Dragon or Spirit Monks to ferry spirits to the reincarnation cycle, the ghosts of all who have died in the Empire remain trapped in the living world in semi-corporeal form. Being in such an unnatural state for long enough inevitably drives any spirit violently insane, leading to them attacking the living out of sheer jealousy. Anyone who dies shares the same fate, meaning that the ghostly hordes continually add to their number. As they are already dead, they cannot be destroyed, only temporarily dispersed in battle. By the time of the game, the Empire has suffered under the ghosts for twenty years and the problem is only growing worse with no relief in sight.
  • Hub City: The Capital City, which is the only city shown. It is setting for Chapter 3, which is the longest chapter, as well as the one with the most side quests.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: How the universe and the Water Dragon view us humans. The Spirit Monk can either redeem the human race — or prove the detractors correct.
  • Hypocritical Humor: While preparing for the debate with Sir Roderick, you need to talk to the five judges and find out what kind of arguments they favor so you can more easily sway them. Each judge will scoff and announce that they are impartial, while naming two or three others and listing the techniques they listen for. The only exception is the Minister of Culture, who admits that he's ill-equipped to see his own flaws.
  • I Call It "Vera": Sir Roderick's blunderbuss, Mirabelle.
  • Infinity +1 Sword: Tang's Vengeance, a pair of axes similar to Black Whirlwind's and the Jade Golem's. They're probably the most powerful weapon style available, but you get them by defeating the Ravager, the most deadly Bonus Boss in the game. Still, at that point there's plenty about a third of game left, and a lot of not-bonus bosses to cleave through.
  • Informed Ability: Your character's subtle peculiarity in his/her fighting style. Sun Li demonstrates it quite succinctly, but we never actually get to see the weakness in play. Of course, if we could see it, then it wouldn't be subtle.
  • Inn of No Return: It's pretty obvious that there's something dangerous going on with the Pilgrim's Rest inn. The inn's secret is that everyone apart from the cook is actually a mutant cannibal creature disguised by magic; they keep the human cook around to make things seem more "normal."
  • Insufferable Genius: Yaoru, although he is the only one who would call him a genius.
  • Instant Expert: You can learn styles of martial arts in the space of about thirty seconds. Often by buying them from merchants. Occasionally there's a cut to black to illustrate teaching time, but it's not long at all. Admittedly, already knowing one style will probably make learning another one easy, but that’s still a little fast. However, given that this is the genre where Zhang Wuji learned Heaven and Earth Great Shift in six hours and Wudang style in five minutes, it’s not that implausible. And of course, you're only learning the basics; mastery comes when you start putting points into it.
  • In Vino Veritas: You can trick Three Sheets Dutong into admitting that the writ proving his ownership of the teahouse is a forgery by giving him alcohol. However, give him too little and he's too cheerful to want to talk about it, and give him too much, and he gets too paranoid.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: The beginning of each chapter includes a three-line "Wherein X happens" foreshadowing of what's to come.
  • Ironic Echo: Said by the PC to a real bastard as the Open Palm conclusion of a sad questline.
  • Is That What He Told You?: Said by the Water Dragon to the player character after the player character's death at the hands of Sun Li.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: You can convince Ai Ling to pursue that route in one sidequest.
  • Jerkass:
    • Gao the Lesser. The other students and townspeople can't stand him.
    • Gravedigger Shen. He steals from the dead, is willing to accept easy solutions to his ghost problems as opposed to moral ones, and is fairly spiteful toward the spirit of his dead mother-in-law.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Gravedigger Shen. He is telling the truth when he says he didn't kill Miss Chan's baby; he died around the time he was born.
    • Gao the Lesser. Although the one point he turns out to be right about in no way excuses the things he does, it turns out that when Gao the Lesser endlessly complained that you were Master Li's favorite student and that Master Li focused more attention on you than he did on Gao or any other students...guess what? That's true! Since Master Li was counting on you someday killing Emperor Sun Hai, Master Li really did favor you over everyone else!
      • It's heavily implied that the reason Master Li runs a school at all is because he wanted to ensure that his motives for training you seemed normal, and thus you would not grow suspicious. It also helped to conceal his location from the Lotus Assasssins for 20 years. A master of a school with many students might be prestigious but is certainly not strange. A master who runs a school with only one student is odd indeed.
  • Karma Meter: Represented by The Way of the Open Palm and The Way of the Closed Fist instead of good and evil. The game initially presents these as equally valid depending on the implementation and essentially standing in for Lawful and Chaotic. The NPC who initially explains it points out how Open Palm can make you a Knight Templar (the Big Bad is implied to be Open Palm) and how Closed Fist depends largely on the judgement of the practitioner as to when intervention is necessary (it's the difference between being a Social Darwinist and just not stealing other people's challenges). The actual practice still labels Open Palm as good and Closed Fist as evil, regardless of whether this action would make sense. Rather controversially, a choice made at the end of the game will reverse your karma meter entirely, which doesn't really make a lot of sense if both sides are supposed to have validity instead of black and white morality. Your philosophy is shown on your status screen, similar to KOTOR, and reaching higher levels will display a symbol of your philosophy over your head when you are stationary long enough. Sufficiently CF players will also have their shadow exhibit creepy wriggling tentacles. It's subtle enough to be very unnerving when you notice it.
