Jade Empire PC Review page 1
When you think of the company BioWare, you think of RPG's such as Neverwinter Nights, Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Star Wars:
Knights of the old Republic. In 2005, a new name was added to that list with Jade Empire on the Xbox, and while it had its share of flaws, it was a
generally well received game. Finally, after about a 10 month wait since its announcement, the Windows platform has been graced with its own version of
Jade Empire and while an effort has been made to
take advantage of the PC platform, much of the game remains the same.
For those who haven't played the Xbox version, Jade Empire tells the story of a young fighting student and his master in the heartland of ancient China.
This student - your controlled character - is actually the 'teacher's pet' of the training academy with a level of skill far exceeding any of the other students and as such, it
doesn't take very long for the game to shed your character of his/her training shackles and set you off into the big bad world. As the
your master is captured and you go after those who did it to set him free, which is a pretty generic premise but luckily the storyline has many twists
and turns to keep you hooked. As for the playable characters themselves, you are given a choice of a few male and female warriors who each represent a
particular build and style, such as speed or strength, which is fine but the lacking of any significant character customization is a little
Like any decent RPG, Jade Empire focuses around the concept of experience points, which allow you to dictate your character's strengths and
abilities. The implementation of this in Jade Empire is reasonably basic, as you only have three areas to spend experience points on - health, spirit
and focus - as well as separate points for your fighting disciplines in three areas of its own, which can usually be rounded down to damage, speed and
rate of resource consumption. Fighting disciplines
are picked up, bought and taught as the game goes on and there are quite a few on offer throughout the entire game ranging from magic and weapons to
traditional styles of hand to hand combat.
In effect, the health, spirit and focus ratings of your character are the three most important aspects to the gameplay, as just about everything revolves
around at least one of them. Obviously without health your character will die, but without spirit some fighting disciplines - mainly magic based ones - will be made redundant, and
without focus fighting with weapons or evading traps will be impossible. On top of this, focus can be used to enter a "focus mode" slowing down
time during combat to gain
an advantage. As stated above, these three areas have the ability to upgrade when you level up from experience, which basically determines the maximum level
of each you can have, represented by horizontal bars in the top left of your screen. To actually replenish these bars you must either collect powerups from
defeated enemies which are spat our randomly, or meditate in one of the many shrines scattered throughout the game's maps. To replenish perhaps the most
important of the three - health - you can also
heal yourself which consumes your available spirit, also referred to in the game as 'chi'.
When you're not concerning yourself over your character's abilities and bar levels, chances are you're running around the maps looking for silver and
other goodies, talking to people, and getting into the obligatory scuffle here and there. This is where perhaps the first sign of Jade Empire's
"consoleportitis" comes into play - map sizes and detail. While the average map size is decent, the amount of detail is mediocre at best,
particularly in the areas which are meant to be dense, like
cities, which feel more like walkways with a handful of random buildings and structures thrown around the place than true cities. This isn't helped by the
fact the maps are predominantly linear, rarely featuring more than one way to get from point A to B. These faults may not be as evident on a console like the
Xbox but by PC RPG standards, the environments in Jade Empire feel sparse and boring - as Peter Griffin would say, I was very aware I was playing a game when
I was playing Jade Empire because the surroundings
do not suck you in at all.
The console port feel doesn't stop there however, as it just about influences everything in the game. Fighting with your character is a huge part of Jade
Empire but once again the game fails to stray from its basic and simplified theme. While some degree of timing and skill is
required, in most cases button mashing is the name of the game with Jade Empire's fighting sub-system which basically revolves around three buttons -
simple attack, bigger attack, and block. Even if you do refrain from button
mashing and focus on blocking and countering, the fighting still comes off as systematic and repetitive. The simple attack and bigger attack change depending
on which fighting style you have selected (of which only four are accessible at any given time during combat without pausing and reshuffling the button
maps), but outside of a few different animations in combos, you're basically doing the same attack over and over again for each style. What's worse is the
enemies themselves are pretty easy, even the very
last bosses, as they generally all have a repetitive style than can be exploited easy enough.
