Review by Psalm51
"KotOR marries and Eastern woman and pow, sock, thud..."
Firstly... Let me say this from the start, Jade Empire isn't one of Bioware's better titles. If that statement bothers you then stop reading the review right now. Like any development team, Bioware had and continue to have their highs and lows. After the brilliant Baldur's Gate games, along came Never Winter Nights (NWN) and it was so-so. I've played and completed the whole NWN trilogy and rated them (an average score over the three games) 75%. Perhaps it was limitations to do with the game engine but the combination of clipping problems, poor team mate AI and pathing/warping problems that weren't fixed even in the second expansion, all conspired to bring the game down. You ended up with the feeling that Bioware simply didn't care enough to fix the faults. Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) was a great game. Along came Jade Empire, using the same engine, voice talent and gameplay style and it is simply not quite as good. I suspect that Bioware are aware of this fact as, from the perspective of five years after the Xbox title was released, there is no news of a sequel. The PC Special Edition title also bombed at retail in 2007, so perhaps Bioware are wise to think long and hard before starting work on a Jade Empire 2. Anyway, that's me started...
Introduction - Sometimes I wonder how Industry reviewers come up with some of the things they say about games. They said Jade Empire is a short game. Nope, they are wrong there, as the game is not short. Now, it is universally accepted that the first Fable game was short but I would remark more that the first Fable game ended abruptly, just when you thought there was more to come. Industry reviewers also said Jade Empire was a straight button-masher. Wrong again as there are a number of parts in the game where a specific strategy or fighting style is needed to progress. Another aspect Industry reviewers got wrong was failing to point out the poor start Jade Empire had. I've read many reviews and no-one comments on the poor start. The start in KotOR was perfectly judged (leaving the damaged space ship before it blew up was cool!) whereas the start in Jade Empire was simply brutal, unless you were starting the game for a second time or had somehow mastered the initial controls. Whereas the voice work/talent in the game is generally of a high standard, Bioware simply failed to take the bull by the horns and do it properly. One of my favourite films is Enemy at the Gates, but that film comes across as barely believable when both the Russians and Germans speak English, in Russia! Enemy at the Gates should surely have been released as a foreign language title, with English sub-titles. The same problem exists in Jade Empire, where the whole setting is convincingly Eastern, but the western pseudo-American English voice work simply jars and diminishes the experience. Anyway, enough of the griping!
Gameplay - 5 out of 10. IMHO, Bioware should have developed Jade Empire as a turn-based game, like KotOR. The real-time fighting works, but can be real shonky on occasion. Thankfully they included the ability to change fighting styles while the game is paused, but that's about it. You can't access your inventory, level-up or anything like that while the game is paused. There is a reasonable amount of depth in the gameplay, but this tends to get negated by having enemies that can only be hurt by a specific style of fighting. On the plus side, I'd say that Jade Empire is a very "mature" game, with long periods of the game focussing almost entirely on diplomacy and conversations. The last two FEAR expansions were like that and games seem to benefit from separating story elements from fighting stages. A worthy mention goes here to levelling-up. In Baldur's Gate, levelling-up didn't occur that often and was a fairly complex thing. In Jade Empire, levelling-up consists of spreading points over your primary abilities and fighting styles. It can be done without much care or attention and can be considered as either a plus or a minus, depending on how much fun you get out of that sort of a thing. Think KotOR levelling-up, divide by two and you have pretty much got it!
Story - 7 out of 10. Well done overall, but, by Bioware standards, a little weak. The word I'd use is predictable. The open palm/closed fist system for picking and choosing good and bad responses in conversations is expertly done. The story comes across as a clothes-horse for a better set of clothes than is provided but is otherwise better done than in most games.
Graphics/Sound - 9 out of 10. With the exception of the over-use of American-English voice talent, the sound and music are both top notch. Praise also goes to Bioware for creating a pseudo-language for some of the Eastern Voice work. If they had been more bold and stuck far more with this pseudo-language and sub-titles, this section would be marked ten out of ten. The graphics are great, with a slightly improved KotOR engine used. Bright visuals with vivacious colours feature throughout and the visit to "heaven" is a sight to behold. This is one aspect of the game that is hard to criticise!
Play Time/Replayability - 7 out of 10. As already commented on, it's not short. My first playthrough came in at 26 hours, which is two or three times longer than it takes to complete the Single Player campaign in some FPSs these days. Sure, when judged against other RPGs, then you might think differently. The point here is that Jade Empire is an "action-RPG" and not a more traditional RPG. Action RPGs can be shorter or longer, it's the quality of the action here that counts. I can't remember if Fable is about the same length as Jade Empire but both are about right for intense action-RPGs. Play it again? Yes you can and on a harder difficulty too. The hardest difficulty is unlocked as you complete the game the first time but do you really want to destroy your mouse buttons that way? No, I don't think so...
Final Recommendation - 7.5 out of 10. Think of a game with great graphics and music, weak and generally predictable story and gameplay that fluctuates between the sublime and shonky and you've got it for Jade Empire. To repeat myself, it's not short, not a button-masher; for the newcomer, starts brutally but is otherwise a good example of a true Bioware game. As it happens, I like Bioware games and thus came away being happy that I'd played Jade Empire. The ending is well done (somewhat making up for the bad start) and thus I award Jade Empire my official 75 out 100 award! If you spot it in a bargain bin somewhere, install and play it. You won't regret it...
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 04/06/10
Game Release: Jade Empire: Special Edition (EU, 03/02/07)
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