Jade Empire: Special Edition

I’ve been playing this game for some time now, so I figured that it’s time to write a short review. I picked this game up because Shamus Young was raving about it on the Twenty Sided blog. He usually has good taste in games (or at least one that seems to be close to mine) so I decided to give JE a try.

Jade Empire

If you liked SW:KotOR you will love Jade Empire

Have you played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic? Jade Empire is essentially the same game only with different combat and follower system, and a brand new, original setting rooted in Chinese mythology and folklore.

Jade Empire

If you loved KotOR, you will love JE. If you hated it, then probably you should skip this game. The core mechanics are almost exactly the same as in the Star Wars franchise. You walk around, talk to people by choosing responses from a list, and when you encounter enemies you enter the classic “combat mode” in which you can’t save the game or leave the scene by simply running away from the enemy. There are few core differences though.

The first major difference you will notice is the combat. JE uses a real time combat system that requires some twitch button mashing. The combat is simple. You have 3 types of blows – standard punch that can be chained into a 1-2-3 combo, a strong hit that takes few seconds to charge up, but deals massive damage, and breaks through blocks, and area attack which knocks down non-blocking opponents near you. You can also block, and double tap WSAD keys to jump over the enemy, jump back or roll to the sides to avoid projectiles.

This might get boring after a while, but the game allows you to fight with different styles. Style you choose defines what your basic blows do. Some styles for example let you shoot projectiles using your standard punch attacks. Some do not deal damage put paralyze or shock the enemy. Finally some styles let you transform into demons or animals.

All in all it provides very flexible combat system. Personally I love the Storm Dragon + White Demon combination. The former is a support style that shocks the opponents with electricity and they end up standing around and twitching for few seconds. Once I shock them, I quickly switch to the White Demon style which deals massive damage with it’s 1-2-3 combo. With both styles upgraded to the max I can usually kill most grunts with a single combo.

Jade Empire

In combat you need to watch for 3 depleting bars on the top of your screen: health, chi and focus. Health is your basic HP value. It goes down to zero, and you are dead. Chi is your magical power which lets you heal yourself, or use special support or transformation styles. Focus let’s you enter matrix-bullet-time like mode during combat. Also, weapons such as swords and staffs drain your focus.

For me the best use of Focus was super-running. If you enter the focus mode outside of combat, you can get places faster, and the focus drain is minimal. In combat I usually stick to normal and support styles and leave weapons to my followers.

There are essentially 3 main attributes: body, mind and spirit – which correspond to health, focus and chi. You can upgrade these when you level up. There are also some secondary attributes like charm, intimidation and etc that can be used in dialog options. These can be improved by buying special training upgrades, or using appropriate crystals. Each time you level up you also get style points to upgrade the damage, speed and effect duration of your styles. It is all really simple and basic, and it makes the game flow quickly.

Similarly to KotOR you can play light side or dark side: here they are called the path of Open Palm and the path of Closed Fist. So far I only played as Open Palm character. The advancement in these paths happens the same way as in SW game: your have to make moral choices during dialogs with NPC’s and you are awarded eiher good or evil points. Some styles and crystals can be used only by followers of one of these paths, and some quests are closed to you if you are following a path different than the quest giver.

The RPG element – namely leveling up, is much less complex than in KotOR. You might say it seems “dumbed down” but then again, JE has relatively different game play. Things happen faster, combats are real time and complex leveling up and inventory management would bog things down a bit. It’s more of an action-adventure game than an old school RPG.

Your followers do not level up with you. You might see it as a disadvantage but it really didn’t affect my progress. I would usually use my followers as a distraction – they would tie up few of the enemies so that I do not have to deal with a large group at once. I would usually wipe out all the enemies targeting me, and then swing by and help my follower get rid of his/her opponents. In other words, the followers in JE are much less effective, or important than in KotOR.

Jade Empire

A big part of KotOR was managing your equipment, upgrading your gear and etc. Jade Empire doesn’t really have any inventory to speak off. You can find or buy crystals, that can be placed in your magical amulet to give you various bonuses. There are also various attribute upgrades you can buy and quest items that you just carry with you and automatically use in conversations.

Opponents don’t really drop loot either. When you defeat someone, their cash is somehow magically transfered to you. Same goes with crystals and quest items – you either get them during the conversations, or you see a little dialog box informing you that you gained a new item at the end of combat.

The environment is pretty static and non-interactive. The only objects that you can actually touch are various chests, barrels, and vases that dispense cash or crystals when opened or destroyed. You also get two types of NPC-s static conversation/quest dispensers and no-name roaming extras who don’t have anything to say. Some people didn’t like this, but it is a fairly standard feature of RPG’s so I don’t have complaints about this, just like I didn’t have complaints in KotOR. Fully destructive environments are awesome, but not really necessary in a RPG game.

The strongest element of this game is the story. The plot is interesting and full of big and little twists, the setting is colorful and well exposed, and voice acting is superb. There is a healthy dose of humor, drama and suspense between the main story and the side quests.

The visuals are also pretty stunning – each location has it’s unique look, and you really feel like you are traveling through different lands. Most environments are easy to navigate, and layouts of towns are relatively simple. It is difficult to get lost, and in most cases you do not need to run very far to complete local side quests. In some cases it might feel like you are on rails, having only a single path to follow to reach the target. But the game makes up for that by often giving you different choices on how to accomplish certain tasks.

I haven’t finished the game yet so I can’t comment on the ending, but so far I really enjoyed it. If you loved KotOR you should definitely pick this game up. It plays at much faster pace, and requires some button mashing – but I liked that. It made it a fun and relaxing past time.

My rating: 4.0 stars

The game is slightly buggy at times. Here are some issues I found so far:

  1. On the pirate island, one of the enemies failed to enter the battle mode and got stuck in the doorway. When I cleared the room, he was still there. I was unable to attack him, or pass through the doorway. I reloaded the game, fought that combat again, and the second time around it was fine.
  2. In the imperial arena, when I finished talking to the promoter, I got stuck looking directly at the floor. This was some weird camera glitch – I would simply see the floor and my legs, and couldn’t get it to reposition. I saved the game, reloaded it, and the camera fixed itself.
  3. In the side quest with Sir Roderic, I defeat him in the debate, and we decide to fight. Once the fight starts and I can’t move, and my character keeps spinning in place – the floor is transparent, and Roderic is standing in one spot and not doing anything. I haven’t found a workaround, but some people suggest that changing your resolution right before the fight might fix it. I simply skipped this battle. It was a side quest non essential to the main storyline.

Despite those little bugs, I still highly recommend the game.

[tags]games, gaming, jade empire, rpg, knights of the old republic, KotOR[/tags]

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