Based on my reviews so far, you can probably tell that I like FPS (first person shooter) games. Every now and then, I prefer to pick up something different. I decided to buy Jade Empire: Special Edition, a singe player, role playing fighting game developed by BioWare, which has a reputation for creating excellent RPGs (role playing game). The PC version has additions that the Xbox version did not. New fighting styles, weapons, enemies, a poster, and a pamphlet of the game's artwork are the extras that are included. I bought a copy from J & R Music and Computer World through Amazon.com for $8.92 in February 2009. There are many aspects to admire about Jade Empire. Most games that focus on fisticuffs are strictly categorized as fighting games, but Jade Empire also delivers an intriguing plot. It takes place in a fictional Oriental setting of the same title, where you begin the role of a young student in a martial arts school. Your simple lifestyle is interrupted by a pirate raid on your village, and from there, the story delves deeper into your true destiny. Not to spoil too much of it, I can only tell you that your character has a larger part to play in the empire than is originally hinted at; I, for one, was surprised at some junctures, which is not easy to do. You are able to choose between the Way of the Open Palm or Closed Fist, which is basically the paths of good and evil respectively. Your actions will factor into what ending occurs for your character.
The characters you encounter are well-developed with varying backgrounds that distinguish them from one another. As you progress, more people will join your party. From this cadre, you can choose one person to accompany you during your quests and fight alongside you against enemies. It is even possible to create a romantic relationship with one of the party members if you so choose to do so. In the climax of the game, there are short sequences where you can fight as some of your party members, which is an amusing aside from the general gameplay.
Very few games exist that deliver martial arts combat in an entertaining way. My first time playing was a lot of fun. It felt cool executing jumps and taking on groups of enemies with a staff or a flurry of kicks and punches. The mechanics are fairly simple to use, but the tactics you employ are more gradually learned. For example, while executing a combo may be easy, the timing of it can be harder to master. Often, you will be facing multiple opponents who have different skills, strengths, and maneuvers, and fighting with a strategy is more helpful than rushing in and hitting buttons furiously; this lesson is learned early on when your character has relatively low health.
Customization is another strong point of the game. Players can choose from six different characters, both of male and female genders, and change their beginning statistics in health, energy, and focus, their fighting styles, and their names. The game also has a variety of fighting techniques, weapons, and magical skills to choose from. You can choose what styles you like for one session and pick different ones on another playthrough.
The voicework is commendable as well (popular actors, such as Nathan Fillion and John Cleese play supporting roles at specific points in your journey). During conversations with other people, the player can choose from multiple responses to answer or ask questions with. There is a huge amount of recorded soundbytes in this game, and the quality of them is very good. Some choices in dialogue can also affect your standing with characters in the game, supplying another dimension to the gameplay.
Other small details make Jade Empire enjoyable. The music, like the rest of the audio, is well done and adds excitement to the fighting sequences. A mini game, which consists of you flying a plane-like creation and shooting down enemies in the sky, serves as a fun diversion between levels.
There are a few drawbacks to the game. Replayability is limited despite all of the game's positive aspects. I played through the game a second time with a different set of skills but did not feel the need to play through it again after that. Playing on a higher difficulty level can make the game more challenging, but it does not offer anything beneficial except enemies that are harder to kill. The storyline, while interesting, is generally linear. Even though you can partake in various sidequests, the main plot will always guide you to certain areas with little exploration beyond a certain point; some areas cannot be revisited once left either, which means that it is possible to miss a quest permanently. If you do not engage in the sidequests, the game is deceptively short as well.
One or two annoyances that occasionally occur in the game also affects its appeal. Sometimes when entering a new area, your viewing angle of the game becomes fixed in a bizarre position. Reloading from a saved game fixes it, but it is a bit of an inconvenience since you are absolutely unable to play from that camera position.
Also, the game autosaves and has to load new stages frequently. This is not a major deterrent in enjoying yourself, although it does ruin the immersion. I have a fairly fast computer, so the loading times were not a huge problem; those with slower or older computers may want to reconsider.
On a side note, Jade Empire: Special Edition has an ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) rating of M for Mature. The game depicts some graphic deaths and blood, makes some references to cannibalism, and contains sexual innuendo (for example, it is possible to "charm" a character of the same sex in a romantic way, though nothing explicit is shown or heard). It is not a game tailored for children.
For the price, I did not mind purchasing Jade Empire: Special Edition. There are not many games geared towards martial arts fans, and this one is above average in its execution. It is doubtful, however, that I will keep the game installed in my computer permanently, nor do I think I will revisit it often in the future. It is a fun experience while it lasts though, and I would recommend it if you have never played BioWare's other games and if you can obtain it at a low price.