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Posted on Sep 17, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Jade Empire: Special Edition Review

By Ryan Stepalavich

Passed Inspection: Good storyline, unique combat system

Failed Basic: Little replay value, clunky controls, shoddy FMV.

When Jade Empire was released by Bioware in 2005 for the Xbox, it served as a benchmark for console roe-playing games to follow. It featured quick, fierce action, superb graphics, an engrossing storyline, and frequent fun mini-games that kept the player going. But, the question here is, how well did Jade Empire withstand the port to the PC world in Jade Empire: Special Edition?

Just like before, Jade Empire places the gamer in the role of the "Senior Student" of Master Li. The storyline moves forward at a rapid pace, allowing the student to learn the basics of the controls, mechanics and other rudimentary functions of Jade Empire, and then further thrusting the player into the conspiracies, assassinations, and overall messed up society of the Empire. The storyline is a fascinating hybridization of East-Asian folklore paired up with the old-fashioned American "spaghetti-western" tales of vendetta, double-crossing, and yes, even a little romance. While this may come off as a little cliché for some – being a hero with an unknown past, wise mentor with mild suspicion of ulterior motives, attractive heroine love interest, etc – it’s presented in such a way that makes it refreshing. As always with a Bioware title, there are multiple endings varying from ruling the Jade Empire to being slain in a mercy-killing, and everything in between. Even the choice of love interest may vary based on the gamers’ choices during the adventure.

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The combat system also beats out most of the other "traditional" RPGs out there. Jade Empire represents neither the turn-based, nor the "hack ‘n’ slash" RPG styles that proliferate the market today. Instead, Jade Empire plays much more like the "beat ’em up" styles of old, calling to mind classic titles such as Double Dragon, River City Ransom, or even something more modern such as The Warriors. This isn’t much of a stretch for Bioware, whose previous title – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – played much the same. There is a pre-combat pause in the game, allowing the player to assign enemies to the character and cohorts, and then combat begins. However, unlike Star Wars: KotOR, the player is required to click repeatedly for attacks, instead of allowing the game to resolve the battle in time. It gives Jade Empire a one-up on previous titles, as it makes the battles much more action-oriented and fresh.

It’s important to note here – and indeed this is the main problem – that Jade Empire immediately jumps out as a dated game for a console, not originally meant for use on the PC. The controls are set up in a traditional WASD format for movement, and the mouse is designed for camera controls in the third person. Left-clicking the mouse attacks, holding left shift heals, and the number row of the keyboard switches the player between different fighting styles – including the player’s weapon of choice. Compare this with the traditional Xbox controller, or any gamepad really, and it’s easy to see just how clunky the interface can be. The player will find him or herself in frantic click mode, trying to beat back demons, monsters, ghosts and other baddies, but often times such feats of frenzy aren’t necessary. Attacks are slow and sluggish, with combination moves merely being repeated clicks of the same button, or a combination of movement and clicking. The animations are also uninterruptible, which makes game play very frustrating if one move was made by mistake and the character is incapable of changing position during such a move. While Jade Empire certainly has an environment conducive to something reminiscent of a Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan flick, it certainly doesn’t play that way, given the poor and perhaps ill-advised method of porting the controls from console to PC.

Another hesitant moment with Jade Empire‘s PC treatment is in the graphics. While it was certainly a refreshing moment to see Jade Empire‘s once jaggy graphics being given the 1280×1024 resolution treatment it once so rightly deserved, Bioware found it appropriate to leave the full motion video sequences in their original 640×480 (or was it 800×600?) resolutions, which gives the video a very "YouTube"-esque look to them – incredibly grainy and blurry, with square artifacting aplomb.

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