Jade Empire is one of those rare videogames I was actually able to finish all on my own. That reason alone is enough to make me recommend it to gaming spazzes like me who love videogames—but aren’t especially good at them. Admittedly, I had the difficulty set at its easiest, but then I doubt I would have made it halfway through the game otherwise.
For those of you who don’t know, Jade Empire is an action RPG from Bioware, the same people who lovingly brought us Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. There are more than a few notable similarities between the two games. In fact, a more apt title and description for Jade Empire might have been KotOR 3: A long time ago on an oriental continent far, far away…
Instead of the nefarious Sith, in Jade Empire you find yourself battling the Lotus Assassins and trying to save your master from his brother, the Emperor. There is, of course, the standard big RPG plot twist—which you can see coming a mile away if you pay enough attention. And just as in KotOR you can align yourself with good, evil, or neutrality.
Unfortunately, I have only had enough time to play through the game once, and so I opted for being a good, kind-hearted soul. I chose to play as Scholar Ling, the magic character. I figured this choice would help me survive longer through casting ranged spells from a distance, rather than engaging my enemies up close and personal. As usual my button masher instincts were way, way off. Despite the auto-aim feature, I had a terrible time killing enemies with magic. I much preferred striding up to them directly and hammering the ‘A’ button until they were good and dead. I even managed to expand my combat repertoire to the realms of evasion and power attacks. For the most part, though, I stuck to a single martial style, only using my weapon with demons and golems.
As the game progresses, you encounter a variety of central characters: humans, demons, demi-gods and ghosts, all of which join your party. However, you can only have one of them following you and participating in combat at any given time. When battling enemies, the primary use of your party members is to provide a tasty looking secondary target—so enemies don’t gang up on you specifically. They can also be used in support mode, giving you some kind of stat boost while being ignored by your enemies. **Cough** I went through the whole game without once using the support mode, so I can’t tell you how useful or redundant it is. The party followers themselves were an interesting bunch of characters, though. For a while I had one guy following me around just because he kept saying funny things and throwing wine at my head! I was able to access all the followers save one. I suspect, although I’m not certain, that this final character may have only been available for those choosing to play the game with evil intent.
Since this is a Bioware game, having multi-gender party members means you have potential love interests. As a female I only encountered one male character to flirt with. And, for reasons I assume pertain to the recording of less dialogue based on the gender of the character, I found myself flirting with two women as well. Comfortable as I am with my own sexuality, this is one of my pet peeves. In RPGs like this I choose to play as a female character—being a female myself—and more times than not I am disappointed by whatever love interest is written into the story. In KotOR I found myself wishing for a way to kill the male love interest simply because he was so annoying! With Jade Empire I found that if I’d played as a male, I would have had two women fighting over me rather than a single guy with a questionable criminal history. Okay, gender venting complete, I feel better now.
Anyway, thanks to the lowered difficulty setting I had no problem with combat. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the mini-games. You gain access to a magical-bug-helicopter-thingy early into the game and have the option of playing a Space Invaders style mini-game whenever you want to fly somewhere in the game. You can also set the difficulty on these particular games, but…you guessed it…I still had trouble. Thankfully you can skip them, but then you miss out on valuable swag and experience points. I sat for a good hour trying to beat one of these games, physically moving the controller in the direction I wanted to go, desperately hoping it would help me evade the pesky things that killed me repeatedly. I finally gave up and therefore have no idea what I missed. The next time I play I intend to have my boyfriend close at hand for a little tag team play when things get too difficult. I’ll leave the mini-games to him and keep the swag to myself—insert maniacal laughter. After all, that’s one of the primary reasons I keep him around.
However, the mini-games did provoke my appreciation of the autosave feature. Ever since I mistakenly destroyed my mother’s game of The Adventures of Zelda right before she faced off with Gannon, I have become an obsessive game saver. The wonderful part of the feature was, that at many points when I found myself about to save, the game autosaved for me. I consider that the greatest improvement over the gameplay in KotOR. The graphics on show in Jade Empire are also better, especially the character faces. In KotOR 2 everyone had Angelina Jolie lips, but that’s not the case in Jade Empire. At times your character’s facial expression will even change based on the dialogue options you highlight. Just in case you didn’t realize that terrorizing little old ladies would lead to the dark side, you glower menacingly as you issue your threats.
Overall, Jade Empire is an extremely solid game, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed mashing. I was so desperate to finish it that I went without sleep for several days. And, when I finally did sleep I dreamt of Jade Empire. There were also dreamy lightsabers and my high-school Latin teacher, too. Things got a little fuzzy after that. Anyway, I am already looking forward to playing through the game again. Maybe this time I’ll play as a guy and see if I can successfully flirt with the male love interest. It’s worth a shot, but I’m betting it won’t happen. By the way, for a good laugh, turn up the volume and sit through the game’s credits. It is well worth it.