  • Kick the Dog: Literally, for Closed Fist practitioners; the lapdogs in the Imperial City provide powerups.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: In order to impress the Lotus Assassin Inquisitor recruiter, you must eliminate one of their enemies. The "Open Palm" way to do it is to force Judge Fang, the Depraved Bisexual above, to resign. The trope partially applies if you impress the recruiter the "Closed Fist" way, as well: if you go that route, you have to make Minister Shen look incompetent in front of an important visitor, but Shen was intentionally designed to be an extremely annoying character, so whether or not you feel sorry for Shen may vary. For that matter, he is pretty incompetent; you're not doing much more than exposing the truth with him, either.
  • King Incognito: Silk Fox is Princess Sun Lian.
  • King of All Cosmos: The Celestial Bureaucracy is sometimes depicted comically; in one case, a god assigned to calculate the karmic effects of your actions throughout the game berates you for making him fall behind on the rest of his work.
  • Kissing Cousins: Indirectly. If you're male and pursue both Silk Fox and Dawn Star, you can end up in a ménage à trois with them. As Silk Fox is the daughter of the emperor, and Dawn Star is the secret daughter of the emperor's brother, you end up with this trope.
  • Kitsune: Forest Shadow is a huli jing, which is more-or-less the Chinese version of a kitsune.
  • Klingon Promotion: The Lotus Assassins allow this, though with caveats. Assassinating one's superior is only acceptable if the superior is incompetent, or can be made to look incompetent by the assassination. Accordingly, eliminating Master Shen for Master Gang, and possibly eliminating Master Gang for yourself, requires a little preparation, including buying off or silencing witnesses and sabotaging them in their responsibilities.
  • Knight Templar: According to Smiling Mountain, a common risk of following the Way of the Open Palm is becoming a tyrant to bend the world to be in accordance with your values.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: Averted for a short time in the first chapter, where an NPC actually asks you about his missing money. You can still commit wanton acts of vandalism against jars in the imperial city, however.
  • Kung-Fu Wizard: Building up your chi through martial-arts, meditation, etc. enables you to perform greater magical feats.
  • Light Is Not Good / Dark Is Not Evil: An early NPC explains the karma system this way, since Open Palm can lead to being a Knight Templar and a Closed Fist practitioner might still step in to help the weak if they are too overwhelmed to survive and grow from their challenges. In actual gameplay it is nearly always still just good and evil, although the Big Bad may be Open Palm depending on whether you believe his motives are what he says they are.
  • Living Statue: Though called golems, they're really a better fit for this trope. The common Clay Golems are based on Qin Shi Huangdi's terracotta army. There are also the giant-sized Jade Golems and the Humongous Mecha-sized Siege Golems, the latter of which are only seen in cutscenes. See also Powered by a Forsaken Child.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: Inverted. You defeat the cannibal demon Mother by smashing the supports in her chamber and crushing her with her own lair.
  • A Load of Bull: The Bull Demons, among the strongest enemies in the game.
  • Love Triangle: Resolving one in which a man is engaged, but has a childhood friend he supposedly promised to marry, is the focus of a Tien's Landing sidequest.
    • Also, you, as a male protagonist, could end in one of these, too. And if you play your cards right, it might have a relatively happy ending.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: One gets the feeling that BioWare was proud of their blood-spraying technology, and aimed to show it off as much as possible. If you don't turn the gore options off, there are a few examples:
    • Hit enemies with a harmonic combo and they explode in a shower of blood.
    • Mirabelle does it in an in-engine cutscene as well.
    • When you're given control of Black Whirlwind, he's certainly no stranger of making a fine red mist out of his enemies, either.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Played with. In some routes, you can find out that Dawn Star is in fact Master Li's supposedly-dead daughter. If you tell him this, he pauses, thinks about it, then casually decides that it doesn't matter and tries to kill you anyway, and her if you brought her with you.
  • Mad Scientist: The aptly-named Kang the Mad.
    Kang the Mad: I make things explode, and I make things fly, and I am very good at both. The things I fly tend to survive. The things I explode... not so much.
  • Magic Feather: Played with. For you, the Dragon Amulet is "a tool and a focus," and lets you draw on the Water Dragon's power and use essence gems, but as Abbot Song says, it's just a tool, and as a fully realized Spirit Monk, you no longer need it. However, for anyone who is not a Spirit Monk, the completed amulet allows them access to a Spirit Monk's ability to draw on the Water Dragon's power.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: In the Lotus Assassin's base, you can take out two of them this way. Also invoked by Kang, who encourages you to make Gao the Greater's death look like an accident and suggests that he "fall down a flight of punches."
