April 12, 2005Rated: M (Mature)Written by:
Jade Empire is the newest installment from Bioware, the creators of KOTOR and Neverwinter Nights. This time, they are doing their own, original property. Is Jade Empire the best RPG they’ve ever created? Find out in our review.Gameplay
Now onto the most important part: the gameplay. This is where Jade Empire hits and misses. The most disappointing part of the gameplay is the combat, which is sad, considering that it was supposed to be the highlight of the game. When you encounter an enemy, your character will automatically lock on to the closest enemy. You can tap either the left or right trigger to change targets, or hit both at the same time to take off the lock on. Taking off the lock-on will allow you to run in combat, but you’re less likely to hit and enemy. A is your standard attack button. X lets you do have a heavy attack, which takes longer to charge, but it can break through blocks. Hitting A and X at the same time will let you do an area attack, which does no damage, not knocks all the enemies around you back.
It’s great for when you are surrounded. B is your block button, but if moving the analog stick in a certain direction while holding down the B button, will let you dodge. The Y button is used to activate focus mode, which will slow down time to let you pull of major combos on your enemies. Focus mode drains focus though. The black button will let you add magic to your attacks, which will let you do more damage and the white button is used to heal yourself. Last but not least, the d-pad will let you change fighting styles. More on that later. Jade Empire has all the makings of a great combat system, but it falls short. The biggest complaint is your mobility while in combat. When you have locked on to an enemy, you can not run. You’ll literally be walking towards your enemy. This wouldn’t be so bad, if your enemy wasn’t able to move at high speeds when you’re moving so slow. Using the dodge feature is the best way to move around. Dodging backwards and sideways is fine, but dodging forward is frustrating.
When you hit B forward, you’ll either roll forward, or leap above your enemy and land behind him. Which one your character does is completely random. A lot of times, you’ll jump when you want to roll. It’s frustrating to no end! Also in combat, you’ll also find yourself missing the enemy even though he is only 2 inches away from you! Hopefully the combat is fixed in the next Jade Empire game.
Prepare for battle...
Even though the combat isn’t the best, there are a lot of things Jade Empire does right. The story is great. Certainly one of the best stories on the Xbox. Character interaction is also where Jade Empire shines. You’ll meet tons of people in the game and most of time, you’ll have a choice between a good and evil decision. Side quests are plentiful and fun. There are several ways to approach a situation, which gives you a reason to play through the game at least twice.Graphics
I’ll just say this right now. Jade Empire has some of the best graphics ever seen on the Xbox. What makes Jade Empire really stand out is the amazing lighting. This isn’t like Splinter Cell lighting where the emphasis is on light and shadow effects. The lighting in Jade Empire gives the characters and environments that glossy, shiny look. This look particularly fits with the game because it gives the gamer the sense of actually being in this mythical world. To be honest, without the lighting, Jade Empire would look just like any ordinary game.
Doesn't get no better than this...
The animations are extremely well done, especially in combat. The character’s movements and attacks are all very fluent and great looking. You can tell Bioware spent the time to make the combat as authentic as real martial arts. Facial animations are also very well done. All the characters lip sync along with the words and move smoothly. However, Jade Empire does suffer from typical problems in videogames. During combat, the camera sometimes swerves back and forth and all over the place, making it hard to target your enemies. There also some chugs in the frame rate, but these rarely happen and don’t really affect the game.
The environments in Jade Empire are beautiful. All the environments are based off all real Chinese building, locations, and structures. Playing Jade Empire is much like actually taking a tour through China. Every aspect people learn and see about Chinese culture is here. Once again, the lighting really helps draw gamers into the game. Watching the sunset along the coat of town port is one of the most amazing scenes you’ll ever see on the Xbox. The environments aren’t as interactive as say Zelda or Resident Evil 4, but you can open or smash the occasional crate or jar and parts of the environments do break off during combat.Sound/Audio
Much like the graphics, the sound is very well done as well. Bioware has always used licensed sounds in their past games, since they were creating games based on a license. Now that they’ve created a new property, they have more freedom to do the sounds as they please. Many of the sounds Jade uses are commonly found in kung fu movies, such as the loud punching noise. There is also a lot of breaking noises, since a lot of things tend to break in the game. Other than that, the noises in the game are pretty ordinary.
Where Jade Empire excels is in the voice acting. There are literally hundreds of different voices in the game. From the most important of characters to the most basic of street folk, everyone in Jade Empire has a voice. The voice acting is extremely well done as well. Most of the characters sound as if they are talking in real life, although, this could be a bad thing at times as dialogue can be very slow at points. There is some quirky dialogue here and there, but it’s not really that big of a problem. Bioware has also developed a completely new language to the game. They intended it to be Asian-like, but the problem is that it doesn’t sound very Asian. It sounds more like one of the alien languages found in KOTOR. Even though it’s not very Asian sounding, the new language was very well made and it makes the setting of Jade Empire more interesting.
Jade Empire also excels in the music department. Bioware has used authentic Chinese instruments to do the musical score for the game. The music works well with each of the environments. When you’re in a garden, you’ll nice, soft music. Once you enter a battle, the Chinese drums kick in. None of the music is really that memorable, but it fits well into the game.
Let nature speak to you...Replay Value
Jade Empire is essentially a dumbed down RPG. There are over 30 fighting styles in the game. Some martial, some weapons based, some magic. Martial are your main forms of fighting and does not cost anything to use it. Weapons do more damage, but cost focus to use. Magic does a lot of damage from afar, but costs chi. You’ll gain experience from defeating enemies and completing certain tasks. Once you level up, you gain ability points, which you use to increase your health, focus, and chi. You are also given style points, which you can use to level up your different styles. You can not buy new armor or accessories in this game. The crest your character receives near the beginning of the game serves as your only equipment manager. You’ll simply attach orbs that have certain properties to it and that’s all. The dumb down RPG elements may be a big disappoint for RPG veterans, but are a good beginning for people new to the genre.Final Thought
Jade Empire has all the elements of becoming the best RPG on the Xbox, but does not succeed. The game is certainly not anywhere close to the caliber of KOTOR. Never the less, Jade Empire is still a great game and every Xbox owner should take a look at it.8.6/
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