Genre : RPG
Developer : Jade Empire
Publisher : Microsoft
Release Date : Spring 2005
On the list of great game developers, BioWare is right up there at the top. You would be hard pressed to find a more consistent developer that continually turns out high quality smash hit after high-quality smash hit. If BioWare is anywhere on the box, you know you're in for some pure gaming bliss.
That's exactly what we experienced when we got a chance to see and play BioWare’s latest gem Jade Empire at E3. Any time that we here at WorthPlaying get a chance to check out a new title from BioWare for the very first time, we can barely keep it together. So to say we were a little excited about the chance to see and play Jade Empire would be a massive understatement.
Coming right off the heels of one of the greatest RPGs of all time in Knights of the Old Republic, BioWare is once again mixing genres together in an RPG. This time, unlike many of their past games, every aspect of the RPG has been designed by BioWare. After seeing the world of Jade Empire myself, I have newfound respect for the creativity within BioWare.
Jade Empire takes place in a mythical rendition of China where the supernatural is a part of everyday life. While most of the story is a closely guarded secret, we do know a little about it. As one of several martial artists, you will fight your way across China to fulfill various missions, including regaining your master's stolen sword, and stealing ancient scrolls from a heavily-guarded temple.
You start off by picking a character, and you begin to learn different martial arts styles, which double as powerful magic, under your master’s watchful eye. You become increasingly powerful as you defeat enemies and learn new styles.
Unlike KOTOR, the combat in Jade Empire takes place in real time and plays out like a pretty traditional fighting game. The A and X buttons serve as your 2 attack buttons, Y will put you into "Focus Mode," and B is used as your dodge and block button.
The controls are responsive, and pulling off combos is no problem at all. As I mentioned above, you can learn different martial arts styles as you progress. There are over thirty different styles that you can learn, and each one has its own set of moves and combos. While the fighting system is very simple and easy to get into on the surface, all of these different styles really add a lot of depth to it. Not only does each one have different moves, but each fighting style has a use in the game.
There is no single style in Jade Empire that rules them all some styles are better suited for certain enemies, or certain situations (such as a group of smaller enemies as opposed to one large one), than others. It's very important to learn which ones work best against other styles. The whole leveling system in Jade works a lot like KOTOR's. As you use a weapon or a fighting style, you gain more experience with it and your attacks become stronger.
The coolest feature of the fighting system with out a doubt is the Focus Mode, or as I like to call it, "the Holy S*** Mode." While in combat, you can switch to Focus Mode by hitting the Y button. While in this mode everything is in slow motion but you, much like Max Payne. You can only stay in Focus Mode for a limited time, and a clock on the screen shows you how much time you have left before it runs out.
Besides slowing down time, you have access to your Chi in Focus Mode, which increases the damage of your blows. The effects of both of these combined are quite stunning. One example we saw had the main character run up to an enemy while he was still in normal mode and attack him with his sword. He landed a few blows but was not experienced in that weapon yet so he did not do much damage to him. The BioWare guy then showed us how in Focus Mode, you can power up your weapons with Chi, and took the man's head off with one swipe, leaving a fountain of blood shooting up from his neck before his lifeless body fell to the ground.
This game is, of course, eminently suitable for children. They'll love it.
Just when we thought this game could not possibly get any cooler, BioWare proves us wrong and blows us away by showing us "Demon Form". This feature can only be described as badass! There are times in Jade Empire where you are faced with enemies that are many times your size and much more powerful than you in your normal form. So what do you do when you are face to face with one? Why, morph into your own really big and powerful demon, of course! When in Demon Mode, you have full sets of combos and special powers that you can only unleash while in this mode.
That's just with one demon. You can acquire many completely different Demon Forms, by defeating each demon you encounter. If you manage to take out, say, a giant elephant demon, you'll be able to become a giant elephant demon.
Overall, we're very impressed with the fighting system in Jade Empire. It's very simple and easy to get into, but also very complex and deep. The controls already felt great and extremely polished, even in this beta.
We did get to see a bit of how the story system works, although we didn’t actually pick up on any parts of the story it self. Just like in KOTOR, you have the ability to pick your own path in Jade Empire by the things you say and do. And depending on your comments and actions, you can turn out to be good or quite evil.
Overall, this system is much more dynamic then that in KOTOR, as your actions will not only effect the story, but your skills, Chi and other factors. The dialogue itself is handled the same way it was in KOTOR, with conversation branches affecting NPCs' reactions, which worked great in that game and continues to shine here. Jade Empire moves the story along with both in-engine cutscenes as well as pre-rendered movies. We got to see one of the CGI cutscenes ourselves, where a giant war golem trashed the gates of a city, and it was simply amazing!
At this point we had already been extremely impressed with the game and had no idea what we would see next. This is when our BioWare guy showed us one of the minigames in Jade Empire, and once again our jaws dropped. To get from place to place, you fly a ship called the Marvelous Dragonfly, which is done in a top-down shooter environment that reminds us of the old, classic shooter Xevious. You have mounted guns to deal with aerial targets, as well as bombs to drop on the ground.
Right now this is "just" a fun minigame, but BioWare is planning on having this play a pretty big role in the game; you'll be able to find better weapons and more ships. They hinted at using it as a means to unlock different things based on how well you do, and did not rule out the possibility of being able to post your scores in online rankings on XBL.
Not only were we wowed by Jade Empire's ground breaking game play, but we were also wowed by its great graphics. To put it simply, Jade Empire is one hell of a beautiful game. On the technical side of things they are using some advanced effects such as overbrighten, rim lighting and bump-mapping. The rim lighting really stood out the most to me, as it creates a soft glowing silhouette around the edges of the character models. This effect really makes the characters in the game feel and look more human.
Besides those, Jade Empire also has some amazing lighting that perfectly sets the mood depending on the scene. While at its core, this engine is based on the KOTOR engine, they know the hardware better now, and are using far more render paths and other hardware optimizations this time around. This has let them increase the number of polygons in the models quite a bit, and the difference really shows.
As far as the art style goes, BioWare has done an outstanding job on creating a mythical version of China. The city scenes feel and look like a high-budget Hong Kong action movie (like Hero), with appropriate and authentic-looking architecture, music, and clothing. All of the different environments and character models we saw were stunning.
BioWare has fully mastered this art form, and continues to advance it with every masterpiece they release. Jade Empire is their latest in a long line of stellar games. Jade Empire is by far the most impressive Xbox and well, console game that I saw at E3 this year, and yes, that includes the mighty Halo 2. Even in its early state, Jade Empire looks and plays great. We were unable to find any real flaws in the game whatsoever as it already has an incredible level of polish to it.
BioWare still has another six months or so to work on the game and fine tune it even more. The only bad part about Jade Empire is that it's not expected to ship till early 2005. If you were one of the millions that enjoyed Knights of the Old Republic, plan to reserve a copy of Jade Empire now!
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