Jade Empire: Special Edition PC DVD-ROM
Published by 2K Games
Developed by BioWare/LTI Gray Matter
Release Date: Out Now
Few would argue against Bioware being regarded as one of the finest developers of PC RPG games. It was only to be expected then that Jade Empire, released on the Xbox back in April 2005, would eventually make its way to the PC. After all Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic had arrived first on the Xbox and later made the successful transition to the PC. Few would have expected the wait to have been almost two years though. Things have moved on in those two years. Bioware's Mass Effect for the Xbox 360 is almost with us and we also had a sequel to their smash hit Neverwinter Nights. Can Jade Empire still seem as impressive as it did back in April 2005? Can it feel at home on the PC? Let's find out.
Jade Empire is set in an oriental land that's 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 never easy figuring out who to trust. 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 has a few major twists that will keep you interested from start to finish. You'll journey from your school in Two Rivers to the Imperial City and even Heaven itself in a bid to defeat the evil that's personified by Death's Hand, leader of the evil Lotus Assassins.
Jade Empire 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 very enjoyable and compelling. Once you start playing it's difficult to pull yourself away from the game. There are quite a lot of optional quests to do as well and some of the side quests are actually quite lengthy. Some of these quests are dependent on your character's alignment so if you've a good character it's not possible to take a quest that requires you to do evil. This is actually a nice aspect of the game as it means you'll want to play through the game at least once more to see what it's like being the antithesis of what you were the first time around.
A real-time combat system has been used in Jade Empire and thankfully it's a rather good one that shouldn'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 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.
The burning question is what does the PC version have that the Xbox version of Jade Empire didn't? Naturally the game has been tailored to cater for keyboard and mouse controls to feel at home on the PC. You can use a gamepad if you prefer but having used both control methods fairly extensively, I found the keyboard and mouse combination to be the most comfortable. The Xbox version allowed you to map four fighting styles to each direction on the d-pad. Here you can map fighting styles to a number key (0-9) allowing for quick access to ten styles. As with the Xbox version you can play as a variety of characters and during the course of the game there are possible romances to be had between certain characters. The PC version adds extra replay value by including an extra character (Monk Zheng) and a Jade Master Mode, which basically allows you to play through the game again with your character keeping their weapons and skills from your first play through. Naturally you'll need to complete the game once for this mode to be available and it goes without saying that it's more difficult than any of the previous difficulty modes found in Jade Empire. Other additions include new fighting styles and weapon styles, new ultimate gems, new enemies and a general improvement in the enemy AI. The package also includes a Jade Empire Art Book and a Jade Empire poster.
When you have a console game that's made the transition to the PC there are always question marks against the visual quality of the game. Jade Empire has been visually spruced up but the game's console roots are showing. Whilst the main game definitely looks better than the Xbox version, due for the most part to the game running at a higher resolution, you'll notice the cutscenes haven't had any noticeable form of improvement and they look a little ropey. The Xbox version had a few scripted dialogues where the speaker wasn't in clear view (you'd see their chin for instance) and these moments have unfortunately remained unchanged. I have encountered a glitch where you enter a new area for the camera to be pointing straight at the floor which is annoying. The only remedy for this is to exit the area and then re-enter. Minor niggles aside though the game does look noticeably sharper and even on a modest PC, the frame rate is superior to the Xbox version. Load times are much quicker too, which isn't a surprise since you'll install the whole thing to your PC hard drive.
In regards to its deaf gamer friendliness, Jade Empire is the same on the PC as it was on the Xbox which means subtitles are available and although there is some speech that isn't subtitled, for the most part you'll have no problems. All of the storyline dialogue is subtitled and all of the quest information is shown in text and can be recalled at any time. Tutorial messages are also shown in text. Floating text notifications warn you of status effects and you'll see words such as Immolated, Froze, Poisoned and Disorientated appear by your characters when they are suffering from these effects. Comments made by characters during battles are not subtitled and comments made on the character select screen (where you'll choose which character is accompanying you) are also not subtitled. Neither of these omissions cause any problems and deaf gamers will be able to enjoy the game. The game does support force feedback. Under Windows Vista (the operating system I played the game on) the force feedback didn't work but this is a problem with Vista and not the game. Those playing on computers using Windows XP should be fine.
It's taken Jade Empire a long while to arrive on the PC but for the most part the wait has been worth it. The graphics are slightly improved upon from the Xbox version but it would be fair to say that they are showing their age. However, on the whole Jade Empire is still an excellent action RPG with a compelling storyline and some really interesting characters. It's not one of the longest RPG's that Bioware have created (you're looking at around 20 hours to complete the game on your first play through) but with the addition of the Jade Master Mode and a variety of different characters to play the game through as, you're looking at a game that offers plenty of replay value. Jade Empire is easily going to be one of the best RPG's on the PC this year and if you haven't yet played the game then this is the best version so far.
Jade Empire: Special Edition is the best version of the game so far. Visually the game has begun to show its age and it's a shame that some of the dialogue scenes hadn't been tidied up a little to keep the speaker in full view. Minor niggles aside, this is a great action RPG that any fan of BioWare's previous games should not miss out on.