Review: Jade Empire – Special Edition

Anyone who knows me well as a gamer probably knows that I am a huge fan of Bioware’s RPGs.  So when I saw their 2005 release on Steam during the Summer Sales it was a no-brainer to pick it up.  However, is this Jade the real deal, or is is just some green glass?

 

The story is set in a land that is very heavily inspired by ancient China, called the Jade Empire.  You are an orphan who is the star pupil at a martial arts school by a sleepy little town a ways back in the empire.  But soon some Lotus Asasins, who are basically the emperpor’s secret police show up looking for you master and it quickly becomes apparent that he isn’t the only thing that isn’t as it seems.  Overall I really liked the storry, it had a good flow to it and was very intriguing to me. There are a number of twists involved, but I usually could see them coming and figured them out. However, there is one major twist towards the end that came out of nowhere, and took me completely by surprise.

 

Gameplay is based on three primary pools that draw upon, your health, pretty self explanatory; your Chi, which is used to power magic attacks, as well heal you and add extra damage to strikes; and Focus, which is used to power weapon atacks. You have four Main types of attacks you can perform.  First, Martial arts attacks can rang from slow powerful styles which deal a lot of damage but leave you open to counterattacks, to fast styles that don’t deal as much damage per strike but are more protected.  The second is support styles, which don’t deal damage to an opponents health dirrectly, but can slow them, or steal their Chi for example. The third is Magic styles, which tend to be primarily ranged attacks, using elements such as fire, stone, etc. And the final group is Transformation styles, in which you use you Chi to turn into various creatures.

The combat is all in real time, so even though you will have a partner with for most of the game, you cannot directly control him or her.  You can choose whether or not they are in an offensive mode, where they attack enemies, or a support mode, where they will stay clear and restore one or more of your pools, or other abilities.  At first I found the combat to be a little to sluggish, and a bit hard to grasp at first.  After a while I got the hang of and really enjoyed it, but you can tell that it is an older game by the feel of it.  It reminds me a lot of the combat style in KOA, with the way you can roll to avoid attacks, or block them.  Clicking the left mouse button will make you perform a standard attack, the right will perform a slower power attack which can break an enemy’s block, and clicking both will perform an area attack, which is useful if you are being swarmed by a number of enemies at once.

Overall, it works pretty well, but I found the weakest link is your companions in combat.  From playing other Bioware games I’ve grown used to my teammates being capable of holding their own in combat, especially when I’m able to have some degree of control over them.  That is not case here.  Combat usually boils down to you taking on six to ten enemies, and after you take them out you go over and take out the one your team-member has been hacking at for the whole battle.  And the confusing part is that towards the end of the game you are able to control a couple of your teammates in a couple of battles, and they slice right though the enemies when you use them, but can hardly dent them when they are with you.

 

Graphically, it will not be confused for a current gen game by any means, but when it is run on high I thought it still looked half-decent.  Some of the character models looked quite nice to me, but they were offset by others that looked rather poorly.  Still, I don’t know of anyone who plays older games for the graphics, so they aren’t that big of a deal.  I really liked the music in the game, it does a terrific job of setting the atmosphere for each segment and character.  If you are at all interested in video game soundtracks I’d highly recommend picking it up.

 

There are a couple of downsides to the game though.  The first is compatibility.  If you are going to be playing on Vista you likely shouldn’t have to much trouble, however, if you are going to be playing on 7 there are some issues that crop up.  From what I have read it is mainly an issue on the 64bit versions, not as much the 32, but there are a few registry entries that are not always added when the installer runs, causing the game to not find Steam even though you are launching it from Steam.  From what I’ve read it doesn’t happen for everyone, and there are a few different ways to fix it, from as simple as running Steam in administrator mode, to putting a shortcut to Steam in your ProgramFiles folder in your drive(Evidently the game tries to look in that folder, instead of the (86) version of the folder where the 32bit programs such as Steam are installed), to going into the registry and adding the missing entries and editing the path.  I did the latter, and it ran fine for me after that.

The second issue is length.  I’m used to long RPG’s from Bioware.  It took me roughly 40 hour to beat the main game for each of the Mass Effects, and about 35 for the first KOTOR.  This game I finished at 15 hours.  From the research I’ve done it appears that between 15-20 hours is about the time it takes to make a complete play-through, and I know I missed a couple of quest lines that would have probably added a couple more hours on, but still it doesn’t feel right to be all the way through a Bioware game that quickly.  Even KOTOR2 took me 28 to beat, and that felt a little short to me.

 

Overall, despite its downfalls, it is still a good game.  If you are a fan of Bioware’s work or enjoy ancient Chinese culture and marital arts I’d highly recommend checking it out.  Even with the flaws, it still gets a very good 7 our of 10,

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