  • The Man in Front of the Man: It is widely believed that Deaths Hand is corrupting The Emperor. Eventually it is revealed that the latter has bound the former's soul and was controlling him all along.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Sun Li The Glorious Strategist really lives up to his name.
    • It's debatable as to whether he might actually be a full-fledged Magnificent Bastard instead of just a manipulative one. While he doesn't exhibit the raw swagger and style one would expect from a stereotypical magnificent bastard, he did plan for nearly all eventualities in a massive revenge scheme that lasted decades. Also, when he betrays the player character, he does so in such a calm cool and collected manner that some players didn't even realize he was betraying them until they slumped over at his feet. The only eventuality that he didn't plan for was that a Goddess (that he believed to be functionally dead) would save up enough strength in the intervening years to resurrect his pawn for a shot at revenge themselves.
  • Man on Fire: Talk to the Lotus Assassin sorcerer in the Lotus Assassin Fortress, and he will attempt a ritual to summon some spirits. The ritual fails and ends up turning two of his comrades into this.
  • Martial Pacifist: Most followers of the Way of the Open Palm.
  • Match Maker Quest: In one side-quest, you have to find a husband for Ai Ling.
  • Meaningful Name: Many characters have names that are meaningful.
  • Metaphorgotten: When the player character asks Kang the Mad how he is able to pilot the Marvelous Dragonfly remotely.
    "Well, it's much like the dilemma of the centipede. If he relaxes and lets things happen, he can walk naturally all day long, his hundred legs not missing a step. But, if he thinks too hard about the complexity of what he's doing, those legs might crash into the teahouse and kill everyone. A valuable lesson."
  • Mighty Glacier: Elephant demons are slow, but hit hard and soak damage while resisting many kinds of attack. The White Demon style is a player equivalent, with slow attack speed but heavy hits..
  • Mirror Boss: The final boss, Sun Li, can do anything you can do, including use Focus to engage Bullet Time.
  • Mook Chivalry: Averted; in most battles you'll have at least three people at a time ganging up on you, though not necessarily to the point of overwhelming aggression.
  • Mook–Face Turn: Subverted after the dam. You can ask the sergeant if he's OK with what the assassins are doing, and he says that people's lives don't matter compared to the will of the Emperor. Played straight in a few other occasions, such as one mercenary who surrenders, and a soldier who was press-ganged into the army to replace one whom a Lotus Assassin killed.
  • Money, Dear Boy: One of the easiest ways to build up your closed fist options is to go for the options that let you exchange moral integrity for silver.
  • Morton's Fork: During your debate against the rude foreigner. If you lose, it's because you suck and aren't worth his time. If you win, it's because you're of the Jade Empire and the judges are biased in your favor, so you must duel him.
  • Multiple Endings: Depending on your alignment, your romances, and certain story choices, you can get a few different endings for the story and your friends.
  • New Game+: The only way to access the Jade Master difficulty in the PC version.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: The backstory showcases the Emperor wiping out the Spirit Monks to the last, so that none will remain to protect the Water Dragon, allowing him to enslave her for great power. However, he missed you, the Player Character, who was hidden away and raised by the Emperor's brother. This trope then turns out to be invoked and subverted; the only reason the Emperor's brother saved you was so that you would have the motivation and drive necessary to overthrow the Emperor, at which point his brother steps in, bumps you off, and sits his ass on the throne.
  • Noodle Incident: Half of the Black Whirlwind's dialogue is about ways he got drunk, killed people, and killed people while drunk. Also, Kang has apparently run into Siege Golems before the attack on Dirge, and claims they can throw an ox “pretty damned far”.
  • No-One Could Have Survived That: Near the end of Chapter 3, Death's Hand gets buried under a pair of collapsing pillars, in an underground fortress which soon afterward collapses, but he is revived later.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: The voice actors were evidently not given one, as some characters' names are pronounced very wrong (at least from a Pinyin-Mandarin standpoint). Zhong the Ox Carrier comes to mind: it should be more like "djoong", not "jong". Similarly, Qui the Promoter should be "chwee", not "kwee". Though it was possibly intended for Qui, given that he mispronounces every other word.
  • Obviously Evil: Gao the Lesser. He's an arrogant dick, constantly talks down to you and the other students, sexually harasses Dawn Star on multiple occasions, and doesn't feel the least bit sorry for when a group of his bodyguards get drunk and try to murder the PC, nor is he at all concerned about their resultant deaths. And yet, despite all this, Master Li doesn't even consider tossing him out of the academy on his ass until he cheats during your sparring match with him. Except that Sun Li likely kept Gao around to ensure he could engineer the destruction of Two Rivers, thus forcing the PC out of the only home they know and putting them on a path to fight and kill Sun Hai.
