Jade Empire

Jade Empire Special Edition (Rhino Demon Exclusive Content)Jade Empire Special Edition (Rhino Demon Exclusive Content)

Jade Empire is an action RPG developed by Canadian developer BioWare. It was published by Microsoft and released for Xbox worldwide in 2005. Later released was a two-disc “Limited Edition” of the same, containing extra content. On May 10, 2006 BioWare announced that it would release a PC version of the game for Microsoft Windows, to be published by 2K Games. This version was released on February 26, 2007 in North America as a “Special Edition”. It was also released on the Steam delivery system on February 27, 2007. BioWare executives have strongly hinted that a sequel is in the works; allegedly to be most likely developed for the Xbox 360 platform.

Jade Empire

Jade Empire Limited Edition boxart

Jade Empire - DVD Enhanced (Prima Official Game Guide)Jade Empire – DVD Enhanced (Prima Official Game Guide)

Gameplay

Overview

Jade Empire is based in a mythical setting inspired by ancient China, and allows the player to progress through an adventure based on traditional martial arts. As the character (who can be either male or female) progresses through the game, he is able to discover and develop new fighting styles (either martial arts, weapon styles, magic styles, support styles or transformation styles). During combat the player can switch between styles by hitting a pre-assigned direction on the D-Pad. Combat is not turn-based, but is in real time and gives players the ability to control how and when his character dodges or attacks. In this fashion the player has the ability to change styles during combat and possibly initiate a Harmonic Combo.

The traditional RPG stats are not featured in this game; rather, they are replaced with just three: Body, Mind, and Spirit. These primary stats control the secondary stats of Health, Focus, and Chi (respectively), and the conversation skills of Charm, Intuition, and Intimidation. Focus is used by fighting with weapon styles (such as a longsword or a staff) or by choosing “focus mode”, which slows the movements of other characters, allowing the player to attack at high speeds. Chi is a character’s spirit energy. The player can use it to heal himself, to charge up a powerful “chi strike” to deal large damage, or to use it as “mana” when casting spells or transformations. Health, focus, and chi can be replenished by collecting power-ups left by defeated enemies in combat or by using Focus Shrines and Spirit Fonts found in the game world. Additionally, certain party members have the ability to add their power to yours—refilling your stats while they remain out of harm’s way.

Certain aspects of Jade Empire‘s gameplay engine, dialogue and quest systems are handled in a way that is very similar to BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games for the Xbox and PC. Players can speak to NPCs in the game’s towns (and other areas), asking questions for information to learn more about the world, the storyline, and other characters (also some have willing to join your party). Many of these NPCs will offer the player side quests that can be completed for experience points and items. These quests often have more than one method of completion depending on whether the player chooses to follow the “High path” (in the game referred to as The Way of the Open Palm ) or the “Low path” (The Way of the Closed Fist ). The player can respond to questions or take courses of action that are consistent with the philosophy he or she follows; different actions will affect a character’s alignment and his ability to cast certain spells or equip certain items.

There is also a vertical-scrolling airplane shooter included in Jade Empire as a mini-game, which is triggered by certain events in the storyline. In the mini-game, only the health and chi bars are active. Chi is replenished by shooting enemies, and is used for special attacks specific to the mini-game. The yellow focus spheres will upgrade your primary cannon up to three times. Red health spheres refill your health bar as in the main game.

Jade Empire also features the constructed language Tho Fan developed by Wolf Wikeley, a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics at the University of Alberta.

Philosophies

Much of the game places a certain amount of emphasis on the two major philosophies in the world of the Jade Empire, the Way of the Open Palm and the Way of the Closed Fist. Officially, while these can easily be equated to a “Light Path” and “Dark Path”, one who follows the Way of the Open Palm is not necessarily good, and one who follows the Way of the Closed Fist is not necessarily evil. Context plays a huge part in the way these philosophies act out, so it is indeed a hard task to generalise what either path means all the time. However, in terms of game play, following the closed fist path can involve performing blatantly evil actions.

The “Way of the Open Palm” basically states that the key to maintaining the universe is by being in harmony with nature, one’s surroundings, and one’s station in life. As an effect of being in nature with one’s surroundings, one is expected to actively assist in lessening the chaos in the area, through the assistance of lessening burdens. While this seems “Peaceful”, the Way of the Open Palm is strict in another form: one should not act outside their station and purpose in life. This in turn, can lead to the low path of the Way of the Closed Fist.

