Jade Empire Xbox
Published by Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by Bioware
Release Date: Out Now
Jade Empire, an introduction.
If you had to pick a developer who had constantly produced a high level of quality, it's a fair bet that Bioware would be a name that springs to mind. Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic are just two of their previous gaming classics. Almost single handed they revived the dying PC RPG genre and it is thanks to Bioware that Xbox owning RPG fans have games to be proud of. Jade Empire is their latest effort and without giving anything away, it's another masterpiece.
What's the game about?
Until now Bioware have created RPG's based on a movie or other such licence. Jade Empire represents the first big game that Bioware have thought of and created themselves without any limitations or conditions. A whole new combat system has been created. A completely new environment also had to be created and on both accounts Bioware have excelled. As the title may suggest, Bioware decided to set the game in an oriental land based on Ancient Chinese mythology. It's a land full of spirits, good and evil and the game's story is one that begun when your character was just a baby. The land is in the grip of a mighty evil force that can be traced right back to the Emperor himself. Only you, as the last of the spirit monks, can restore order but you'll have to be careful as things are not always as they seem and it's not always easy to figure out who is on your side and who isn't. I don't wish to go in to the game's story in any detail (as that would spoil the game) but suffice to say it's has a few major twists and will keep you interested from start to finish.
What's good about the game?
Reviewing a game such as Jade Empire is quite difficult. It's all too easy to gush and make the review sound like a celebration but in all honesty there's a lot that's absolutely first rate in Jade Empire. The game has all the trademarks of Bioware's previous great games. There are some great characters that interact with each other and respond to your decisions. It's possible to develop closer friendships or even alienate them with the path you take in the game. The story is superb and I honestly couldn't get away from the game until I had seen how it unfolds. There's quite a lot to do as well and some of the side quests are actually quite lengthy.
Bioware took the decision to include a real-time combat system in Jade Empire but thankfully it's a rather good one and won't deter those who normally prefer a turn-based system. Throughout the game you'll acquire different martial art techniques (through purchase or reward) and you can choose to have any four of these active at any one time. The chosen four martial art styles are mapped to your directional pad and you can chose any of these four styles at any time, even during combat. You'll have basic attacks, combo attacks and power attacks. You can even have chi (the games magic, if you will) based attacks that are more powerful. Chi can also be used to heal you. Naturally there are also blocks that can be performed but you can also activate a focus mode which temporarily slows the action down and allows you to do more damage. This slow motion will only last until either you deactivate it or the focus gauge runs out. As your character levels up you'll be able to increase the effectiveness of your martial arts styles as well as increase your health, chi and focus gauges in the manner you wish.
What's not so good about the game?
For a Bioware game Jade Empire can be considered short. My first play through the game took around 20 hours. Naturally though there were side quests I didn't complete. Because you can play with a variety of characters, have different romances, have different endings and play through on 3 difficulty settings there's a lot more to the game than you'll find in one play through. As with Knights of the Old Republic you can be good or bad and the game will throw choices your way constantly. The top difficulty setting is also much more difficult and although I haven't played through completely on this setting yet, from what I've seen of it so far I expect the total play time to at least be doubled when I do so as it's much more difficult that the other two settings. Long load times are something else that could be complained about as could the autosave system than can seem a bit obtrusive at times.
How does it look?
It's often been a bugbear of mine how poor the frame rate has been in a lot of the console games we've seen over the years. Whilst the frame rate does dip, a little, from time to time in Jade Empire it didn't disappoint me, because the game looks stunning. Actually the frame rate seems much improved from the Xbox version of the Knights of the Old Republic games which is saying a lot as the graphics seem to have received a significant improvement. The outdoor areas are perhaps the most impressive with lush fauna and flora that helps to make the game look special. There's a good range of magic based attacks in Jade Empire and these also look good. The character models are perhaps as good as you're going to see on the current generation of consoles and the facial animations during the dialogue are impressive.
How deaf gamer friendly is the game?
There's little point in wasting words here so let's just say the game is superb for deaf gamers. The only omission I noticed was that when the final credits roll there is some humorous dialogue from some of the voice actors and this dialogue is not subtitled. Everything in the game is in text and it's superb. There aren't any audio captions but I couldn't find any problems. However Jade Empire has many side quests and whilst I've played through the game more than once I can't claimed to have completed all the quests on offer but I have done a lot of them and I couldn't find any problems.
Jade Empire is a masterpiece and on its own justifies the asking price of an Xbox. On my first day with the game I played 12 hours and 2 days later my first play through was complete. I simply couldn't keep away from the game because it was so enjoyable. The story is fascinating and it gripped me right from the beginning. Yes it may be shorter than Knights of the Old Republic but the story is more focused and it's virtually guaranteed that on the first play through you'll not want to do too many side quests as you'll want to progress the story to see what happens. The game has action, romance and different endings. What more could you ask? Without a doubt the most impressive Xbox title we've seen to date.
Overall Game Rating: 9.6/10
Deaf Gamers Classification
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Jade Empire is an astounding RPG and one of the best games on the console. All we need now is news of a sequel for the next generation Xbox.