    • In general, knowing who the good guy and the bad guy is in a given quest is insultingly simple. As a rule, if they sound like they're twirling a mustache while speaking to you, their's is the way of the closed fist.
  • Oh, Crap!
    • Gao the Lesser when he's cornered in the cave.
    • Three Sheets Dutong, when he finds out that he drunkenly confessed to forging the writ.
  • Ominous Floating Castle: The Imperial Palace floats high in the air and is the place where you are murdered by Master Li right after you've vanquished Emperor Sun Hai, where the Water Dragon's mutilated body has been preserved to provide the Empire with water, and where you face Master Li one last time. In the Closed Fist ending, you assume the palace as the seat of your domain.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: The assault on the Spirit Monk base is shown again, this time showing that the monk who saved the player character was not Master Li, but someone who resembled him, and Master Li was The Dragon of the Emperor when he removes his helmet to reveal himself as Sun Li.
  • One Bad Mother: The Mother, the main villain of the Southern Forest storyline.
  • Only Six Faces / You ALL Look Familiar: Just about every NPC has at least three or four identical twin siblings, which gets rather confusing when even quest givers and significant story NPCs (such as your Two Rivers classmates) will share the same faces.
  • Pamphlet Shelf: All books, scrollstands, and similar text items only have a few paragraphs worth of text at most.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: Qui the promoter is a major offender. Extra credit for actually using the phrase.
  • Perpetual Poverty: An odd example: in the Imperial City, one NPC is, in fact, a young noble with expensive tastes, who is begging nonetheless. He explains that he's doing just out of principle: working would be beneath his dignity, and stealing would be morally wrong, so he simply asks instead. If you try to give him a coin out of amusement at his antics, he rejects it as "compensation for entertainment."
  • The Plan: And a borderline roulette, if the guy weren't so good at it. Master Li, really the Emperor's brother Sun Li, killed a spirit monk rescuing you from the destruction of Dirge in order to raise you as his prized pupil, but also ensuring to teach you a flaw in your technique that only he could exploit (other sometimes see it, but none are good enough to exploit it before they're on their back staring at the lights, as it were, and most conclude it's a feint). That way, he'd get you to kill all the people he needed dead—in particular, his now god-like brother Emperor Sun Hai, who is uniquely suited to be dealt with by a Spirit Monk. Then, at your moment of triumph, he would use your trust and the flaw he taught you to kill you, since you couldn't defend against him.
    • On top of this, the Water Dragon herself plays one. She basically uses Sun Li's entire gambit to ensure you'll be bringing her back from the dead. How she pulls this off is a combination of My Death Is Only The Beginning with you as the guy dying and an Unexplained Recovery with a little dash of Roaring Rampage of Revenge Of course, if you're evil, you can also screw them both over.
  • Point of No Return: Notable that, in a game with seven chapters, the point of no return occurs at the end of chapter three. Any quests you had will be canceled and it's a straight path to the end game as no sidequests are given.
  • Power Copying: Win against a guy who uses Tempest, you get Tempest; beat up a guy who uses twin axes, you get his axes as well as his axe style; defeat up a Jade Golem, you get to become a Jade Golem...
    • In most cases, you actually buy the abilities from unrelated characters. However, all of the transformation styles play this straight, and you do learn a large number of styles as rewards from teachers after an honest fight.
    • Played straight if you download the "Jade Empire in Style" mod, which among many, many other changes and additions, changes how you obtain most of the fighting styles to having to defeat the enemies who practice those styles.
  • Power Crutch: The Dragon Amulet isn't strictly necessary for the Spirit Monk to use their powers, but it does make doing so a lot easier. Sun Li eventually steals the item and puts it to much better use than the Monk ever did.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The Emperor's golem army are animated by the trapped souls of the recently dead, and they have to be killed painfully for the best effects!
  • Pragmatic Villainy:
    • The Death's Hand was once working for Sun Hai. Sun Li and an evil Spirit Monk don't kill him, they just convert him to their side separately.
    • The Inkeeper never ate Henpecked Hou, because he wanted the cook to seem normal to the customers. He will also help you and keep his promise about silver if you kill the Forest Shadow.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: Master Li gives one at the beach before killing the Lotus Assassin with just four strikes.
    Master Li: Your search is over, Assassin, but no one will hear of your success.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Spirit Monk, aka you.
  • Puzzle Boss: The Mother is immune to all of your attacks. Lure her to destroy the weak pillars in her arena and the mountain will crush and kill her.
  • The Punishment: Ji Xin was so evil, the spirits refused to allow him to pass on to the Great Wheel and instead trapped him in his "perfect" living form. Of course, he used this mummified body to kill grave robbers and anyone else he met.
