Jade Empire


Review by Matt Paprocki



Graphics: 8

Sound: 9

Gameplay: 7

Overall: 7

In just a few short years, Bioware made a name for themselves simply for producing a critically acclaimed Star Wars game that was far better than anything to come out of Lucasarts in years. Ditching the license, Bioware has crafted Jade Empire, an involving character building action-RPG that may not be as deep as their previous efforts, but it's far more accessible, and arguably, more fun. It's also too easy (and occasionally frustrating for reasons other than difficulty), and you can breeze through it on anything other than the hardest setting.

The character selection process has a small bearing on actual gameplay other than looks. You'll be customizing them so much by games end, you'll end up with the character you want anyway. Fighting styles are the big draw here, as the developers let you switch on the fly, creating combos, confusing adversaries, and making your chosen warrior unique to your style of play. Leveling up and adding various gems increases the customization process another notch.

All of this is handled in a way to make it fit within the game world, but not so confusing that you can't pick it up in the first hour of play. Within that time, you'll experience most of what the game has to offer, from combat, to story, and the choices. Through dialogue exchanges, your character can be a saint, or as evil as you want him/her to be. Every single line from the NPCs is voiced by actors; you'll never need to read just text other then to make your character say what you want.

That helps give the game its replay value, as the branching story does play out differently. Unfortunately, no matter how many times you play through, you'll deal with aggravating, constant, and slow load times. There are game crashing glitches that seem completely random, all that dialogue does seem stunted once in a while as the disc doesn't seem to spin fast enough to keep up, and not all cinematics can be skipped.

You'll also have to deal with a somewhat clunky combat system. If you practice, it can flow together nicely, but the enemies hardly put up a tough enough fight to make it feel worthwhile. You can beat the game using only one style. When they block, it's annoying as they throw up their shield and stand there. Try to land a slow, block-breaking maneuver, and they'll retaliate before it connects. If you're patient, it's just a matter of jabbing the B button to dodge and then wailing on X to counter. A few spots feature regenerating enemies that make this even more annoying.

A mini-game, a rather cheaply constructed top down shooter, is the only other action you'll see. It plays fine as far as basic shooters go; it just seems out of place for a game trying to be such an epic. The rest of the game is a matter of walking, performing various side quests, and moving on. Side quests are a necessity only to level up. You could easily breeze through the game in a matter of a few hours by staying on the main storyline.

The environments in Jade Empire make it gorgeous. Character design and models seem pedestrian, while the world they inhabit's done well enough to make it believable. Each new section of the game feels different then the last, and there's no need to visit the same large area twice. It always feels fresh. It also keeps a steady frame rate, even with 10 enemies on screen.

Considering how many different characters speak, it's impressive just how well done the acting is. There are a few moments where it all seems forced or even annoying. That's not outside the realm of acceptability. The soundtrack is fully orchestrated, and the main theme that runs all the way through doesn't just fit the game, it makes it better.

Jade Empire has a chance to reach out to a larger base then Knights of the Old Republic. The combat is far easier to get into and understand without a lengthy tutorial and it's a completely new world to explore. The process of making your character is obviously borrowed from their previous efforts and that's okay. This isn't a classic, just an easier extension of their previous efforts.


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Last updated: Thursday, July 07, 2005 11:40 AM