Jade Empire

Xbox

Review by Cheese Hasselberg

Bioware

Fighting

Graphics: 8

Sound: 10

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8


Jade Empire is the long awaited RPG from Bioware set in ancient mythical China. JEís got it where it counts but stumbles along the way. Its tale is complex, but familiar and itís action slick and spectacular. I finished the game in about 25 hours over three days, so itís addictive, but ultimately not quite the game I was hoping for. You can play the game as several different starting characters each with their own plusís and minusís. I chose to play as Radiant Jen Zi and decided early on to play as a bad ass.

Story: In JE you begin as the top student of the Two Rivers Martial Arts Academy. Your teacher, Master Li, found you orphaned and has raised you to be a kung fu master. Shortly after you prove yourself the school is attacked and your master taken. From there the real story begins and you begin your quest to rescue your Master. The story takes you through various realms and introduces you to demons, ghosts, giants and Emperors. It's a pretty good story that comes together (for the most part) in the end and sticks pretty well to its kung fu epic roots.

JE's storyline is rich and thorough; the main story is complex and steeped in Chinese mythology (with the exception of the flying machines). Much like Bioware's 2003 masterpiece, Knights of the Old Republic, you have a troop of sidekicks you can bring along with you on missions. All of them have full back-stories which some love to talk about, and others have whole side quests dedicated to revealing.

As in KOTOR you can chose to fight on the Democratic side(blue), the Way of the Open Palm, certainly lefty, socialist, help everyone, see the best in all sorta thing. Or the Way of the Closed Fist, which is much more personal responsibility dictates your fate, everyman for himself, there are few problems that a kick in the face canít solve Republican side(red). I originally wanted to play as a bad ass, a real tough nut, but I found the choices in JE to really screw around with your head. When you decide to go evil on people and screw them you donít just kill them, you kill them, their children, their neighbors, their neighborís children, that guy who sold him a hotdog three years ago. I mean youíre freakiní evil. I found that I couldnít go through with destroying the livelihoods of an entire city to make some money, and even possibly cutting off my path to the go further in the game, as tempting as it was.

Graphics: While not the mot beautiful game on the XBOX, JE's got it where it counts and even surpassed my expectations a few times. For the most part it runs smoothly, some slowdown in large battles, but nothing really to complain about. The camera sometimes gets stuck behind environment elements, but it's tolerable and avoidable.

The character models in JE aren't the highest poly-counts in town but they look great and fit the surroundings well. I especially liked the wind effects, hair, ribbons, flags, clothing, all whipped around in motion extremely well, it's pretty.

Gameplay: First off, there is a lot of similarities between JE and KOTOR. Which is a plus on one hand because it's familiar and easy to jump into, on the other hand it makes you long for some of the options you had in KOTOR that are suspiciously missing here.

The fighting engine in JE is really one of the best, if not THE best I've seen in an Action RPG. There are several fighting classes including weapons styles, kung fu styles, support styles, magic styles & my personal favorite, Transformation styles that allow you to take the form of various demons and fight as them for a short time. All are switchable on the fly making mixing and matching styles a lot of fun. There's a pretty decent fighting ability management system based on CHI and FOCUS that run a lot like Ďfuelí for either magic or weapon abilities. A lot of fun combos, support attacks and finishing moves (which are really hard to pull off, but worth it) round out a great battle system.

Complaints: As great as JE is , I have a laundry list of issues with it.

I had some problems with the complete lack of items in JE. I canít tell you how many times Iíd get into a fight and run out of a certain type of Ďfuelí and end up beating CHI out of an opponent for 10 minutes until I could get back to fighting him again. Having the ability to carry around a bottle of it wouldnít have killed anyone.

One of the driving forces in most RPG's is questing for that new weapon or that elusive piece of armor. Well, JE's got none of that. There are a few places you can get upgraded weapons but for the most part you're stuck with what you get. I was a little disappointed in the complete lack of armor, I hate to keep bringing up the comparison, but in KOTOR it allowed you to personalize you characters appearance in an almost Barbie Dress up sorta way. I am strong enough in my manhood to say that I really enjoyed that in KOTOR and missed it in JE. I like Radiant Jen Zi's short skirt, and I enjoy watching her jog around, but I would've preferred her changing her clothes every once in a while just for hygieneís sake.

The secondary characters lack of customization and pretty much lack of real use became an issue early on that plagued me until the end of the game. You can assign them to either fight along side you or to act as support characters who will meditate and enhance your abilities with varying degrees of suckiness on both counts. As fighters they all blow and canít kill the easiest of enemies on their own, their one saving grace is that can keep some villains busy while you take on the rest. As support characters there is one that gives you an entirely new style thatís a lot of fun, but for the most part their help is minimal at best.

There is also not enough variety in bad guys. Look at any other RPG and you'll find well over a hundred types of baddies, JE has maybe 50 and you seem to fight the same 10 over and over. (Enough with the black-sheeted ghosts already!)

It's also too easy & too short. There was really only one bad guy that I was scared of, everything else went down like a bitch. Perhaps that's because I juiced my weapon techniques to the max early on and just hacked my way through the enemy hordes fairly effortlessly. But then itís too short as well; there are four main areas and three sub areas. None of which are very large and offer fewer and fewer sidequests as you go along. I was really hoping for a 40-hour game, not a 25-hour game. To me 40 hours is RPG standard.

OVERVIEW: Even with my list of misgivings, JE is still a great game. Itís for sure one of the best games for the XBOX and in the running for best RPG (oddly enough KOTOR is really itís only competition). The story is engrossing and will suck you in for late nights and early mornings. And the fighting engine is tons of fun and should give players a decent thrill. Well worth your $50, especially with its three endings enhancing itís replay ability. Jade Empire will be talked about for some time to come.

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Last updated: Sunday, May 01, 2005 09:20 AM