  • Punk Punk: Jade Empire ticks off a lot of the requirements for a Punk Punk story. Technology is ubiquitous? Mm-hmm. "The actual form of government varies, but it is usually somewhat sinister and oppressive"? Turns out so. "Can make people stronger, faster, more perceptive, etc"? Yes. "Can create Artificial Humans, Clockwork Creatures, or Ridiculously Human Robots" and "is developed with little regard for harmful consequences to society or nature"? Hells yeah.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Sir Roderick may be a caricature, but the quest is based on an actual recorded event, despite how ridiculous it seems.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    Master Li: Gao! I have made enough concessions to you today! I thought I could guide you away from your corrupted path, but you are too much the son of Gao the Greater! You are no longer welcome among my students, and your father's house shall have no more business here, despite his influence.
    Gao the Lesser: I was not beaten! Not by this peasant!
    Master Li: You were defeated by your own foolish ambition and predictable temper. I will speak with you in my chambers about your expulsion. Go now!
    • After the player corrupts a Jade Golem, causing it to wreak havoc in the Lotus Assassin Fortress, Grand Inquisitor Jia tells her subordinates that they didn't realize that one of their acolytes could be an infiltrator because of their infighting.
    Grand Inquisitor Jia: Fool! So blinded by petty schemes that you cannot see a threat in our midst! You are worthless!
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Several of the monks of Dirge betrayed their comrades, only to get executed by Sun Hai and bound to guard the fountains.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Spelled out in this analysis of the Plot Twist.
  • Royally Screwed Up
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: And how. Seeing as this is a setting based on feudal China, it's to be expected, after all, with every member of the royal family quite active. The Emperor defeated a god and seized its power, his brother hatches a gambit to strike him down with you as his main pawn, and his daughter lives a double life of being both the Imperial princess, and your companion Silk Fox.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: When Sky demands pirates to step back and allow him to kill Gao the Greater in his introduction scene, one of them gives a sarcastic answer which another one fails to get.
    1st pirate: Oh, certainly! We'll sit back and let you stroll upstairs to kill our leader! Would it help if we drew you a map to his room?
    2nd pirate: Uh... I don't think Gao would like that.
    1st pirate: I wasn't serious, you idiot!
  • Save Scumming: Defied. It's possible to farm money off of the High-Low game in the Imperial Arena...but winning twenty games in a row causes Gambler Daoshen to be struck down. If you manage to avoid this — ties, which the house wins, count to break up streaks, or you can deliberately lose — he will stop gambling with you after you've won a certain amount of silver, as you've cleaned him out.
    • Playing it straight at the Arena, you get a bonus if you beat all the challenges without getting defeated even once. Save Scumming is useful to ensure this turn of events.
  • Shaped Like Itself: If you ask Scholar Kongyu about his research, he will simply give a longer version of the name of the area of study. (This, of course, is a hint that he's actually the actor and suspected con artist Creative Yukong.)
    Kongyu: Celestial integration means that it's integrated... celestially.
  • She Who Must Not Be Seen: Henpecked Hou's wife, a monstrous woman of incredible girth that gives him nightmares. You only know of her from the stories he tells. His epilogue — assuming he lives to the end of the game — eventually reveals that he found a way to escape her.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Numerous to Water Margin. The hard-drinking, hard-fighting Black Whirlwind acts like Lu Zhishen and is named after Li Kui. Sagacious Zu is named after Lu Zhishen, a.k.a. "Sagacious Lu". The fact that the heroes face a father and son, Gao the Greater and Gao the Lesser, is very similar to how the outlaws in Water Margin oppose Magistrate Gao and his son Gao. One of the lines in an early area is "careful, there are outlaws in the marsh".
    • A couple to Austin Powers, with a straight rip-off of the master debator/cunning linguist joke, and a reference to a sketch of some dolphins with a strange apparatus on their heads and a scribbled note saying, "No, sharks!" What's the betting the apparatus is a frickin' laser...?
    • Master Li and Henpecked Hou are both named after characters in Bridge of Birds. Of course, while Bridge of Birds’ Master Li has a flaw in his character, Jade Empire’s Master Li made sure you had a flaw in your style.
    • Lustful Lao is a parody of The Simpsons Comic Book Guy. One of the subjects you can discuss with him prompts him to say "Worst. Subject. Ever."
      • Not the only shout out to the Simpsons: Qui the Promoter has a line of 'Everything I say is perfectly cromulent, and it might do you well to embiggen your vocabulary.'
    • When talking to Qui the Promoter about fighting in the Arena, he will tell you "You are indeed mysterious, stranger", a reference to the first KOTOR, in which the main character had the option of duelling under the name "The Mysterious Stranger".
    • Leaping Tiger Style turns you into Wolverine.
    • On two separate occasions — including the very first dialogue option— you have the opportunity to tell someone they "fight with all the grace of a cow."
    • 'I find your optimism... disturbing.'
    • Big Tian, the farmer, and his description of marriage seems to be a reference to The Good Earth.
    • Silk Fox appears to borrow a fair chunk of her character concept and design from Jen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as well as a small part of her motivation (at one point, she mentions that she's worried that Death's Hand might persuade the Emperor to marry her to him).
