Canadian developer BioWare has mostly made a name for itself with critically-acclaimed titles such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. One of their oft-forgotten titles released during the first decade following the turn of the millennium is Jade Empire, which even this reviewer forgot for a while, until a post on FurAffinity advertised the game as free to download on Origin, something of a rival to Steam. At first it seemed a hoax, although the game was ultimately made genuinely free throughout December 2015, with this reviewer springing at the opportunity to play the game, having enjoyed BioWare’s other titles, and sure enough, it definitely held up to his expectations.
Upon starting a new game, players can customize their character with certain strengths and weaknesses, and have a variety of martial arts with which to fight enemies, whom the main protagonist controls as he or she holds an enemy targeted similar to the system found in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and its sequel Majora’s Mask, fighting alongside one of a few AI-controlled allies. The main character can assault an enemy with weak or strong attacks, the former executing quickly and the former more slowly, or defend, with enemies bearing these patterns, as well. Weak attacks yield no effect against enemies defending, although strong attacks can break their defenses.
Killing enemies nets experience, as does reading special scrolls, with level-ups naturally occurring like in most other RPGs. In these instances, the player can increase the character’s stats and invest points into one of many acquirable martial arts styles that dictate things such as their damage. The battle system works fairly well overall, with enemies occasionally dropping orbs that recover the protagonist, with the only real flaws being occasions where the camera, for some reason, zooms to the floor of the current environs and necessitates a reloading of a previous save (fortunately, saving in these situations doesn’t keep the camera in said position), and the difficulty at times of breaking out of a chain of weak attacks to perform a strong attack.
The game’s control scheme is generally quite positive, with features such as the ability to save the game anywhere like in most Western RPGs and easy menus, alongside occasional minigames such as a vertical shooter that accompanies conveyance between major areas, although the objectives of some missions don’t always clearly point players in the right direction. Even so, Jade Empire generally interfaces well with the player.
The game’s narrative occurs in an Asian-esque setting, with an endearing cast of characters further developed through conversations with them either when they’re accompanying the protagonist or at a camp, the script polished, as well, variances in the storyline based on moral decisions frequently made existing.
Most Western RPGs tend to rely upon ambience in terms of their aural presentation outside the voice acting (superb as always expected from BioWare), and Jade Empire is no exception, with occasional Asian-themed tracks that are decent, but not mind-blowing.
The visuals look nice for a game originally released back in 2005, with anatomically-correct character models and believable designs, although older computer systems might experience a fair bit of choppiness, and some of the textures are bland.
The game, finally, is fairly short, a straightforward playthrough taking somewhere from eight to fifteen hours, although there are things that can pad playing time such as the many sidequests, nice replay value existing as well with them and the different initial classes.
Overall, Jade Empire, for this reviewer, was an absolute steal for a game offered “on the house” by Origin, given many positive aspects such as its great action-oriented gameplay, tight control, solid narrative with variations depending upon player choices, voicework that’s more than tolerable, good graphics, and plentiful lasting appeal. It does have a few areas that leave room for improvement such as the occasional camera glitches, the lack of a memorable soundtrack, and the choppiness of the visuals, although whether or not the player gets the game for free, it’s definitely a worthwhile experience worthy of the BioWare name.
+Solid action-oriented gameplay.
+Superb story with branches.
+Plenty replay value.
-Graphics can feel choppy.
The Bottom Line:
Another feather in BioWare’s cap.
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: 8-15 Hours