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Jade Empire

Clear the way for the greatest RPG on Xbox.
by David Clayman

April 8, 2005 - There are a few game developers that have established themselves as trusted creators of quality games. It usually takes more than one blockbuster to elevate a company to this status. Often, it takes a string of great games that innovate on their own terms and bring something to the table that can't be found in other products. This is the type of company that can inspire a purchase through the mere attachment of their name. Jade Empire is not only a great game, it is another notch in the belt of a developer that continues to approach this elite status one hit at a time.

When Bioware released Knights of the Old Republic in 2003, it was praised for its excellent story line, combat system, and diverging pathways. Here at IGN it handily won game of the year. The game was hugely popular, but it's difficult to gauge how much of that attention was due to its association with Star Wars. Surprisingly, Bioware decided to forego the sequel to work on an original property called Jade Empire. Anyone that thinks Knights was a great game will be happy to know that Jade takes its best elements and greatly builds upon them.

The world of Jade Empire is based on a combination of classic Wuxia-kung fu films and Chinese mythology. Film aficionados will recognize the heaps of references to Asian cinema and even casual Kung-Fu fans such as myself will appreciate the nods to Jackie Chan's early works and the Wu-Tang series. All of the staples from these influences have made their way into the world of Jade. There are deadly groups of assassins, rival schools, hidden identities, and comical side characters. There is even a brawl in a teahouse, where tables and meat carts can be smashed and used as weapons.

Where the Star Wars universe has a previously established mythology and certain boundaries, Bioware has built the entire Jade Empire from the ground up. The Kingdom and its surrounding nations each have a rich history that unfolds before the curious gamer. Scroll stands are scattered throughout the land and provide pages of optional readings that delve into the minute details of their surroundings. The elders even speak a fictional language that Bioware created with the help of an Asian linguist. This may be completely original intellectual property, but it is so well developed that it feels like the Jade Empire has actually been in existence for thousands of years.

The game begins with a selection screen that lets players choose from six main characters. There are three men and three women with different strengths in magic, physical ability, or speed. There is also the option to manually adjust each character's stats, so if you've always wanted to take the role of delicate woman named Lotus Blossom who can also punch through someone's skull, here's your chance. The naming screen also has a "random" selection that offers up a Mad-Libs like assortment of name combinations. This is the first in a series of small details that show how polished this game is.

Action Packed
Gamers should know that Jade Empire is a true action RPG. This means that combat is contact based and pixel specific. Knights of the Old Republic played like an action game, but it was actually a real-time, turn-based system. Players could queue up a set of attacks and sit back and watch the fireworks for short periods of time. The team that worked on Jade is composed of developers from MDK 2 and Baldur's Gate 2 while the story was handled by the writers from KOTOR.

It looks this good.
Each battle in Jade Empire has the potential to be a well-choreographed dance of death. There are many reasons why the battles work so well, the first of which is a brilliant combat system that is both approachable and incredibly deep. Players are eased into the setup with some sparring matches at the beginning of the game with a basic fighting style. For every style there is a quick assault, a powerful charged attack, an area blast, and a block button.

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