    • One of the graves in the Imperial city necropolis reads "To the Nameless One. His Torments have ended." Considering the setting, it might also serve as a reference to Jet Li's character in Hero.
    • In the tea house at Tien's Landing, there's a cook who challenges you to eat his meals, which damage one of your stats (depending on the meal). At the end he'll up the challenge and ask you to try a final, truly disgusting meal. He specifically wants you to describe it because he doesn't have to nerve to try it himself, so he says "...and remember, this is for posterity, so please... be honest."
    • In the epilogue: "As for Percival, he tired of being called Shirley, and returned to his village."
    • If you try to go to the outer courtyard of Dirge before talking to your party, the game tells you "You must gather your party before venturing forth."
    • Gravedigger Shen makes a pun joke and says "Eh-heh. A little graveyard humor there, see." This is a shout out to Igor's (from Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness) pun jokes and trademark Catchphrase.
    • An early NPC in your school is named Jing Woo; Jingwu is a common romanization for Chin Woo School.
  • Shown Their Work: It is obvious that a fair amount of research has gone into the background:
    • Those motions that the students are doing in the school's courtyard at the beginning? That's not some made up wuxia stuff to look pretty. It's a section from an actual tai chi form.
    • A lot of Chinese philosophical ideas are present in this game. Master Li’s final speech reeks of Legalism, the Water Dragon tells you that the Long Drought happened because it was time for something new to take the place of the Sun Dynasty, Kang the Mad paraphrases the parable of the millipede from Zhuangzi, and so on.
  • Significant Anagram: Scholar Kongyu is Creative Yukong.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: In one town, a woman named Ai Ling is the resident gang leader, but wishes to settle down with a normal life.
  • Slave Liberation: Something you can do at several points, since slavery is a major plot element. Interestingly, cases where this is possible also allow you to demonstrate the less blatantly evil side of the Closed Fist philosophy, by letting you allow slaves to liberate themselves through violent means.
  • Social Darwinist: The Closed Fist philosophy in a nutshell, at least according to Word of God. Problem is that this usually translate to Jerkass. Keep in mind this was before Mass Effect and was probably where they got the idea for Mass Effect's version of the Karma Meter. There are sometimes situations in which you can do a Jerkass move or a more Social Darwinist one. In the bandit base, you can free a slave (Open Palm), enslave her (former Closed Fist) or tell her to fight for her freedom (latter Closed Fist). (Curiously, the latter gets you part of the special Open Palm fighting technique, rather than part of the Closet Fist fighting technique.)
  • Speaking Simlish: The Old Tongue of Tho Fan, while making use of a Conlang created by an actual linguist, is a handful of recorded lines used in various situations based on tone and the age and sex of the speaker, similar to the alien languages spoken in the Old Republic games. Word of God has it that most of the constructed sentences are apparently jokes about cows.
  • Spiritual Successor: Alpha Protocol, which concerns a similarly complicated plot about betrayal and strange allies, and can have the protagonist potentially replacing the Big Bad, among other Multiple Endings.
  • Statistically Speaking: You can influence aspects of the plot based on certain stats, but you're still not going to get past story-created obstacles.
  • Stripperiffic: Both men and women tend towards this. Lampshaded and justified by a loading page comment: "Ornate, flowing and even revealing clothing are seen as a sign of confidence and respect."
  • Stupid Sacrifice: The player is given this choice towards the end. Sun Li offers to kill the player without conflict to allow his perfect world to exist. Why you would do this after Sun Li has literally slaughtered your entire village, allowed a second one to die, killed you, screwed over his daughter, and shown absolutely no concern for creating any kind of good world (as the actual ending shows). If you're Open Palm, letting him live goes against everything you accomplished up to that point. If you're Closed Fist, then you don't care about the fate of the world anyway! The only reason to go through with this is for the posthumous fame Li promises (and fulfils, should you accept). Fortunately, you don't have to do this at all, and if you're aggressive enough, you don't even get the option.
  • Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors: Fast attacks, power attacks and blocking. Fast attacks typically interrupt power attacks, power attacks break shields, and blocking protects against fast attacks.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: As in all BioWare RPGs, no matter how urgent the situation, you always have time to natter away to NPCs. Once you have explored their dialogue trees, however, they'll often curtly tell you that there is no time to chat.
  • Tempting Fate: During the final battle, the Big Bad traps you inside your mind and boasts that "Nothing in the mortal realm can help you! Nothing!" It turns out that Sagacious Zu is Not Too Dead to Save the Day.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Played with a fair bit. For the first few chapters, it seems Death's Hand and the Lotus Assassins are the true power behind the throne, using Death's Hand's favour with the Emperor to follow their own goals. Then you discover that the Emperor is aware of everything they've done... Naturally, you go and defeat him. At which point your Master, the Emperor's brother, kills you and takes the throne for himself.
