It happens to the best of us, once in a while. You have to write something for school or, in my case, for a great games site and your inspiration has left the frickin’ building. You know what you want to write but the words that you type aren’t forming any harmony. There is absolutely no connection what so ever between your sentences. You just write boring facts while your task is to amuse the reader. Life of a reviewer can get a bit frustrating now and then. Especially when you’re in an inspiration less moment and a big game is waiting to be reviewed. Therefore this review was written in a moment of despair. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go out and buy this game because I recommend it to all rpg fans out there.
A lack of inspiration, well the story writers over at BioWare didn’t seem to have that problem. As you are the most promising student at your school and while your Master is constantly giving you compliments, other things start to get out of hand. Strange spirits are terrorising people everywhere in the Jade Empire and to make things worse; your beloved Master is being kidnapped by an unknown gang. It’s your task to find out who’s behind this kidnapping and save the Jade Empire from these nasty spirits. The story of course, doesn’t end here, but mine however does. I don’t want to spoil any possible surprises now do I?
As usual in rpg’s you get to choose between several characters, all with their own fighting style, quickness and abilities. Perhaps you didn’t know this but Jade Empire is the first marial arts rpg with moves that say: “John Woo the fuck are you kidding?”. The move list in this game is really amazing and when seeing the first screenshots and movies during the E3 last year, it reminded me a bit of The Matrix but without the trendy glasses and over-the-top bullet time effects. The best thing about the fighting in Jade Empire is the fact that it’s all in real time. You won’t have to wait your turn or be messing around in menu’s to pick the right move; hell no, it’s all there under the push of a button. For some maybe under the push of too less buttons as you’ll be busting out combo’s faster than you can say: “doodle”. Button basher won’t be complaining though. Thanks to the huge amount of fighting styles, however, the game gets more depth and you really get the feeling of being a true martial arts master. Under every directional button you can assign a specific fighting style, so you’ll be switching styles by the push of a button, which is intuitive and satisfying to say the least.
The moves are divided into four different styles: martial arts, support, weapon and magic. By making a combination of these styles, you can initiate a harmonic combo. These are not only pleasing to the eye but also very damaging to your opponents. You’ll have to know which style initiates and which style completes a harmonic combo. But to find that out I’ll refer to the in-game menu where each styles is explained. Unlike in other rpg’s, you’ll do the fighting mostly on your own. The many followers that will be joining you on your quest can help you in combat but not at once. There will only be one follower at a time to aid you and strangely they tend to keep your enemies alive, forcing you to finish them off. Therefore these brothers in arms aren’t as useful as they could or should be but that’s a really small minus as it’s just more fun to kill all your foes on your own in stead of screaming like a little boy for help.
To be more correct, it’s not always that fun, especially when you’re playing on the normal or even worse, on the easy difficulty level. It’s just too easy to be fun so I suggest you turn the difficulty up a notch making the fighting more satisfying and also giving the different styles more depth and purpose.
I’m someone who soon thinks something is cliché and I always have a hard time talking about cliché’s. You see, Jade Empire is, besides being a martial arts rpg, still a pretty plain and exact representation of what we think rpg’s should be. You’ll see you’re typical bars such as your life bar, your magic bar (in this case your chi bar) and your focus bar. This focus thing is actually the only new kid on the block. You can use focus to slow down time in combat, which can be necessary in hectic battles, or you can use it to run much faster. Especially that last focus ability isn’t as useful as it may seem. The worlds in Jade Empire namely are separated by a lot of rather lengthy loading screens. Maybe it’s just me, or my head already living in the next generation consoles, but how do you explain that a game like San Andreas has no loading times whatsoever (indoor not included) and a rpg of this size (and believe me, it’s not World of Warcraft we’re dealing with here) offers you loading screens as if they were cheap bargains? Lucky for you and me, the gaming experience doesn’t suffer too much from this and you’ll still be able to run a couple of virtual miles without being confronted with a bar that’s filling really slowly. But that doesn’t change my mind.
Another cliché in rpg’s are the missions. These often range from main quests to sub quests and demand you to do all the dirty work. And frankly Jade Empire does exactly that. You can also choose between the light side and the dark side, originally titled: “the way of the open palm” and “the way of the closed fist”. The way you solve the conflicts and how you respond in dialogues, makes if you’re a follower of the way of the open palm or the closed fist. This is something we see in most rpg’s these days, so it’s nothing new. Then again, why change this winning strategy? I mean, it’s just fun that they give you the choice between being a good cop or a bad cop.
To travel through the Jade Empire, the developers however have come up with an original idea pored into a mini-game where you’ll have to pilot your Dragonfly through several attacking enemies. It reminded me of those old arcade games with a top down view, where you’re shooting at everything that moves and hoping for another weapon power-up. Too bad the mini-games are rather short and easy. Because of this mini-game I didn’t get the feeling that the Jade Empire was one huge world, which I find a pretty important element in role playing games. Other rpg’s often use a map system where you’ll get the idea of playing in a large world, but due to this mini-game (which is optional), I didn’t get that feeling.
The graphics, however, make up for it. It looks a lot better than the KotOR series. Especially the characters and animations look a lot more detailed thanks to the bloom lighting technique that’s often used in EA Sports titles. You know, the effect that gives a lighter glow around the character. The game world also breaths that typical Chinese atmosphere. This is mainly conceived by the rich details in the environment such as the swirling blossoms and the animals here and there. A little minus however is the lack of an option to hurt those animals. Not as if I’m a animal hater or anything but after having played the “kick the chicken” game in Fable, I long for more; maybe a “smack the monkey”? To make things worse, those damn animals don’t even move when you get closer. Heck, you can even walk through them. Another element that truly adds to the atmosphere is the rich Chinese mythology that’s in the game. Every dialogue or scroll stand has one or more references to the Chinese history, which is rather impressive.
When you say China, you say things such as: “Ni how, saka ne yo kuta” and so on, but not the voice actors in Jade Empire. Although there are characters in the game who speak some sort of Chinese dialect, it’s all English for the most part. In fact, I thought I heard John Cleese the other day, playing a rather articulate but stupid traveller nonetheless. Yes, I kicked his Monty Pyton ass. Aside from the good voice acting, Jade Empire also offers a silent though beautiful soundtrack that again adds to the Chinese atmosphere.
Jade Empire is BioWare’s third role playing game for the Xbox and possibly it’s best achievement ever since. The story line is convincing, the fighting system is better than some fighting games out there and the graphics are again really beautiful. Still I felt some lack of commitment. Had they given the main character a voice and had they kept those loading screens where they belong, this game might have a higher score. Maybe it’s that terrible hype monster again that’s behind this unexplainable feeling of missing something. Ah what the heck, just remember one thing: Jade Empire is a great rpg and I recommend it to every rpg fan out there. I still feel, however, that a certain game called Fable is the king of rpg’s on Xbox. Show me your comments, muhahahaha.