Jade Empire Xbox Review
Microsoft desperately needed a first-rate role-playing game released on their Xbox console. What the Xbox is legitimately known for is its first-person shooters and action games. It isn’t really known for its role-playing games as the Sony Playstation 2 could be the console with the better end of RPGS. Last year Microsoft only received two titles that are arguably top notch with Fable and KOTOR 2. So it came to no surprise that a lot hinged on if Microsoft could deliver another role-playing game to hold people over until the next generation titles. Who would Microsoft look to for a development house to take on the responsibility of delivering the goods and please the fans? None other than Bioware themselves and this time they are creating a whole new universe to experience.
Bioware, the renowned Canadian developers, created the original masterpiece of Knights of the Old Republic. Besides their debut on the Xbox with KOTOR, they have been well known for their PC titles. Bioware revolutionized how role-playing games are played on the PC with both Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2 and their respective expansion packs. After that, Bioware ventured into the D&D realm with Neverwinter Nights which has proved to be quite successful. Neverwinter Nights has spawned two expansions already and Bioware has passed the torch onto Obsidian Entertainment just like they did with KOTOR 2. When Bioware was finished with the original KOTOR last year, they decided to move into a project that hopefully would turn out to be bigger than KOTOR itself with Jade Empire.
To start off, you will begin with choosing your character from a group of different character models and archetypes. There’s the diversity of quick characters that serve well with fast paced action or you could resort to becoming all mighty and powerful. If you are curious, there are of course the magic users for those who can’t get enough of sorcerers and wizards from the Dungeons & Dragons world. Whichever direction you decide to follow with character selection, there’s bound to be several ways to approach the game and begin your journey. After that, you are able to pick the name you want to use or better yet, use the random name generator and go with what they give you. The names are quirky and sort of fun to mess around with if you aren’t itching to get into the gameplay. Lastly, before you begin your quest, you can customize which fighting styles you want to use in the game initially. You can only select two so choose wisely because it will take a little time to gain and learn the other fighting styles.
The question that has been floating around is if the combat system would be stellar. Could Bioware actually create a real-time combat system that could compare to their great turn-based games from the past? Well the combat is fully in real-time and it couldn’t be more fitting for a game as epic as Jade Empire. The fighting styles incorporated into Jade Empire all have their own unique look and stats that go with them. Some are lighting fast and help with a one on one fight, while others may be more powerful to wipe out a huge group. The stronger the attack is, the better it will be able to break through the enemy’s block. Being able to block and dodge yourself comes in quite handy as you’ll notice that at times you are outnumbered and must think strategically to overcome the odds. As stated earlier, some fighting styles favor magic use. Being able to fire away all your fireballs can help with long distance attacks to pick the enemies off from afar. The last two things Jade Empire has in its repertoire for the combat system is weapon use and the Focus ability. Fighting with weapons will increase your strength but may open up weaknesses in your attacks. The focus ability assists you with slowing down the enemies during combat to gain the upper hand by analyzing the situation easier and being able to plan your attacks.
Jade Empire introduces an ethics rating; the reaction which you will receive from the NPCs you react with throughout the story. Based on your character’s actions and decisions, the ethics rating will be affected and it will show through conversation. There are also the KOTOR similarities of your good and evil tendencies being tracked. Bioware mixed it up a little and have you picking your philosophical beliefs instead of “good vs. evil”. Each conversation offers alignments to certain paths and beliefs so beware of what you pick and choose wisely. Other than that, there’s more added into the gameplay to mix it up a bit and add more depth. “Harmonic combos” can be accomplished while fighting which are gorgeous to pull off. You will overpower any enemy with these combos and it’s just so darn sweet to watch in full motion.
Jade Empire isn’t without its flaws though. The flaws that stick out to me relate to my personal devotion to Bioware RPGs. I have been following Bioware for quite some time since my first play through of Baldurs Gate 2 when I was a freshman in high school. One thing that Bioware did that no other RPG really could emulate was allowing you to create your own party and go adventuring with a number of playable characters at your side. Throughout Jade Empire, you will be having numerous sidekicks joining your group but unfortunately only one follower can be brought along during combat. So this just sticks you with only one character that will aid you and another downfall is that you can’t even control them. You will be able to receive support from them and they barely ever die since the enemies usually concentrate on you but it would have been even better to gain some control over that NPC. If Bioware would have given the option to control the NPC, it would have made the game even sweeter.
Jade Empire even goes farther than KOTOR 1 & 2 with the graphics department. While KOTOR 1 & 2 had technical problems such as botchy framerates and glitches, Jade Empire doesn’t have any to speak of. Or I may have possibly been lucky and not encountered any just yet. Whatever the case, Jade Empire runs smoothly and there’s never a down point when playing. Beyond that, Jade Empire continues to impress me on how Bioware pays attention to the environments.
The environments are outstandingly vivid with detail. The world of Jade Empire has that dreamlike look to it and shimmers at every opportunity. The architecture resembles classic China but maintains the unearthly feel to the whole outlook of it. Outside of the environments, Bioware has stepped up with the character models and their appearances. They are astonishing and they all look to have had a lot of work put into them. Bioware took the right steps with delivering one of the most satisfying and pretty games on the Xbox. The only flaw could possibly be the camera but it is easily overlooked by the fact that it will never prevent you from enjoying the full experience of Jade Empire.
Similar to past Bioware titles, Jade Empire continues the trend of great audio. The voice acting of course stands out like past titles but this time there’s barely any hiccups with voice glitches that screw up. The music helps emphasize the mood of the game and delivers a fully rounded game. The music also follows the ancient Chinese theme which feels more authentic then ever. The soundtrack I would actually buy in stores if I was to ever run across a copy, that’s how great they did with the audio. If that wasn’t enough to talk about, the sound effects when fighting never let me down once. When I thought there was going to be a loud pop of the knee, it was there to accompany my brutalization of the opposition. The audio is more rounded than ever before in any Bioware RPG.
If you look for mini-games in your RPGs, then Jade Empire might be right up your alley. There’s a clever shooter old school style like Asteroids where it’s top-down and all hectic. What’s even better is that the mini-games can be unlocked and played right from the start menu. The main criteria that any worthy RPG must meet are to have lots of replay value and length to it. Jade Empire has 20 hours+ of gameplay the first time around if you miss some sidequests, don’t play too much of the mini-games and jet through the conversations. If you take your time, it could be up to 23 hours your first time through. What Jade Empire has that many RPGS don’t is that you can play through this three times and still have different situations occurring. If you are one fighting style and you select an option, there’s another option waiting for those who follow another path. There’s so many branches on this tree that it would take all day just to describe how beautiful it is to see an RPG with this much depth.
Bioware has built an enriching storyline that it is easy to immerse yourself into. Beyond the excellent storytelling, Bioware has stepped up on the graphics, put more depth into the sound, and created something that not too many thought they could; an accessible combat system that players will be able to pick up and learn in no time. Jade Empire is my personal favorite RPG on the Xbox and should stand the test of time for a long to come. You’d be missing out if you are going to pass up on the opportunity to play Jade Empire. There’s so much to talk about within Jade Empire that I may have missed some but know this, Jade Empire is among the Top 5 games on the Xbox ever to be released. No other RPG released this generation could match up to Jade Empire and I am glad Bioware had the balls to go through with the game.