  • They Died Because of You: The night before Sun Li's army besieges Dirge, your former master appears in your dream to sic three of your dead classmates on you in the burning school of Two Rivers. Regardless of whatever you claim their deaths didn't bother you or say that you would have saved them if you could have, Master Li taunts you by saying that he masterminded their deaths to give you an incentive to act in accordance to his plan, so you are in a way responsible for their deaths.
    Master Li: Do you remember your fellow students? They certainly remember you. They remember how you left them to die. [...] They died so there would be nothing holding you back. Their deaths insured that you were properly motivated; without you, they would still be alive!
  • Third-Person Person: Minister Sheng speaks this way, as though constantly reminding you who he is.
  • Third-Person Seductress: Downplayed. The female player characters are predictably attractive, and their costumes do little to hide their charms, but their slim figures don't stoop to the blatant exaggeration of some notoriously top-heavy heroines. Also has a Spear Counterpart in that two of the male PC models are constantly shirtless and quite buff.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: Oh, yes. Based around insects, and the better quality ones are designed by Kang the Mad. Reading about their history in one particular Pamphlet Shelf reveals that they're based around the idea that a real-life Chinese bureaucrat's misadventure was followed up on.
  • Three-Stat System: Body, Spirit, and Mind, which respectively determine HP, Chi (Mana), and Focus. They also determine the effectiveness of your three diplomatic skills.
  • Three-Strike Combo: Most styles have a Three Strike Combo of quick attacks. Exceptions include Magic styles and the longsword, which have four strike basic combos.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Several NPCs qualify:
    • Merchant Jian, who turns up to punish you up for closing the dam when you return to Tien's Landing. Sure, let's hire a couple of mooks, and try to kill the warriors who've just defeated a horde of ghosts, demons, assassins and soldiers to complete the quest, that'll work!
    • Lucky Cho, who tries to defeat you and Black Whirlwind single-handed.
    • Gao the Lesser. Early in the game he bemoans to Master Li that all he (Master Li) does is lavish you with training and attention and, consequently, his own training has suffered for it. Despite clearly knowing this, he still thinks it's a fine idea to challenge you to a 1v1 duel. Partially averted as the fight isn't to the death (if you win it anyway.) Despite this, later on in the late stages of the first chapter of the game he challenges you again without anyone to step in and stop you from killing him despite:
      • a) you have the option to bring in backup (either Sagacious Zu or Dawn Star) thus making it a 2v1,
      • b) you've just finished bulldozing your way through a cave of toad demons and ogres to reach him and
      • c) he's already gotten his ass handed to him once before by you during a previous 1v1 fight.
    • Pretty much standard operating procedure for Lotus Assassin acolytes.
  • Translation Convention: The cast mostly speaks English with North American accents. Bizarrely however, some NPCs speak "the Old Tongue" (Tho Fan), a weird, not-very-Chinese-sounding, Jabba-the-Hutt language invented for the game by a Canadian linguist. This was intended both for flavor (as it mimics the split between Cantonese and Mandarin in modern day China), and also to save on space as Tho Fan only has a limited number of stock sound clips and can be recycled over and over without being readily apparent.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: The Marvelous Dragonfly missions emulate classic 2D flight combat games such as Galaga.
  • Unfinished Business: The ghosts in the graveyard of the Imperial City. Though technically all ghosts are supposed to have this — it's only that the state of things in the world now won't let anyone pass, business or no business.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Turnkey Shiji tried to save his prisoners from drowning in the flood of Old Tien's Landing. Unfortunately, the first guy he unlocked was a murderous sociopath who responded to his mercy by killing him.
  • Unwanted Assistance: In-Universe, there's a mild example of this regarding female attendants of Princess Lian a.k.a. Silk Fox. When you first meet her in her true role as the princess, you can repeatedly say rude and blunt things to her. Every time you pick that option, one of her attendants scolds you for your impropriety or even faints on the spot on Princess Lian's behalf. Princess Lian gets embarrassed at her attendants, since she feels their reaction is disproportionate to the actual scale of your offense.
  • Unwitting Pawn: You are one, thanks to Master Li's manipulations. As he informs you right before killing you (you get better), he's been training you to defeat the Emperor, but incorporated a flaw in your fighting style so he could take you out when you fulfilled your purpose.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Master Li is quite adept at telling just enough of the truth to present himself in a favorable light. For example, he narrates the events of the siege of their hometown, telling them that they were saved by another monk who carried them out of the monastery through a secret passage. He neglects to inform the Spirit Monk that he wasn't their savior, but instead the one who cut their protector down and took them away to raise them as his pawn.
  • Updated Re-release: The PC version adds content, some of which was already in the Xbox Limited Edition.
