Jade Empire | Bioware

I am thousands of hours into Dragon Age Inquisition and love it very much. But, to change pace for a while, I got my hands on a delightful, older Bioware title: Jade Empire. It’s a fantasy Mulan-style, wuxia (martial arts) story, with a very good plot and nice characters. Romance is there too. It’s a little buggy but, unlike Knights of the Old Republic, plays smoothly once you sort out the initial bugs. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Fun and satisfying stand-alone but incidentally could have been longer. However, it’s refreshing that it’s a standalone and I can enjoy a complete ending for once.

Bugs

The Steam edition runs smoothly on my Windows 8 (unlike Knights of the Old Republic that crashed a lot), but you need to:

  • copy steam.dll from your steam folder to your game folder, otherwise the game crashes on launch saying it can’t find steam.
  • Disable soft shades if you experience graphical glitches.
  • Sometimes you may experience a weird bug when you see everything zoomed in. Save the game and load it – that fixes it.
  • Steam overlay doesn’t seem to work for screenshots. Use print screen and screens will save to the game folder.

Gameplay features

A selection of different class characters, three male, three females, with one set backstory, you are just choosing gender and class abilities.

Sagacious Zu

In this game you focus on collectng ancient powers for an amulet and and learn wuxia styles, collecting stat bonus books along the way. There are three power stats: stamina, chi and focus. Focus controls weapons and it is also useful for slowing down time in combat. You can follow the way of the open palm = good or closed fist = evil.

Although you can find / unlock or be rewarded with many interesting styles, you only really need one of each fighting type: martial, support, weapon and magic. Save the points for some later styles – you cannot respec points once you allocate them. My personal preference is: leaping tiger – chi thief – the stone power from Tien’s landing – Crimson Tears (arena in Imperial City) – Jade Golem

I find that Leaping tiger that you can get at the start of the game is sufficient for a long time. Some later recommended styles are stone magic from a trainer in Tien’s Landing if you are open palm, chi thief you get when you arrive to Tien’s Landing and blades you get from an arena warrior. There are also transformation power and I would wait until you can get Jade Golem from a quest in the imperial city. That’s all you really need, points do not need to be allocated to all aspects of a given power but I like maxing out all aspects of leaping tiger and definitely increasing the power of jade golem. For magic powers, focus on damage and decreasing their chi cost and for weapons – decreasing the focus consumption.

There are minigames, a straight down shooter for extra prizes and a bit of a side story about one of the companion characters. After completing a playthrough, you can restart at a more difficult level and the game imports some of your first playthrough’s elements like skillsets and health/mind/chi bars.

Story

The story and setting are interesting: fantasy wuxia style story, with spirits and emprerors and twisty plot focused on power struggle – it’s very good. It’s a story of a plot years in the making and involves an ancient creature of great beauty and dignity. The main character starts out as a student in a tiny village but their fantastic, beautifully drawn destiny slowly unravels. The antagonist is very good, but to discuss the antagonist would be to spoil too much. Suffice it to say, I think they are one of the better opponents I have come across in games, an actually clever antagonist. I greatly cheered on for my good oriented main character, the story was immersive and fun and sidequests and power-collecting pulled me in. The characters are varied and fun, with interesting backstories. I like them all, but the backstories were underdeveloped. A lot is stated, when there was room for exploring the issues in potential side quests. It’s an aspect that Bioware greatly improved on in later games.

The journey will take you to fantastic locations, even a beautiful other world. For an older game, they are really beautifully rendered.

As always with Bioware, the areas were very interesting, beautiful , serene or creepy and sinister. I loved them.

There is one particularly haunting ost track and the ost in general is very well matched.

I love the lore here and the many interesting sidequests in whch we help spirits and humans..they all feel so organic to the narrative. Episodic and support characters include mystical, majestic creatures. It’s lovely. You can enter an arena for a series of interesting battles. You can have a debate with a foreigner – the side quests are varied and I think this has always been Bioware’s strongest point; they diversify the types of sidequests as well as ways of solving them (puzzles, combat). A debate was something new. I’ve always wanted a battle of wits in a game.

I love how Bioware fine-tunes their writing and adapts to the feel of a given setting in their game- I really appreciate and respect that about them.

The design / UI is reminscent of a book / ancient scroll. Chapters are introduced that way, as are epilogues. Cut scenes can be skipped the second time you play them.

Romance

Male characters can romance Dawn Star, Sky and Silk Fox
Female characters can romance Sky and Silk Fox.

One of my favourite parts in Bioware games is romance, specifically gxb romance that I am interested in. They do a wonderful job in dragon age series and mass effect, and here, although the romance lacked the detail and nuances of later games, I was content with Sky, a “dashing rogue” – the romance fit the storyline, was appropriate to the setting and plotline and it was adapted to the character’s gender. They took care to add a cut scene – that was sufficiently satisfying for this game, but I am glad they expanded on romance in their later games. The mechanism for romance is simple – to continue it, simply talk with a Sky a lot and show interest / don’t tell him to go away. Sky is one of those characters who, given more screen time and a personal quest, might have gained a lot more depth. This applies to all characters, since as I said for my liking there is overall too much stating instead of showing in this game. That’s why I think the game could have been longer. He’s a dashing rogue and that feel is well rendered, the conversations are very nice and it was sufficient. Make sure to take him on a sidequest given by a guard captain in the Imperial City – when you look for a hiding actor.

REPLAYABILITY

The only minus that I’ve found is that, unlike later Bioware games, this isn’t really replayable because the starting characters only differer in class traits and it’s too short to really offer any great developments and branches, there isn’t much reason to replay. The brevity of the game also works against the powers you collect- there is not enough time / not enough quests to learn them. It really feels, like this game deserved to be longer. Once you play the story and discover the twist, the second playthrough is more for testing out other powers. Again, this is something later Bioware games improved: e.x I am on thousands of hours into Inquisition (and counting, I can play and replay that game series forever). Still, I would replay Jade Empire at a later date to return to the story, just like I would reread a favourite book.

I dislike a few of Bioware titles, most notably Andromeda but games like Jade empire take the sting away. Overall, despite the minor issues, Jade Empire ranks among my favourite bioware titles along with Me 1-3, and Dragon Age series and I will return to it.

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