Jade Empire
Reviewed by Amanda Lewis
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2005-05-26 Xbox Action/RPG M (Mature) Microsoft / Bioware

When I was playing Knights of the Old Republic: Sith Lords, I came across the section that had the demo for Jade Empire.

I thought to myself "Great, another Dynasty game." I am not big into the whole "Warlord" genre game play, but I figured it was worth giving it a chance, since I loved the game style of KotOR and I had some faith in Bioware's abilities to produce a good game. So I took the biggest risk I could and bought the game outright. Hopefully my instincts weren't in vain.

From start to finish I was hooked on Jade Empire. From the cascading waterfalls in the old Monk temples to the war-torn valleys of the Great Empire, this game truly took my breath away.

The game starts off with the character selection screen, where you pick the warrior that will battle the foes of the Empire. There are seven characters that you can choose from, four males and three females.

Each character has their special "Class". In Jade Empire these special classes are Fast, Strong, Magic, and Balanced. As many games that deal with the background of Martial Arts fighting, you have three primary abilities, which are the Mind, Body and Spirit. These three will set the starting value for the secondary abilities, Health, Focus and Chi.

You learn throughout the game how each attribute can affect the outcome of your healing ability (which is done through the life-energy Chi) as well as how fast or how hard you can strike down an opponent.

Primary and secondary abilities will also affect the outcome of your conversations with others. Obviously, if your Body ability is high, your chances of intimidating someone are higher. You can use a bit of common sense in this case, so choose wisely the way to develop them.

For those that have played Knights of the Old Republic, you will be very familiar with the interface in Jade Empire. I got a kick out of seeing the Light and Dark side graphic bar in my character profile page.

So for those of you who were eager to know if you could play an evil character in this game, the answer is yes. You have the choice to decide what path you will follow through your actions. Everything in this game is decided by the choices you make, and you can tell by the character's facial expression if the reply you are choosing is a good or bad choice. You have NPC's that help you out in your quests, but in the end you are the chosen one to banish the darkness from the Jade Empire once and for all.

As your character advances, you will meet and fight characters that are either ghosts or transformed humans who have forsaken their souls in order to serve the "greater evil". You never know what is going to attack you on the next board. The puzzles are pretty easy and not so overwhelming that they take away from the storyline or game play. The epic story develops at a good pace, showing us glimpses of the spiritual world and reciting a lot of "fortune cookie" philosophy.

Other things that caught my eye in this game were the details shown in each character: some male characters had scars on their chests as a result of previous battles and the women wore beautiful eastern printed outfits that looked as if they came straight out of a magazine.

What really impressed me was the fluidity of movements during fights. I can't begin to imagine how much motion capture was done to get the final result, but it's well worth it. It's a sort of an elegant but deadly ballet, something taken straight from "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon". If this was just a fighting game, I'd still be happy especially because of the realistic factor: there are no scantily-clad girls with bouncy breasts here, but heroines of great power and intelligence instead.

As an added bonus, Jade Empire includes a vertical scroller shooter mini-game, which is a lot of fun (resembles the old Xenon 2) and compels you to try and beat your previous score.

Kudos to Bioware for the extensive research done on ancient Chinese lore. The architectural elements, the characters' clothing and features, the amazing music, the depictions of demons, the concept of spirits and their world, the morals and values, everything is there to the tiniest detail to represent a familiar yet fictitious China.

And grrls, if you like a little bit of romance in your storyline, this game will fit the bill. Just be sure to pay attention to how you answer your questions when in dialog mode, it will certainly make a difference when it comes to interacting with NPC's.

I recommend Jade Empire for anyone that is really into RPG or fighter genres and even to those who just enjoy a game with a good plot. This game is one that you can play long after you have finished it the first time.

Special thanks to Bioware and Ken Brown at the Abruthnot Entertainment Group for providing a copy of the game.