Looking at the aforementioned example, in the case of a person with a gambling debt, an evil follower of the Way of the Open Palm, judging that the debtor attempted to act outside of his station and thus violated the harmony of the universe, may give the debtor the money – in the form of a gamble the Open Palm follower rigged so the debtor would win. While this seems to have helped out the debtor, it has in fact perpetuated the debtor’s gambling problem, only dooming the person to wind up in the same situation again – perhaps even worse next time. The debtor is thus unable to act above his situation, whilst the short-term effects around him contribute to harmony.

On the other hand, the “Way of the Closed Fist” follows the philosophy that the purpose of life is to follow the ways of serving oneself – to face one’s challenges head on, challenge one’s station in life, and work to become self-reliant. The emphasis of the Way of the Closed Fist is combat, turmoil, and constantly challenging oneself, which is why many of those who are evil tend to be considered to follow the Way of the Closed Fist, in that they bring about chaos in the universe. However, such people can no more be classed as true followers of the Way of the Closed Fist than common thieves can be classed as revolutionaries.

Using the same example as shown before, a good follower of the Way of the Closed Fist would indeed inform the debtor’s collectors where the debtor is hiding, but from the point of view of the follower, this is hardly a betrayal. Following the beliefs of the Closed Fist, it would be meaningless for the debtor to get out of the situation through someone else’s help – instead, forcing him into a position wherein he is forced to deal with his problems directly allows him to grow, and thus become stronger than he would have been otherwise.

The more extreme variant of this, usually used by the ones who use the Way of the Closed Fist to justify slaughter, would be to kill the debtor oneself, then take the money the debtor had. The claim therein would be along the lines of “if the debtor was not strong enough to survive me, he didn’t deserve to live.” However, this is not truly following the Way of the Closed Fist, rather simply contributing to chaos for one’s own benefit.

Many solutions that are resolved using the philosophy of the Way of the Closed Fist could be considered to have much in common with Social Darwinism where Darwin’s theory of Survival of the Fittest is applied to humans. For example, you come across a slave and her slave master. A follower of the Way of the Closed Fist would make the slave fight for her freedom against the slave master so the strongest person wins.

Characters

Although there are three different types of character selectable by the player (certainly in the non-LE Xbox version), the Player Character can be heavily customised to suit each player’s taste on the beginning of a new game. The three main attributes (Health, Spirit and Mind) can be individually tailored per character, as can the model (there are six choices in the non-LE Xbox version).


During the course of the game the player will meet various NPCs that will have willingness to join the player’s party and thereby become a follower.

Further information: List of Jade Empire characters

Romance

Jade Empire gives the player-character the option to form a romantic relationship with several of the non-player characters, including characters of the same sex. Successfully romancing a character results in them standing outside your tent on the eve of the battle against the golems, whereupon, unless you choose to reject them, your character and the NPC will lean in to kiss (although if the character is of the same sex, the camera will pan away before the actual kiss itself). Male characters can romance Dawn Star, Silk Fox or Sky. Female characters can romance Sky or Silk Fox. Male characters can also romance both Dawn Star and Silk Fox at the same time. If this is the case, the cutscene and dialog at the tent implies that Dawn Star and Silk Fox spent some time together in their grief and lead you off for a menage-a-trois. When you romance a certain character, you are also given the opportunity to influence his or her way of thinking. For example, the normally calm and collected Dawn Star can be persuaded to stand up for herself and become an altogether less mellow person, effectively following the path of the Closed Fist.

Plot

Chapter 1: Two Rivers

The game casts you as a martial arts student under the tutelage of Master Li, head of the Two Rivers martial arts school, based in the in-game geographical locale of the Golden Delta.

The player’s training is interrupted as the town of Two Rivers comes under attack from an aggressor in a strange ship, who summons ghosts to attack the student. The attacker is defeated by Master Li who comes to the students’ rescue, and reveals that the attacker was a member of the Lotus Assassins, a mysterious force serving the Emperor of the Jade Empire. Gao the Lesser, a rival of the student, issues a challenge for a duel and loses. He is expelled from the school after he attempts to use explicitly forbidden magic on the student. Master Li explains that the student is the last of an order of Spirit Monks. He, a brother of the Emperor and leader of the army, had ordered an attack on Dirge, where the Spirt Monks’ temple existed, in order to end the drought. He claimed to have opposed the act and to have saved the student and the Dragon’s Amulet.

He sends the student down to a cave beneath the school where he finds part of a Spirit Monk amulet and has a vision of the Water Dragon, the entity whose death at the hands of the Emperor ended the decade-long Long Drought but left spirits roaming the land. Dawn Star, one of the students at the school and a friend of the player, is kidnapped by Gao The Lesser. The student rescues her but returns to find the village in flames, and Master Li kidnapped. The student, Dawn Star, and Sagacious Zu, a man whom they had met in the swamps around the village, head off in a borrowed flying machine towards the Imperial City, where Master Li has been taken.

