Jade Empire: Special Edition Review
|Release Date:||February 26th, 2007 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Craig Laycock (Cragtek)|
Mister Miyagi taught me all I needed to know about Kung Fu. Or at least that's what I thought until I played Jade Empire. These days not even his young protégé The Karate Kid could slap me round the chops. I was completely blocked up before, like a toilet that wouldn't flush - but now my chi flows through me more rapidly than a curry house special.
Jade Empire: Special Edition has arrived on PC. Originally an Xbox game, it gained a cult following among gamers and the PC version is virtually a straight port. Although it's been two years coming (and there isn't a great deal of new content), Jade Empire remains a hugely playable punch-them-in-the-face-then-kick-them-up-the-backside romp.
If you haven't played it before, you should. Set in a fantasy world of oriental mythology, the action RPG will have you fighting your way through joy, pain and deceit in order to bring a new dawn to the empire. Which is what you want, really.
Jade Empire's strengths lie predominantly in its terrific ability to spin a yarn. As we've come to expect from Bioware, the story line is a thing of beauty and the characters are diverse, interesting and each carry complete individuality. Most of the actual gameplay will see you exploring the world on foot, with regular combat sessions interspersed and multiple-choice dialogue to boot. It sounds like a difficult mix, but the balance has been tweaked to perfection by Bioware and each element complements the other magnificently.
Far too often RPG games can get bogged down in the seriousness of it all, but, like a ray of fresh air, Jade Empire has a number of moments where you'll be laughing out loud. The writing is sharp and witty and feels extremely polished at times. A lot of thought has clearly gone into entertaining the gamer as well as satisfying their beat-em-up needs.
And sometimes the game can be unintentionally funny. Your character will emit various taunts while fighting and this can lead to hilarious results when you smash a tiny vase to the sound of "you cannot match me!" and "my style is magnificent!" Well, quite.
The graphics in Jade Empire are good-looking, vibrant and colourful. Weapon and magic effects in particular look extremely good and the game runs very smoothly, no complaints there. Furthermore, the locations you encounter are so varied and unique that you can't help but be impressed by the versatility of the engine.
Although never quite matching the current crop of beautiful-looking games on the market, the visuals in Jade Empire serve the oriental setting tremendously well and, at one point in the game - where you cross over into another realm - they excel and will have you cooing at the screen like a demented pigeon.
The music is top-drawer too. Although never really in-your-face, the score is magnificent and really captures the oriental feel of the game. You probably won't notice it, but if you stop and listen, you'll hear it's a thing of beauty. This sort of attention to detail and atmosphere-building is paramount to Jade Empire's look and feel and clearly owes a lot to Bioware's terrific pedigree. Add to this a terrific repertoire of sound effects and voice acting (including a largely unheralded star turn from John Cleese) and you've got a winning formula.
The RPG mechanism in Jade Empire is relatively simplistic, but none-the-less powerful. The choices you make in the dialogue - and your actions in combat - will influence your character's development, pushing you towards the path of the Open Palm, or the path of the Closed Palm. These are rough equivalents of "good" and "evil" and your final standing will affect the outcome of the game. Needless to say, if you carve up NPCs at any given opportunity, don't expect to come out of it looking like a nice guy. But who wants to be a nice guy?
As well as being able to choose your path, you can also utilise a power-up system through the use of gemstones and your amulet. Each gemstone you collect has its own unique abilities, but you only have a limited number of slots in your amulet, so often you'll have to choose what's best for the impending situation. Furthermore, when you level up you will be able to spend skill points to improve your various fighting styles. You can also gain richly-characterised followers to help you fight some of the many battles you'll come up against.
Some critics have pointed to the fact that Jade Empire can sometimes seem 'dumbed down', with a lack of detailed character customisation options, but for many gamers this is where the charm lies. Jade Empire is an easy-going, fun game - and the decision to incorporate heavy RPG elements would have detracted from its appeal considerably.
Combat is handled well in Jade Empire, the only criticism being that it can, at times, be a bit too straightforward. Some of the less challenging battles will have you hammer the left mouse button over and over again with no real test coming until you are confronted with hordes of enemies coming at you from all angles. Regardless, the combat system is incredibly satisfying and allows you a lot of scope to inflict damage. You can fight using a variety of styles and call upon harmonic combos to deal some serious damage. It's great to let off some steam.
In some sequences, you are asked to play a flying mini-game, similar to Xenon and the like. The scrolling action will have you blasting enemy ships and is a great tonic after heavy combat sessions.
The difficulty in Jade Empire is adjustable on-the-fly, which is a real godsend at times. Trying to play the game on hard mode is troublesome in places, with many reloads and easy mode will present no challenge whatsoever. But being able to switch between levels of difficulty as and when need be is terrific for navigating those ridiculously hard bits that might have otherwise forced you to put the game back on the shelf in solemn resignation.
It's not worth Xbox fans of Jade Empire buying the PC version. The amount of new content just isn't enough (a couple of new fighting styles and the odd new bad guy), but newcomers to the game will be enraptured by its charm; lovers of a good story and frustrated button-bashers will love this game in equal measure - and rightly so. Bow and prepare for battle, apprentice: you won't regret it.
- Fabulous story-telling
- Involving and charismatic environments
- Immersive music and sound effects
- Satisfying combat
Not so good stuff
- No real additions from the Xbox version
- Simplistic RP element won't appeal to everyone