Jade Empire Review: An oriental breeze of fresh air
Jade Empire was bioware's first original IP, although you wouldn't know it from the amount of lore and history that the game world has. Jade Empire plays similarly to Kotor in that its a third person rpg. You are a young martial artist, of either gender as you select your character at the start of the game. With the world of Jade Empire, Bioware were able to create their own fiction without constraint and the quality of writing, setting and narrative is incredible. Its a mythological China filled with sorcery, demons and mystery. Asian lore and myth is a setting that is rarely, if ever, done in games so it is incredible that Jade Empire has such a fascinating and strongly themed world.
The story starts out in a small rural area were you are a student of martial arts, living quietly at your school. Events take a turn for the worst when raiders attack and destroy the village you have been living in and kidnap your mentor, forcing you into a journey to rescue him from captivity. The world has an established history which can be seen from the books that are lying around to be read by the player as well as the stories and script that npc's will tell you, all enriching the tale. The characters are extremely strong, with believable stories and motives for the party members you acquire. The game has some great twists during its course and the epic story does not disappoint from a studio renowned for their storytelling ability. The game really is a breath of fresh air narratively, with some great moments woven naturally into its structure.
Graphically Jade Empire looks really good considering its nearly 6 years old at the time of writing this review. The character models have a great colour and animation to them. Facial expressions are done well, and lip synching is perfect. The environments that you traverse in the game also look great. There are numerous interesting locations, from haunted forests, with rolling mists and shadowed trees in the background, to the bustling Imperial City filled with npc's and shops. The environments all feel genuine and part of this vibrant and ancient world, and can truly be immersive. The lighting provides a glow to certain areas giving a truly mythical impression to the world. There are some small issues running it on a 360 but overall it still looks vivid and attractive.
The music of the game is brilliant, with scores suited to each area. There is great music for some of the urban areas you pass through in the game, with cultural chinese music taking centre stage. Haunting music plays in more sinister areas and the sound track is one of the most memorable I have ever heard. The voice work is equally good, with each character voiced perfectly. There is a whole other language present in the game besides english called the old tongue, derived directly from the games lore but fully voiced by actors.The fact that Bioware went through the trouble of recording and developing a fantasy language for the game is telling of the quality that Jade Empire possesses, and is a strong point in favour of its audio strengths. Enemies sound fantastic, with the more sinister foes being inhuman in their gurgles and roars.
Jade Empire has a combat system which attempts to give a sense of actual martial art combat. There are numerous combat styles in the game which the player can use. For every style there is a quick assault, a powerful charged attack, an area blast, and a block button. There are also monster forms for the player to unlock, meaning that if you so choose, you can use the attacks of enemies you have defeated in the game. There are light attacks, which are fast but weak. There are also heavy attacks which are slow but powerful. You can also use magic projectiles in combat. There are many types of enemies in Jade Empire, and these require different strategies to defeat. From ghosts, demons, assassins and pirates among others, you will have many opportunities to test your styles. Its a surprisingly deep and tactical combat system that will require mastering as the game is very challenging at points and has a steep difficulty curve.
As its an rpg, there is a lot of dialogue in Jade Empire. There are many dialogue options, and these change depending on your moral decisions and gender. There are romance options and branching story points. This all means that it is not possible to see all there is to see in the game in 1 or even 2 playthroughs. The way you level up and advance your character as well as equip items is very simple in the game, perhaps too simple. It would have been nice to have a more detailed advancement system but its a small issue. It makes it difficult to widely differentiate your character from another on a different playthrough so implementing a proper class based system would probably have alleviated this issue. What is a problem is the long load times. The load screens are quite lengthy, and even though the game usually gives some lore background for you to read while you wait it is hugely noticeable. The frame rate is also prone to dropping at points, especially when a large melee is going on. While again its not a huge issue, it can be annoying at times. There is huge replay value here, which is good considering the game only lasts for 15 hours or so.
The campaign can be made longer by doing the side quests but still only clocks in at around the 15-18 hour mark. Despite this the world that the game portrays feels genuine and ancient with the brilliant back story and lore including religions, languages, creatures and nations that Bioware have created for the game. The creature designs are fantastic, and having a fantasy rpg set in an oriental mythos is a breath of fresh air from the usual medieval europe setting of these games. The story is incredibly well woven, and the narrative is very strong, in typical form for this developer. There are some technical issues like I mentioned, but these are easily outweighed by all the strengths of the game. This is an easy recommendation for anyone who likes rpg's or good stories, especially if you are interested in experiencing a game that is thematically different in its look and architecture from other games in the genre.
- Incredible setting in a mythical asian fantasy world
- Great variation of environments
- Unique and appealing enemy designs
- Deep and twisting storyline
- Good dialogue and inclusion of an entire fantasy language
- Character models are brilliantly animated and designed
- Very colourful and well bright game
- High replayability
- Great musical score
- Long load times
- Frame rate drops at times
- Characters should have more customisation options
- Love triangle involving cousins