Chapter 2: Tien’s Landing

The party crash-lands their machine in Tien’s Landing, and set out to find you a new flyer and a wind map that will show them the way to the Imperial City. The flyer, the Magnificent Dragonfly, is taken from the base of Gao the Greater, the father of the dead student of the first chapter. Gao the Greater is working with Grand Inquisitor Jia’s elite subordinate, Inquisitor Lim, and is distressed to hear of his son’s death. The player tracks down and kills him, and recruits Sky, a rogue, and Kang The Mad, Gao’s personal engineer.

The party goes to a recently drained area near Tien’s Landing, which flooded when the dam was first constructed. The Lotus Assassins opened the dam in order to search the ruins of the old Tien’s Landing, covered by the flood. The student fights Chai Ka, a demon bound in the body of a little girl, and learns that Chai Kai was sent to protect the student and that the Lotus Assassins already have the amulet. The player then can close the dam or destroy the controls, keeping it open forever.

The student then heads to the Great Southern Forest, under the ownership of Lord Yun, and has the option of helping the Forest Shadow defeat a demon known as the Mother, or helping the Mother’s cannibalistic demons destroy the Forest Shadow. In either event, the player can convince Lord Yun that the forest is recovering, and get his wind map. Inquisitor Lim will ambushes the player at this point; the player kills him and recovers a piece of the amulet.

Chapter 3: Imperial City

The party lands in Imperial City and meet up with Silk Fox, who is revealed to be Princess Lian the Heavenly Lily, daughter of the Emperor. She is unconvinced that her father is behind the sickness the plagues the land, and believes that Death’s Hand, the black armor-clad head of the Lotus Assassins, is responsible. After joining either the Executioners or the Inquisitors, the student’s party infiltrates the Lotus Assassin’s training ground to recover the last part of the Spirit Monk amulet. Sagacious Zu reveals that he was one of the Lotus Assassins who killed Master Li’s family. During their quest, the party helps Master Gang assassinate his superior, Master Shin, making it look like an accident, and puts a corrupted Spirit Shard into a Jade Golem, causing it to go out of control. The golems go out of control, damaging the underground complex. The party kills Master Gang. They also find Grand Inquisitor Jia, who reveals that the Emperor knew about what Death’s Hand and the Lotus Assassins were doing, and ordered them to do it. The player kills her, but Death’s Hand arrives. Sagacious Zu sacrifices himself to save the student, burying Death’s Hand in rubble.

Chapter 4: Imperial Palace

The party fights their way to the Emperor’s throne-room where Silk Fox learns of what her father has done. He is aware that the Water Dragon’s death is stopping the dead from reaching the underworld but is mad with power. The Emperor knocks down all the people in the throne room with a blast of magic and summons guards to attack the student, who defeats them. The student battles the Emperor, who is able to alternate fighting styles and damage immunities. The student kills the Emperor, but Master Li gets up, takes the Jade Heart for himself, and kills the student.

Chapter 5: Spirit Monk Temple

The student wakes up in the underworld as a spirit. The Water Dragon reveals that Sun Li had planned this all along, as he wished for the Water Dragon’s power and needed the amulet and to defeat Emperor Sun Hai. The student meets up with the spirit of Abbot Song, who tells him what truly happened at Dirge. He reveals that Sun Li wore Death’s Hand’s armor and killed the abbot when he tried to stop him and his brothers. The brothers defiled the fountains with human blood, weakening the Water Dragon, and Emperor Sun Hai killed Sun Kin when he and Sun Li attempted to oppose him. Abbot Song then reveals that one of his order attempted to escape with the student, but Sun Li, who had escaped from Sun Hai, killed the student’s guardian and assumed his identity. The player and Abbot Song make their way through Dirge and learn that an evil being has taken control after the fall of the temple. The student reaches the place where the Water Dragon was slain, and defeats aspects of his darker emotions. The student then returns to life, and the rest of the party, who learns about this through Dawn Star, flies to Dirge to reunite with their friend.

Chapter 6: Defending the Temple

While the student was dead, Sun Li realized that action would have to be taken against him, and retrieved Death’s Hand from the rubble of the Lotus Assassin headquarters. He then sends the Imperial Army against Dirge. Sky pretends to betray the group, and lures Death’s Hand out so that the student can defeat him in single combat. However, this is not enough to defeat him; Death’s Hand rises again, but the student uses the force of his will to expel Sun Li’s influence. The player may then release Death’s Hand, use him as a slave, or convince him to seek redemption.

