Jade Empire Review

BioWare has built quite a reputation for creating great RPG games with deep and engaging storylines. Their latest game, Jade Empire, will certainly further cement that reputation. Leaving the well-known worlds of Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars behind, BioWare has crafted their own unique universe for Jade Empire, one that draws heavily on Far Eastern philosophy and mythology for inspiration and is a tribute to highly stylized Kung Fu movies such as Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The result is a unique RPG that should be a treat for fans of the genre who need a break from the endless orc-killing and dungeon-slogging inherent in most RPGs and that is one of the top RPG games available on the current generation of home systems.

You play the role of a martial arts student at a remote school led by an old master. You have been at the school as long as you can remember and know very little about your background or origins. However, you have a very strong gift for the martial arts and your master is convinced that you have a great destiny in store for you. Outside of the harmony of your school mysterious forces are at work that threaten the very existence of the Empire, and soon those forces find your quiet backwater and you soon find yourself thrust into the middle of the conflict. Thus begins your quest during which you’ll learn that your great destiny is intertwined with that of the Empire…

You'll do your own fighting in Jade Empire.

The game’s storyline is far more than a back story created to give you some sort of justification for roaming the country moving from one fight to the next. The developers have created a complete world with its own history and mythos, and have even given it a unique secondary language created specifically for the game. Much of the story, and the Jade Empire’s history and mythos, is conveyed through extensive conversations with NPCs in the game as well as by reading scrolls and books found throughout the lands. You could certainly play the game without doing the reading, but you’ll miss out on a lot of what the game offers. Besides, you’ll get a small experience bonus for taking the time to stop and read. You can also get by without a lot of the NPC interaction as the game is pretty good about letting you know which characters you will need to interact with to advance the game. However, if you skip these conversations you’ll be missing out on a big part of what the game has to offer.

Jade Empire is an RPG, so your character, the one central to the story, is somewhat customizable. There are six basic characters available that run the range from fast but weak to slow but powerful, with more a balanced character type in between. These three archetypes come in both sexes, giving you the six starting characters. You’ll be able to customize your character by selecting his or her name and adding points to the three character attributes, body, mind, and spirit. These basically translate to total health, magic power, and attack power, respectively. You’ll also be able to select your character’s basic fighting styles by selecting an attack and a support discipline. These determine the types of special attacks that you can unleash as well as your support spells such as those that slow attackers. As the game progresses you’ll have the opportunity to learn more styles including styles from new areas such as weapon skills.

Your choice of styles will have an effect on your gameplay experience as unlike most RPGs you will control your character directly in battle. Not that Jade Empire is an action/RPG per se; selecting the proper attacks at the proper times is more critical than speedy button pressing and the amount of damage that you cause and take is determined by attribute-based die rolls being made behind the scenes by your Xbox. You can switch between your available attack styles on the fly simply by pressing the d-pad, or you can rely on your basic normal and charged-up heavy attacks. You can also combine your style attacks into “Harmonic Combos” which will result in a devastating attack on your enemy. In addition to your attack moves you’ll have defensive options as well that will allow you to try and block your opponents’ attacks or make evasive leaps and rolls.

While difficult to characterize as either action or RPG style fighting, the battles work quite well in their own right. There’s a lot of room for strategy as the fighting system has enough nuances to allow you to experiment with many different techniques to find the most effective for each situation. The battles are also a lot of fun to watch as they are very stylized, as you would expect of a game paying homage to artistic martial arts films.