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Jade Empire: Special Edition Review

publisher: 2K Games
developer: Bioware
genre: RPG

PIV 1800, 1GB RAM, 8GB HDD, ATI X600 or NVIDIA GeForce 6800
ESRB rating: M

release date: Feb 26, 07
» All About Jade Empire: Special Edition on ActionTrip

After releasing RPG masterpieces such as Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox/PC) and Neverwinter Nights, Bioware turned to a new project, leaving both franchises in the hands of Obsidian Entertainment. Their next step was to launch a new action-flavored RPG for the Xbox. It was spring 2005 and things were still a bit shaky after Obsidian's enjoyable, albeit technically disappointing, PC RPG Knights of the Old Republic 2. So, while we were all installing patches and updates for KotOR 2, Bioware slowly made way for Jade Empire (Xbox). Contrary to expectations, Bioware delivered a somewhat simplified gameplay concept, decisively moving away from their traditional style. To put it more simply, it wasn't as intricate as NWN and it had less depth than KotOR. However, it did introduce a completely new setting and another well-written story. Two years later, Bioware releases Jade Empire: Special Edition, a tweaked and slightly improved PC version of its successful Xbox RPG.

Gamers who had the chance to play the Xbox version are most likely well acquainted with the story, but I'm sure the rest of you would appreciate to know what it's about (without spoilers, of course). After many moons of training, meditation and learning, you finally draw near to completing the school of martial arts, lead by prominent tutor, Master Li. Finishing the fighting school was a challenge, but you need to find out more about yourself and your heritage. An unexpected chain of events ensues. Many unknown foes are after your blood and everything around you seems to be falling apart. It's high time you begin a journey to discover your true identity, as well as what's causing unrest throughout the great Empire.

Again, I have to stress that Jade Empire: Special Edition is unlike any other RPG from Bioware. Your sole purpose is to succeed in mastering a variety of martial arts. The entire game revolves around combat and making the most out of the skills and fighting styles that are on hand. Mastering the basics is pretty much the key in this one. Everything else boils down to pulling off different moves and combos and, naturally, choosing a line of preferred responses during dialogue and so on. Certain features in this game come into view, showing off many familiar elements, resolutely used by Bioware ever since the original KotOR was released. One of the most obvious is, of course, the dialogue system - it comes straight out of KotOR. Another recognizable facet is character alignment. Facing first challenges and moral choices, also involves taking the desired path for your character - good or evil, which in this case, denotes a choice between the path of the Open Palm or the Closed Fist. Character alignment is mostly determined by speaking with NPCs or some of your companions.

Speaking of companions, there will be quite a few of them to accompany you as you march through the perilous regions of the Empire. Each henchmen or NPC you encounter along the way plays some part in the story. Some of them are crucial to the plot, while others give out quests or side-quests. Most of the challenges lying ahead take you on the usual ride, like rescuing people in distress, clearing out particular areas of enemies, etc. Combat is, of course, at the center of it all. Before you pull off a series of deadly moves, you have to choose one of the available fighting styles, which are easily accessed via mapped keys (1, 2, 3, etc.). This brings us to one of the improvements over the Xbox version. PC users are allowed to map 10 styles of combat, as opposed to Xbox owners that were limited to only four. Granted, it doesn't sound like much, but it certainly does streamline the proceedings, making for more fluent combat altogether.

I do have a few concerns with this game. Although countless gamers will surely snatch it up ("countless gamers"? - Ed), it's pertinent to mention that Bioware enthusiasts could be warded off due to the game's blatant lack of depth in certain aspects of gameplay. Namely, after playing for several hours, one does tend to get bored with simplified combat and the bland inventory system. Believe it or not, despite Bioware's traditional attention to detail in this matter, there simply is no inventory to slot items or weapons. Although I do appreciate having a straightforward interface, I sometimes truly feel the need to tamper with additional items, weaponry or armor. Instead of going through an endless amount of items in your "backpack," your character gets to buy weapons from traders and each time the new weapon substitutes the one you were wielding before. Another weakness is that there's not much to think about in terms of leveling. Hard-earned exp. points are distributed to the character's health, chi or intuition. The rest goes into improving specific fighting styles and the damage caused throughout combat. The whole system works without any hitches and is exceedingly easy to get into, though it does appear a bit thin when compared to Bioware's other achievements (KotOR or NWN).

On the other hand, the developers should be praised for making an effort to accommodate the common keyboard/mouse routine, normally used by a majority of PC gamers. Executing moves is simple, while targeting enemies is almost effortless.

Even with its visual polishes, it's often apparent that Jade Empire is behind the times (two years behind, in fact). Nonetheless, higher resolution and some of the visual effects improve things to some extent. The true quality of the game though, lies in the brilliant soundtrack and the admirable voiceovers (Eh? - Ed). Overall, the world and characters in Jade Empire are done with precision and devotion. It's a unique ambiance to say the least, with splendid artwork and accurately animated character models.

Jade Empire features but a handful of improvements over its Xbox counterpart. For the most part, the development team reworked the AI, which gives players a lot more to tackle this time around. Some new fighting styles were introduced with the PC version (such as Iron Palm and Viper). Other than that, there aren't any particularly noteworthy innovations. Plus, content wise, the game remained completely the same, offering as much as 20 hours of gameplay. Regardless, Jade Empire: Special Edition still has strong replay value, with different characters to choose from and different paths to take in terms of alignment. Also, for gamers who haven't played Jade Empire on the Xbox, this is your chance to get immersed into an imaginative new world and an intriguing storyline. It's still a good game that deserves your attention.

Important note: We're sorry, but we weren't able to take any screenshots from the game. The displayed screens were issued by Bioware before the game was released. Once again, we apologize for the inconvenience.


8.0   Very Good

An amazing variety of characters to meet along the way, rich and involving story, artwork, first-rate music and voiceovers;

Not many innovations since the Xbox version (gameplay wise), lacks more depth, character advancement and combat have been oversimplified.



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