Review: Jade Empire (Xbox)
It’s been in development for years and it’s been talked about even longer. Most gamers were sick of seeing that same trailer over and over again wishing the game would just come out. Well, Jade Empire is finally here and next to the Final Fantasy series has the potential to be one of the best role playing games ever.
Created by the folks at BioWare, the crew who brought you Knights of the Old Republic in 2003, Jade Empire takes us back to a mythical China where mystical powers rule along side supernatural beings ranging from ghosts of centuries ago to demons and monsters from another dimension.
The game begins with the player choosing between six characters that have different strengths in magic, physical power and speed. Throughout the game these powers can be adjusted, leveling up your points in mind, body and spirit. You start off learning about yourself from your master, Master Li, at a kung-fu school somewhere in the Chinese mountains. You get to learn about your different strengths, how to speak with other folks around the village and how to earn and use different powers. Once you start getting the hang of it, a force from the North invades the school killing everyone in sight and kidnapping your master. Your mission now begins.
While the game does has its similarities to Knights of the Old Republic in that you can decide which path you want to travel, the lines between good and evil aren’t clearly defined. You’ll be offered choices that aren’t necessarily good of or bad, but would alter the outcome of the situation and experience and ultimately major plot points of the story. The replay value is immense because in some situations, you have three or four different choices.
The storyline in itself is intriguing and will keep you playing for hours on end alone, but it’s the mechanics of the game that make this the most fun. Jade Empire is a real action RPG, where there’s a deep storyline and ways to develop and grow your character, the fighting is like a 3rd person action game. While most RPGs are on a turn-based fighting system (even Knights of the Old Republic was), Jade Empire gets you in the midst of the action with punches, kicks, jumps, flips, blocks and magic spells. The triggers allow you to target an enemy to fight, if you don’t target, you’ll automatically fight the enemy closest to you. As you move through the game, your character learns different fighting styles and using the D-pad, you can cycle through these styles during a fight. You can go from a drunken style, to using a weapon, to switching to magic to shoot fireballs. Your character can learn techniques, magic spells and fighting styles from his enemies as well. You also have the ability of using charged attacks by holding down the punch button. It charges up your attack to knock out shielded or clueless foes. When fighting pay attention to your Chi, it is used to heal yourself as well as use your magic powers. The fighting scheme is so much fun that at times you want to skip the story and get to the action.
As you move through the story, you start to get a few cats joining along with you and your journey. You can select which characters you want to join you on certain missions or travels and switch them out at anytime. Each of the characters that join you has different strengths. Some will help you immensely during a fight, chopping down foes like trees; while others will give you wine to keep your drunken fighting style moving. You also have the option of putting your followers in support mode where they’ll give you more Chi to heal yourself, or more Focus so you can use your magical weapons longer.
Also among the travels is a mini-game that’s similar to an old-school Destroyer or Centipede title. When you’re in an airship, you have the option of blasting foes out of the sky or passing them undetected. If you choose to fight, you’ll get formations of airships shooting at you. As you dodge the bullets and missiles, you shoot down enemies. You don’t really get any rewards for it, but it is fun to try once or twice.
The graphics to the game are amazing. It literally makes you want to take a trip to the Chinese countryside in hopes of finding similar environments. The landscape was beautifully done with great details ranging from swamps, to mountain forests to the active atmosphere in the villages. The character models and animation and well done and flow with fluidity during the battles and when your just traveling across the country side. The only really bad thing is that sometimes the cameras can get stuck behind a rock, building or something else during a battle making it tough to see when trying to block or attack an enemy. However, the graphics are almost flawless.
Musically the score of the game harks back to the kung-fu films of the past with violins, cellos and rhythmic drums. The music adds to the atmosphere of the game and gives it an authenticity of 1500s China. The voice acting is well done as well, along the same lines of old kung-fu flicks too. The characters range from rough and tough voices to goofy and cowardice accents.
As entire package, Jade Empire has to be one of the best games, if not the best game, of the years. Although relatively short for an RPG (some folks beat it in less than 25 hours), the story, the action and beauty of the game makes for a great experience – even for those who don’t like role playing. It’s an experience you don’t want to miss.
FINAL SCORE: 98/100