Hang On a minute. So I'm the last of an embattled group of mystical fighters, killed off by the forces of an evil empire, yet as a baby I was smuggled away and secreted far away in a rural community where my presence would not be felt? And I've been sent by my master into a spirit cave' where I'll learn about my true self, and later be spoken to by glittery blue/pale ghosts trapped between life and death? This rings a bell that's somewhat far away and relatively long ago... A play through the first hours of the PC special edition of Jade Empire reveals that it treads the boards of Star Wars with a glee thoroughly untouched upon in the opening acts of sci-fi amnesia in either KOTOR. That's not to belittle what BioWare have created here though - from the off you're embroiled in a deep, wordy and FMV-packed narrative, nimbly facing off against evenly paced tutorial sections.
It doesn't really feel like a converted Xbox game in the way that the KOTORs did either. Yes, the areas you find yourself in are often tight and contained, but the lush, colourful, almost hand-drawn locations and smooth character models and animations easily brings your console conversion' guard down.
Sweet Not Sour
The rejigged combat on PC works well too, even if it does take a while to get used to its intricacies - blocking, dodging, focusing power and dancing between light and heavy attacks. You can also specialise in any one of approximately a gazillion different fighting styles, and three or four of these are available in the game's opening martial arts school, bandit attack and swamp-set scenes.
As you level-up, you put points into your favoured disciplines as well as the usual character improvement ones, while there are also a ton of magical shiny gems that you can lodge in your ancestral amulet to stick a few pluses into the areas where you need them most.
You see, something is rotten in the heart of the Jade Empire, and it's having an impact on people who've shuffled off their mortal coils - the path to the afterlife has been blocked and there's a whole lot of spectral huffing and moaning going on.
Because of this, you can prepare for a few ghost-based variants on BioWare's staple moral dilemma template, mothers wracked by guilt after the death and reappearance of their infants and the like. There's also quite a few demons that look like bipedal rhinos and some horses knocking about - but they're more a sign of the Jade Empire being a bit odd rather than something more sinister.
Whether the changes shackled into the Jade redux will prove mostly cosmetic remains to be seen, as does whether the tight confines of the game and its comparatively short playtime will grate in a PC sphere not exactly neck-deep in roleplay rivals. But, four or five hours in, I certainly feel like a sexy kung-fu fighter. And that doesn't happen every day.
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We Had To wait two years for the game to reach the PC from the Xbox - if you decided to wait another year for it to drop to a tenner, then your tactical thrift is about to pay off.
This fantastic chop-socky fighting RPG saw the introduction of real-time combat to BioWare's traditional mix that they developed further with Mass Effect But Jade Empire's vast selection of (occasionally brilliant, occasionally rock-hard) fighting styles keep variety in the gameplay throughout.
With BioWare's expert and conversion to PC, the controls are full-on, but considerately handled. Moreover, the morality system is less bludgeoning in its treatment of good and evil than KOTOR, and some RPG elements have been carefully trimmed back for a less fussy approach.
Whether or not the lack of a detailed inventory was purely down to its Xbox roots isn't clear, but it makes for a deeply slick adventure with some memorable characters and jaw-dropping moments. Utterly excellent.
What does Bioware plus an RPG equal? Apparently assured success, which is exactly what Jade Empire has. By taking some of the better aspects from Knights of the Old Republic and adding real time action, an entirely new story based Chinese lore, and a highly functional and dynamic control system, you end up with a game that out performs almost all of its competition.
So what's so great about Jade Empire? It really comes down to how the entire game comes together. To start, a solid story is developed with twists and turns that will keep you pushing well into the night. You really find yourself absorbed into the story early on and it keeps you till the end. If you played Knights of the Old Republic, you'll recognize a similar story telling style that kept you guessing till the end.
The gameplay follows suit with a dynamic action style RPG. There are so many different ways to attack, its hard to find any compliant at all. You can change your attack style at will, which is a unique style such as using a sword or turning into a giant toad, use your chi (magic) to increase the strength of you attack, or slow things down so you can better position yourself for attack using focus. There are meters for your health, chi, and focus to keep track of how much of each you have left.
As with most RPGs leveling up allows growth in areas of your choice and in Jade Empire you'll be able to choose an increase between your health, chi, and focus potential and then select between upgrading the strengths of the different attack styles. It has a similar feel to Knights of the Old Republic again and it works as well if not better.
Both the graphics and audio seal the deal with stellar performances. From the environments, to the voice-overs, to the cutscenes, Jade Empire creates an entire experience that more then justifies its cost.
Jade Empire is another Bioware creation that continues their legacy as some of the best RPG developers around. Jade Empire is probably one of the best RPGs you'll play this year.
The mysteries of the Orient have long fascinated explorers, adventurers, and videogame fanboys. So while this game is being developed in not-so-mysterious Canada, its mythological Chinese setting will certainly interest action-RPG fans. You wont be planet hopping as in developer BioWares other console outing, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but that doesnt mean you wont get to some exotic locales. Greg Zeschuk, BioWare joint CEO, credits the games new graphics engine for the lovingly rendered landscapes and surreal palaces featuring otherworldly layouts and geometry that gamers will visit. Weve got a lot of freedom in the new engine, he says, and were really pushing it to the max.
Jade Empire is BioWares first game based on an original intellectual property meaning everything was built from scratch, including the nonlinear story and the rules set that powers everything from dialogue options to combat. So put away your Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Ed. rules; the team has created a bevy of new skills and options for every battle, conversation, and encounter. We wanted to wait until we had the experience as a company to build a completely original game right, says joint CEO Ray Muzyka.