Computer Games > Jade Empire
Platform: XBox, Developer: Bioware
Status: Inital notes.
I’m something of a fan of Bioware.
That is, I own every single game they’ve ever produced for the PC, from Baldur’s Gate through MDK2 to Neverwinter Nights. I don’t yet own all the NWN premium modules, but that’s because I haven’t completed both offical Expansion packs yet. Bioware produce good cRPG games, I like good RPG games, so I am a fan. This means that when they mentioned that they weren’t really planning on releasing Jade Empire on anything but XBox, I seriously considered buying one.
Then, a couple of weeks before it came out, I accidentally went on to eBay, accidentally found a decent offer, accidentally bidded for a shrink-wrapped XBox, accidentally upped by bit a bit, accidentally attached my Paypal account to the transaction, and, basically, accidentally bought an XBox.
As I say, I can be quite accident prone when I put my mind to it.
I preordered the game and picked it up at Lunchtime the friday it came out, then sat though the afternoon at work (Working, obviously) while it glared at me from its green box on my desk.
Then I almost left it there when I went home.
Eventually I made it home, put it in the drive…
…and lost the next three hours.
What is an RPG? When do we cross the fuzzy line that says “This is an Action-RPG” and go to “This is a 3rd Person Shooter with action elements”? This is probably an RPG, on balance. The main thing that appears to weigh in its favour is the characterisation and the character progression, all present down to the “Level Up, what do you want to upgrade?” every hour or so.
It plays like Knights of the Old Republic for the most part, the behind-and-above camera following you around as you wander the landscape, X to activate (Talk to/Read/Use) the closest thing, or toggle between various things. There are a few differences, though. The main one, and possibly the thing to be made the most of, is the combat system. When you head into a fight, the game becomes more like a beat-em-up than any kind of Role Playing. Fight, Block, Power Attack. If you find yourself in trouble you can drain your Chi (Mana) into your health bar, at possibly fatal cost to your ability to cast magic spells. You also have “Focus”, which you can spend on a kind of bullet-time effect. Weilding actual weapons (as opposed to unarmed martial arts) also costs you from this “focus” bar, turning the combat into an interesting weighing up of power. The combat itself is a kind of rock/paper/scissors of Block blocks Attack, Power Attack gets though Block, Attack distrupts Power Attack, with subsidary effects (Slowed, Paralysed) thrown in. On top of this none of these bars regenerate over time, so if you win a battle you are likely to be stuck with your power-bars as they are until you find a Healing point. Fighting alongside you will usually be one of your ‘Followers’ - but only one at a time. If they die, they resurect at the end of the fight. If you die, it’s game over. Save often :-)
Desipite how complicated the above looks, the combat works pretty well, although more than once I’ve died because it didn’t register when I was hammering on the “Block” button.
As you progress, you pick up different fighting styles, from Judo-like unarmed combat though magic projectiles, turning into demons and “Support” styles which do no damage but do things like drain their mana into you or slow them for a while. You can flick between these styles at any point, even in combat, with four assigned to the D-Pad at any one time (You can swap styles into the DPad during combat too, the game pauses while you do it). If you find a battle too hard you can lower the difficulty level at any (non-combat) point.
This is Bioware. There is a Lot Of Plot. The Jade Empire universe is stunningly realised with its own language and history told though books and scrolls you can read though as you find them. Or you could ignore the lot and go straight for the fighting. The story itself skims the line between strongly referencing every single far-east martial arts sterotype you can imagine and becoming a self-parody very well. The voice acting is mostly excellent, although the accents matching the bodies is occasionally a little jarring, though I’d imagine a parody badly-dubbed-karate-film would get very old very quickly.
The plot is pretty standard You Are An Orphan With An Unexplained Destiny fare, pretty well executed so far, with a convincingly evil villian who isn’t being KOTOR2.
Graphics and Sound.
Jade Empire pretty
Sound’s good too.