During most fights in the game you can enlist the assistance of another character you have met during the storyline however these are only available
one at a time and are often so ineffective they serve little purpose beyond being a distraction. Sometimes these characters you meet require you to
defeat them in battle first before joining your cause, and there is a huge drop in how skilled and sturdy they are when they're fighting by your side
compared to when you fought them. This wouldn't be
a big deal if you could deploy an entourage of followers in battles, but having just one at your side at any given time seems pointless.
Jade Empire PC Review page 2
Even though Jade Empire 'Special Edition'
as it is known on the PC is meant to feature revamped graphics compared to the Xbox version, it is hardly noticeable as the game still looks below what I'd
call average for a PC RPG game of this nature - certainly below the likes of, say, Fable. I'd hate to see what the game would have looked like on the
PC if they just kept the Xbox visuals. In fairness, there is never really a time where the graphics degrade the gameplay experience, but there is no way much
time was spent making Jade Empire look great on the PC. If you're going to port a game for the PC in the year 2007 from a now redundant console, at least
make the graphics look amazing.
Out of all the console influences on Jade Empire PC, there is really only one positive to be had and that's the control system and how it natively
supports the use of a game pad. When I first started playing Jade Empire using the keyboard and mouse, I noticed my USB Xbox 360 controller rumbling on
the floor during a battle so I picked it up to see what was going on only to find out that Jade Empire supports it natively, and I never went back to the
keyboard and mouse from then on out. While the keyboard
and mouse did an ok job, having that extra precision in movement with an analog stick does wonders so I'd highly recommend the use of a control pad,
particularly a 360 one. It was also nice to finally see a PC game take advantage of the force feedback in the 360 controller.
As I'm sure you can gather this far into the review, Jade Empire is a rather simplistic RPG, and perhaps the only exceptionally detailed part
about Jade Empire at all is the character dialogue, and how it relates to the storyline of the game. Throughout the game you are required to maintain your
character's stance between 'The Ways of the Open Palm' and 'The Ways of the Closed Fist'. These roughly equate to good vs evil, although not in every case.
Influencing this stance ranges from what you
say to people to what actions you take, including those in sub quests, which in turn influences the storyline. However, the game itself
basically makes the stance you followed redundant as right at the end you are given a choice of following the Open Palm or the
Closed Fist, which means no matter what you do in the game, the ending itself can pretty much be determined minutes before you defeat the last boss making
the whole dynamic storyline and stance thing a little pointless really.
With all this aside though, the game still does offer a well rounded RPG experience and is mostly fun and enjoyable, not to mention addictive due to the
immersive storyline and the pick up and play gameplay. On one hand the game may be simplistic and repetitive, but it still has that "I'll just play for
one more hour" RPG addictiveness to it which in a way is enhanced by the basic approach to the combat and XP system. One of the cooler parts to the
gameplay is the occasional "mini game",
triggered by certain events in the storyline. These can include retro style birds-eye view air combat (using fictional flying machines), side on Double
Dragon style fighting and action heavy parts of the normal gameplay to name a few. Once unlocked, these mini games are accessible from the main menu and
can be played at any time, further enhancing the game's pick up and play appeal. It may be simple, but Jade Empire is definitely good for a quick hand to
hand combat fix, much like a traditional fighting
Jade Empire is a decent RPG, but everything from the menu design and XP system, to the level design, basic fighting system and graphics absolutely
reek of "console port". The only positive coming from this is the fact the game is well suited for control pad use and that the Xbox 360
controller works perfectly without any effort required from the gamer whatsoever, but even then that probably isn't going to appease the majority of PC
gamers interested in an RPG. If you can look past the flaws
and strong Xbox feel, Jade Empire is definitely a fun and addictive experience, but overall it is perhaps best suited for the casual gamer who
prefers real time control than character and general game depth in their RPG gaming. Basically, if you've always wanted to mix the most basic and
simplified elements of Fable and Mortal Kombat together, Jade Empire is for
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