There are no light-sabers or wookies, but similarities between BioWare’s Jade Empire and their previous RPG Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic are quite visible. Deep customization abilities, decisions that affect the protagonist’s path, and more side quests than you can shake a stick at, never have ancient China and a futuristic galaxy far, far away seemed so similar.
Your character’s appearance, name, and stats are customizable, but no matter what you decide to do with him or her, their situation is the same. The star pupil of a quaint peasant village, you’re a martial arts student under Master Li, and have been for as long as you can remember. Your talents are tested when a random bandit raid threatens your village. The bandits are fended off, but before their leader retreats he is confronted by Master Li, and the master’s abilities puzzles the bandit leader. From there things pick up. Master Li reveals a mysterious part of his past and as he foresees it triggers a more focused attack. The village is destroyed, Master Li captured, and now you must leave the village that has been your only home in pursuit of Master Li.
From very early on in the game your character will have someone to fight with them. These “followers” aren’t playable but will aid you in battle. Most will fight with you, but others will assist you in other ways, like the chef who distributes wine during battles so you can perform the Drunken Master fighting style.
Combat could use fine-tuning and polishing to make it a little more tight and responsive, but for a RPG the real-time battles in Jade Empire work surprisingly well. B is block or evade, A a normal attack, X a more powerful one, and Y is used to enter focus mode. What sets this ordinary control scheme apart from other games is the ability to switch between fighting styles instantly. Over the course of the game your character can learn many unique fighting styles. There are more styles than I am willing to list, but to name a few, Ice Shard, which allows you to use ice as a projectile, Paralyzing Palm, and the more straightforward but quite powerful Flawless weapon style. A strategic gamer can use these styles masterfully, using the abilities of one style to increase the effects of another, for example, paralyzing an enemy so the power attacks of martial styles does more damage. Focus is also a pivotal part of combat. Toggling into focus mode slows down gameplay, more so for your enemies, making attacking and dodging easier. Because many weapon styles drain your focus bar with normal attacks, focus should be used sparingly. If you run out of focus those styles that use it won’t be accessible.
Customization goes beyond appearance. When your character levels up you are given three points to increase your body, sprit, and mind. In addition a number of points, the amount of which varies depending on which level you are advancing to, are used to aid fighting styles of your choice. Three aspects of each style can be bettered, for example increasing speed or damage or lowering the drain of focus. Although you can’t control it directly, your level of intimidation, intuition, and charm will also change as the game goes on, making different options available during conversations.
The similarities between Jade Empire and Knights of the Old Republic really shine in story structure. You have your main plot with the occasional twist, but the game will last hours longer if you chose to pursue the many side quests the game offers. Most will benefit you monetarily (although the need for money in Jade Empire is very limited) and those that don’t will help you gain experience. Some of the quests are taken straight from Knights of the Old Republic. To gain some serious coins and experience, you can fight in the Imperial Arena. Because of magical spells cast on the place you won’t be at risk of dying, at least until the final battle during which time these spells aren’t strong enough to protect you and the battle becomes a death match. This is an occurrence very similar to the one encountered in Knights of the Old Republic arena. There are also bounties. Some are truly evil people, but you’ll come across one who actual deserves better than death and his life depends on your morals. Again, a quest almost exactly like one in Knights of the Old Republic. And the good/evil system does transfer over to Jade Empire, although this time you choose to follow the way of the open palm or the closed fist. The decisions you make in the game will pull you towards one side, and like Knights of the Old Republic, gives you a decent reason to replay the game.
A very artistic game, the lush environments do a great job of intergrading you into the ancient China theme. Characters also look good, each having details that give them a definitive look. During conversation faces might get buggy, but only to a small degree.
There are no performances that will blow you away, but all the voice acting is consistently good. Each character has a distinct voice and when needed they will put a little emotion into their lines. Music is usually unnoticeable and even during battles, at which time the volume is cranked up, it still isn’t very powerful. Still, the music doesn’t have to be epic to make combat a little more engaging.
Jade Empire has much appeal to a wide variety of gamers. The fighting-style-emphasized combat is very enjoyable and sure to satisfy the action-oriented gamers while the depth of the customization and entertaining story will be what RPG fans will dwell on. It’s a little too similar to its Star Wars predecessor but if you had to mimic a game Knights of the Old Republic is an excellent choice. And if you have yet to play Knights of the Old Republic the before mentioned issue has no effect on this great experience.
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