#660 Jade Empire

Posted: 15th November 2012 by Mulholland in Games
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194th played so far

Genre: Action/Role Playing Game
Platform: Xbox/PC
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Microsoft (Xbox) 2K Games (Xbox)

My love for Bioware has been well documented on this blog before and happily, we’ve already had a chance to play Baldur’s Gate II, Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic before. With today’s game, though, we finally venture into unfamiliar territory for me.

For this installment, we go to slightly less familiar surroundings (for us). While the previous games were split between fantasy games and scifi stories (even including their non-RPG titles), we now go an oriental setting. The first time they used an original IP as well in one of their big RGs, which creates its own world building pressure. Let’s play!

Our Thoughts

Now, obviously part of the thign you see while playing this game is that there’s a progression visible in how the games develop. At the same time, as important here are the changes in design and looks, sensibilities, see how the games evolve.

Jade Empire has, you can safely say, a special place there. Its unique setting penetrates a lot of the game, which is a change for the better. The UI feels different (although it still has the basic elements), but the look of the games is lovely as well. There are many beautiful vistas and monkeys, goats and other animals run through the fields and sit next to the road. They’re beautiful. We’ve seen some nicer graphics already, with characters not always being as nice, but the environments really stand out. The set up really reminded me of when we played Guild Wars where I was enamoured with the scenes of windmills and cherry blossoms.

One way that the graphics have failed the test of time is in the cut scenes. Granted we have a kick-ass PC (nicknamed the Kraken) which means we are able to crank all the stats way up to 11 but the side-effects of this is that whilst the gameplay worlds look vibrant during cut scenes they have a tendency to look fuzzy and lacklustre. A real pity.

Another change is a different setup of stats. The previous games are heavily stat- and equipment-based. In Jade Empire, we instead get something more based on skills. You can customize your focus using an amulet (it’s your birthright, there’s more of an explanation for it). Beyond that, the game is focused on learning techniques. These are different styles of attack – different martial arts styles, weapon use, chi (magic), support and transformation (yeah, you can become a demon for a little while).

There are a lot of the latter available with an immediately visible variety that really feel different. The battles are more action-based than before (previous Bioware games having been slightly turn based, with queued actions), which leads to some button mashing. With three possible actions, mostly being a rock-paper-scissors style cause and defense action system (block = use heavy attack, heavy attack = use quick attack, quick attack = block or roll). There are tradeoffs between the styles here, in range, speed and damage, as well as some special effects.

It’s not as complex as some of their other games, but still highly customizable and a lot of fun. The game is quite difficult on its default difficulty, you want to save lots (especially, as always, early on). It’s never impossible, though, and most of it really comes down to you knowing what mistakes you made.

A strange change of pace arises when you are flying between places where suddenly you are confronted with a DoDonPachi-like minigame where you shoot down enemy planes and collect power-ups. It’s a little bit confusing and something that could have ultimately been cut from the game because it disturbs the flow of this otherwise Asian-set RPG.

The story, meanwhile, is enticing early on. There’s a lot of interesting characters in the game – not all likeable, but all seeming slightly more real. You’re a monk/student who turns out to have a special destiny, with his/her own special powers, and having to do more down the line. It’s well written, as expected, and I want to play more to find more about it, but that’s something I’ll chase up later… Let’s just say it fits the atmosphere. It’s slightly different from what you normally see in western RPGs – there’s a JRPG influence, although it doesn’t overwhelm. It’s one of the stars.

In the end, a brilliant, vibrant setting with a lovely, well-integrated story and a system that works so well that it forms a beautiful combination. Well worth its status.

Final Thoughts

We are really rushing our way through the list of BioWare games and now we are officially half way through I think we should slow it down… but that probably won’t happen.

Until that day I will be making a new save game and make this the first BioWare game that I want to play in my own time rather than one which this list fostered onto me (in truth I REALLY want to play the Mass Effect games but I am being made to wait for that).