  • Upsetting the Balance: The reason everything has been going so terribly wrong for the country is that its emperor caught and tortured the Water Dragon, a deity who oversees rainfall and the cycle of reincarnation. This is a deep violation of tianxia, not least because it forces ghosts to hang around the mortal world instead of dissipating and reincarnating.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: While the Closed Fist choices tend to be more personally rewarding, it's hard to choose them simply because of how much of jerkass you are in them.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Closed Fist is supposedly based on certain philosophy, but the vast majority of the choices are pretty much just about being a Jerkass. Most notably when you have to solve a problem with a love triangle, the Closed Fist choices include either murder, the worst being killing every person involved, or pushing someone into an unwanted marriage.
  • The War Sequence: The invasion of the army at the end of the game. Due to processing limitations, this still had to be handled in waves, but The Black Whirlwind's segment is literally an endless wave of them.
  • We Buy Anything: Essence Gems are your only equipment and are considered somewhat valuable, so anyone will buy and sell them (though only Spirit Monks can use them properly). This is the only non-quest item in your inventory anyway, so obviously all stores should be equipped for this.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Emperor Sun Hai destroys Dirge, slaughters the Spirit Monks and kills the Water Dragon so he can end the drought that has killed hundreds of thousands of his people. Since he goes mad with power afterwards, though, it is questionable how well-intentioned he actually is. Sun Li also claims to be one, but again, his actions don't seem to support it.
  • Wham Episode:
    • Chapter 3. The Emperor is not an Unwitting Pawn of Death's Hand, but the mastermind behind the corruption in the Jade Empire.
    • Chapter 4. Sun Li is really the Big Bad? Holy shit.
  • Wham Line:
    Sagacious Zu: [in reference to the Lotus Assassins] I... I was one.
    • Sagacious Zu actually gets one of the best Wham Lines that a lot of players never experience, due to how complex getting it actually is. If you talk to Zu constantly and demonstrate to him repeatedly that you value his opinion and trust his judgement prior to him leaving the party during the Lotus Assassin Fortress quest, close to the end of that quest he will tell the player that, in addition to being a former Lotus Assassin, he was actually one of the Assassins sent to kill Master Li's family after Li betrayed the Emperor at Dirge. Almost before players can recover from this devastating revelation, he drops the following bombshell on the player:
      Sagacious Zu: My fate is sealed, but one secret must live on. I killed them all, my fellow Assassins. I would not let them finish their mission. Master Li's child still lives.
    • And also:
      Sun Li: Your abilities have grown immensely. But it also does my heart good to see that you have remembered the basics of what I taught. Even the flaws.
    • At the end of Aishi the Mournful Blade's quest.
      Old Man: Aishi the Mournful Blade was my daughter.
    • This comes up if you complete the Lord Lao sidequest and perform the level meant to free him:
      Kang: He is free. He is... somewhat disoriented by the process. Oh, and there is perhaps something else you should be aware of. Uh, he is me.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: If you give Kia Min the medicine that heals her, she will fight off her enemies, but it is never revealed what happens to her after the fall of Two Rivers.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: On the Closed Fist path, you begin as a Jerkass and progress down the slippery slope from there. The more moral members of your party will complain about this. If you bind Death's Hand to your will, you must bind their wills, and if you taint the Water Dragon, most will turn on you.
    • If you choose to side with the cannibals instead of the Forest Shadow, prepare to really, REALLY feel bad about yourself. Especially since the choices have options like "I see I was wrong. I will redeem myself by killing all of you".
  • Where It All Began: The player's Last Stand is held at the temple of Dirge, where all of the Spirit Monks were slaughtered twenty years ago.
  • Who Are You?: Asked verbatim by the Spirit Fox when the Spirit Monk shakes off petrification.
  • Wolverine Claws: Leaping Tiger style causes claws to grow from your hands in battle.
  • Worthy Opponent: Crimson Khana considers you one if you warn her about the poison.
  • Wuxia: Probably the most notable video game example.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: A subtle one. Sun Li is shocked you left the cave so soon. He had intended you to be safe in the cave, walled in, while the town was destroyed. You were supposed to come out of the cave to find everything destroyed, and Li himself would have probably either run and hid before they came and told you want happened, or, more likely, allowed himself to be captured so the Spirit Monk would be motivated to rescue him. That plan was ruined, and Sun Li quickly came up with an alternate plan that got you to the Imperial City.
  • You Could Have Used Your Powers for Good!: You can tell this to the Big Bad. He responds by claiming that he would find that a waste of his talents. Also subverted, since his plan is to create his idea of a utopia.
    The Player Character: You were a great teacher. Your skill was wasted on evil ambition.
    Master Li: I am not satisfied with helping others surpass me. I quickly tired of elevating my brother, and I will not learn to serve you.
  • You Fight Like A Drunk Cow: The Spirit Monk can give a lot of witty answers like this when unimpressed with other people's combat prowess. Hilariously, Black Whirlwind takes offense to being told he "fights like a drunk cow" and then elaborates on one Noodle Incident where he actually fought a herd of drunken cows who broke into a distillery. Apparently their milk tasted like crap for a whole week after it too.


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