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Jade Empire Review
Jade Empire is best described as the next evolution of Knights of the Old Republic. Granted, the stories or settings of these two games are not intentionally related, being set in two entirely different universes, but the underline gameplay clearly shows that Bioware has been doing its homework. Jade Empire includes a smooth but complex fighting system, great dialogue and quests, fun mini-games, an effective interface, and polished graphics.
The story of Jade Empire takes the player to a mysterious land heavily influenced by Eastern mythos. While dropped into the stereotypical role of 'mysterious last of his (or her!) kind who has greater destiny to fill' the twists the story holds are great. While beginning with nothing more than a quest to find his master, who is taken away by the emperor's mysterious assassins, the player soon gathers a cabal of diverse friends, and learns of an evil plot to rule the empire with an army of clay golems, and even worse, the enslavement of gods to fuel the crazed scheme.
But the player doesn't just sit and listen to the story, they mold it as they play through it. Perhaps the biggest 'borrow' from KOTOR is the light/dark system, which comes back in another form in Jade Empire. The player can play for good or evil, and can affect the story accordingly, and, much like KOTOR, some abilities are only open to followers of one side. The power of the character is derived from three statistics, health, chi, and focus. While the first one may sound (and is) fairly standard the other two seem somewhat unique. Chi acts not only as the players magical reserve, but also as a healing and damage boosting force. Focus makes weapon combat (the most powerful form of combat) a limited ordeal, as each swing of a sword uses up the player's limited focus. It can also allow the player to enter slow mode, for help fighting faster enemies. During the course of the game the player also inherits a powerful amulet, which allows him to use 'gems'. The premise being the player can further customize their character to fit whatever role they intend to play. And there are many roles. Not simply limited to the fighter and the magician, the player can specialize in hand to hand, weapon, long range, and transformation (think, summoning) combat. This in turn is powered by around 20 styles of combat, which fit into the mentioned categories and beyond, including a very useful style that allows players to heal themselves through combat. Each style can be upgraded as the player progresses, and nicely enough, while some are clearly better than others, none are duds that mean the player wastes leveling ups investing in them.
Using these styles the player does battle with a variety of enemies, ranging from nothing more than drunken sailors to ghosts, assassins, varieties of demons, and eventually, mechanized monstrosities. Combat is varied because all these opponents wield just as many combat styles as the player does. The AI they use varies, but some battles the enemy certainly hits as hard and blocks as fast as the player can. Further, none of these enemies are seen running into walls or other such errors, they all fight with more common sense than can be expected from most gaming minions.
Jade Empire is further aided by the combination of a great interface and great controls. Combat in the game consists of using the left analog stick in conjunction with the A-B-X-Y keys. The player can also switch between a myriad of fighting styles using the D-pad, heal with the white button, and switch between targets in combat using the triggers. The system works smoothly allowing the player to fight multiple enemies with ease and quickly change up his style, without having to enter any menus or even pause combat. Not to say that if the player has to use the menus that they will become lost. The menu system also echoes of KOTOR but offers some interesting improvements. The main feature I noticed, and liked, was the map, which when entering an explored area (think: town) highlighted where the player would find quests. While wandering around asking random people if they need help seems to be a staple of RPGs, knowing where to go to actually get quests (instead of just go through dialogue trees) seemed a nice addition.
Graphics-wise, Jade Empire appears to use the same engine the KOTOR games did. However, it seems to have been polished greatly since its last use, and shows its age far less than the previous games to use it. Battle effects are animated beautifully, and many of the enemies look stunning, especially the varieties of demons.
Jade Empire also makes one nice bonus addition. Much like KOTOR when flying between planets could trigger dog fights, flying between cities in Jade Empire can trigger old fashion top down scrolling air combat. The game contains 12 of these missions which get progressively harder (but can be skipped). While never having much experience in the old fashion style of gameplay they use, having them is a nice touch, and can be a fun diversion, since the player can access already beat ones in the main menu.
Jade Empire had only one glaring error. Many of the NPCs that have no dialogue (those just there for looks) were able to be clipped through by the player. The ghosts in this game where harder to go through. I'm not sure how this didn't get noticed, but at the same time, it doesn't affect gameplay at all (the NPCs the player needs to interact with are solid). Beyond that Jade Empire showed the polish of good testing.
My only two real complaints are two that I bring up often, length and difficulty. While Jade Empire was fun, I only felt that some of the later battles held 'difficulty' and even then some of the last boss battles came off with the "that's it?" feeling. While this may be in no small part thanks to the healing system and a combat style that allows the player to heal themselves by fighting, the game never seems to compensate for this ability. In terms of length Jade Empire clocks in at about 18 hours, which while good for an RPG, could stand to be a few hours longer. The main issuing being that the majority of those 18 hours are spent on the main quest, which while great, could have been augmented by more side quests, especially in the later half of the game which truly whizzes by.
Jade Empire is nonetheless a great RPG worth picking up by anyone who enjoyed Bioware's previous titles. Beyond turn based combat fanatics, I can't see anyone interested in the RPG genre not enjoying this game.
needles of black tar heroin to make this game good?: 0