Jade Empire: Special Edition - PC - Review
Before the Xbox platform launched and paved way for Bioware to develop several exclusives for Microsoft, Bioware had been known as one of the best PC developers. With being the brilliant minds behind Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, they laid a foundation of clever storytelling and amassing several interesting characters within each game. It was with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic that took Bioware to the home console scene and garnered a whole new fanbase.
2005’s Jade Empire, originally published by Microsoft on the Xbox, has now reached store shelves for PC gamers to enjoy two years later. Jade Empire proved to the video game world that Bioware could create a title without a license attached. Before, Bioware had always worked within the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons & Dragons or with the Star Wars license, but Jade Empire was something more than just a title without a license attached. It was the first time Bioware was going to create an action-rpg. Now the question remains, is Jade Empire: Special Edition a faithful port? Are there bells and whistles to enjoy for fans that have already completed their quest on the Xbox? What does the game actually offer new? Get ready to explore a world of mythical creatures.
Let me start off by saying that Bioware is among the best storytellers in the video-game industry today. Their stories and characters have always captivated me to the point where I am hooked only after the first 10 minutes of gameplay. Jade Empire is no different – the story may not be as strong as KOTOR or Baldur’s Gate, but it certainly is stronger than what is being served in many action games nowadays. Centering on a heralded student from a martial arts school in the town Two Rivers, the journey is a long and enduring one of uncovering the truth behind why the dead walk the streets. The plot thickens when the evil – not to mention immortal – Emperor Sun Hai employs his enforcer, Death’s Hand, to attack Two Rivers. Death’s Hand also comes with his own servants – the treacherous Grand Inquisitor Jia who is the Lotus Assassin’s Lieutenant and Inquisitor Lim that has refined speech patterns that will send shivers down your spine.
As you can see, Bioware created a diverse cast of villains to hunt down and face off with. Death’s Hand is hands down the winner for best costume and late in the game, if you meet the right requirements, he could possibly end up being a party member. Like in all their RPGs, Bioware includes a party system for Jade Empire. You are able to take one follower along from the selection of 10 or more NPCs that you recruit along the way. Elder Scrolls IV fanatics will be disappointed to hear that the storyline of Jade Empire is linear. Many of the freedoms in the game come along with making decisions throughout the dialogue. Have no fear though, as linear as Jade Empire may be, the game will grab a hold of your interest right away and create a feeling that you are living and breathing in the world around you. Plus, to finish Jade Empire, players will be surpassing the 20 hour mark – just don’t compare it to the Elder Scrolls series.
One of the main reasons why Bioware RPGs are so great – and many fans will agree with me – is that their dialogue is always tipping the scale on the superb side. The voice casting adds depth to the characters and creates an atmosphere where it is realistic and believable. Hollywood actors John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, and Nathan Fillian, from the series Firefly, both lend their voices Jade Empire. Outside of those two Hollywood actors, video-game veteran Cam Clarke shares his voice for Bioware too. Cam is known for the legendary Liquid Snake character, though he has also worked with television series such as Timon & Pumbaa voicing Simba, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the voices of Leonardo and Rocksteady, and even Dungeons & Dragons anti-hero, Drizzt Do’Urden. The voice casting is top notch and Bioware deserves all the credit they receive for the dialogue they write.
Moving on, incorporated into Jade Empire is, wait for it… wait for it…, an ethics system similar to KOTOR. Many RPGs, such as Fable, are developing their own ethics system weighing the characters in the balance between good vs. evil. A majority of the ethics is based on dialogue options when you are speaking to NPCs. The evil side, which of course is bound to leave more guilt in the player for their decisions, doesn’t fit the main quest lineage as well as the good path. A few of the decisions are based on helping out a victim or ignoring them. The ethics system within Jade Empire works fine and I found no problems with it compared to other games.
For those skeptical about the graphics and the two years it had to endure, well let’s just say it has held up nicely. In particular, the art direction of Jade Empire is still great and has aged well. The environments are all impressive with detail expressed on every crevice of the towns and cities the player must explore. The characters are all uniquely designed to separate one from another. The scenery is what stands out above the rest.
The combat system is simple with it being based on a rock-paper-scissors approach. If you are being attacked with fast attacks, the best way to counter it is to use a block. To counter a block, players should use a strong attack and of course, fast attacks will counter strong attacks. If you are a fan of summons in your RPGs, you’ll be pleased to know that there is a variation of that included in Jade Empire. The ability to transform into demons and golems is integrated to assist the players when they are being outnumbered or even best used when fighting a boss. New to Jade Empire is the Rhino demon which is PC exclusive.
For those making the transition from controller to mouse and keyboard, you need not worry since you are able to use an Xbox 360 controller for PC games nowadays so you can use it now. I prefer the controller since the game involves a lot of action and it is fast paced. The controller works decently with the two new fighting styles that have been implemented into Jade Empire. The Viper style focuses on fast attacks that will poison the enemy over time. The Iron Palm is a slower method with more force than speed.
The Enemy AI has been tweaked – they are more intelligent than the Xbox counterpart. The enemies have learned how to block for the majority which indeed does make it a little harder to fight them in a large group. Unfortunately, I am sure many players will be able to button smash and be successful at completing the game. The last piece I want to speak about in the gameplay portion is the shooter mini-game – there are only a few of them scattered throughout the storyline and Bioware did an excellent job with these arcade missions. They are at least ten times better than what can be found in Kingdom Heart’s Gummi-Ship sequences.
Is Jade Empire worth a second look? I’d say so, especially if you have only played through the storyline once. Jade Empire: Special Edition is best for first-time players and PC gamers that prefer their keyboard over a controller.
Recommended System Requirements:
Processor: Intel Pentium 4 3.0 GHZ or AMD Athlon 64
Memory: 1 GB RAM
HDD Space: 8 GB free
Graphics Card: ATI X600 series or NVIDIA GeForce 6800 series (Shader Model 2.0 support required)
Direct X 9.0 compatible
Review Scoring Details for Jade Empire: Special Edition
The game endings hinge on one critical decision – with it there are three different endings to choose from so be careful of your decisions towards the end of the game. The game isn’t without its technical problems. The problems lie in the camera – though they aren’t a consistent problem. It will get stuck and create difficulty fighting a few bosses.
While this isn’t on par with first-person shooters or racing games, the graphics hold up after the two-year hiatus from the limelight. I’d go as far as they still somewhat compare to RPGs on the next-gen such as Enchanted Arms.
The combination of great dialogue and a veteran voice cast shows.
The level of difficulty is on the easier side so that may turn off hardcore RPG fanatics to traverse through Jade Empire more than once.
The ethics system is a great incentive to replay the game to find out the consequences with aligning with the opposite path. I like that Bioware took a chance with Jade Empire, especially with creating an action-rpg. Though, the idea of porting console games to the PC is nothing new.
Jade Empire remains one of my favorite RPGs from the last generation of consoles. It has style, depth, drama, and action all compact into one lengthy RPG. It may not have as much replay value as say Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights, but the artwork and the worlds created are breathtaking.