Chapter 7: Back to the Palace

The party flies back to the palace to confront the Emperor. As they make their way through the palace they discover that the Emperor had stopped the drought by cutting open the Water Dragon’s corpse and letting the water that flows from it feed the Empire. The student chooses either to destroy the Water Dragon’s body, thus freeing her spirit and allowing the dead to find the underworld, or defiling the water to weaken the Dragon and claim her power after defeating the Emperor.

The student reaches Emperor Sun Li, who first sends Constructs of Bull and Elephant demons, the most powerful in the game, after the player and his companion. Sun Li then encases the student in stone and attempts to defeat the player with the force of his own doubt. However, if the student’s companions survived, they will reduce the number of enemies that must be fought in each of the two stages. Sagacious Zu appears and helps free the student from his mind.

Emperor Sun Li offers to help his student live in legend forever, if he dies without fighting. If the player makes this decision, the student is remembered as a hero for knowing his place, as Sun Li looks on and laughs. If the player does not, Sun Li attacks, and the student defeats him.

Endings

If the student chooses to free the Water Dragon’s spirit, then the end sequence shows the people of the Jade Empire cheering the student and their party. If the student chooses to enslave the Water Dragon, the end sequence shows the Lotus Assassins kneeling at the feet of the student. After this end sequence, there are short text summaries detailing the fate of any characters who survived the adventure. These vary depending upon whether or not the student chose to enslave or free the Water Dragon, and also what romance options the student pursued.

Dawn Star: She either settles down with the student, settles down on her own, rules the empire with the student, or if the student talked her into a Closed Fist philosophy and/or abandoned her, wanders the Jade Empire alone.

Silk Fox: If the student does not romance Silk Fox, she will become Empress of the Jade Empire. If the student does romance Silk Fox and the student is male, the student and Silk Fox will rule the empire fairly, or with an iron fist. If the student is female, Silk Fox will either rule the empire fairly with her ‘companion’, or will again rule with an iron fist, both the student and Silk Fox dressing up in the Silk Fox costume to silence dissenters.

Sky: Sky will use the Guild for good purposes, or serve as the student’s consort or as the new Death’s Hand. If the student is female and romances with Sky, they leave the imperial city and live on the outskirts of Tien’s Landing.

Black Whirlwind: Black Whirlwind will roam the empire cutting off heads, eventually making his way around the world.

Henpecked Hou: After a series of mishaps, he starts a delivery business, which he immediately uses as a method of escaping his overbearing wife.

Chai Ka: Chai Ka will either return to the heavens, freeing the girl whose body he inhabits to live her life. Or the girl will end up wandering the empire as a raving lunatic.

Ya Zhen: Ya Zhen will either serve the student until he or she passes away (resulting in him moving to bigger plans) or serve the student forever and loyally.

Death’s Hand: Death’s Hand will either become more evil, mutating so badly that his armor cannot hold his demonic form, or he will spend the rest of his days wandering the empire as a crusader for good, in order to make up for his past misdeeds.

Kang the Mad: Kang will continue to invent machines until an explosion appears to take his life, although strange machines continue to appear every now and then. Or as Lord Lao, Kang’s lack of danger affects his imagination in building machines, so as a radical solution, Kang starts arming the mobs that are after him, or he works for the emperor(player), worrying his use will eventually be worn out and he will be disposed of, eventually crafting a portal to another dimension and disapearing in a huge explosion, taking an entire lake with him.

A third, alternate ending is available if the Student agrees to the terms of surrender presented by the main antagonist in the final confrontation. The ending sequence features a statue of the Student being praised assumedly years later by a class of children with a skin condition similar to that of the Lotus Assassins. One child asks what life was like before the protagonist’s honored sacrifice and is quickly shushed by his teacher as a Jade Golem readies an axe to quell such questioning. The sequence ends with the main antagonist laughing evilly.

Reception

Criticisms

Although generally well liked by reviewers and players alike (winning Game Informer’s Game of the Month award and 2005 Xbox Game of the Year from IGN.com) some elements attracted criticism. One was the problem of loading screens, shared by BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic. Some effort was taken to combat this, such as having the “team gathering/home base” areas separated from the main “town/village.” Going there would bring up a mini-loading bar, rather than a whole new load screen. Also, some areas incorporate the use of an elevator device to mask the game loading to a new area; these include the Imperial Palace and the Headquarters of the Lotus Assassins. This serves to remove drag time in waiting for the game to load, but one area of the game that draws constant attention to long and frequent load times is the arena sequence, in which the player must endure a loading screen before and after every match, many of which can last up to a minute. The PC version of the game also uses loading screens, but on newer systems the load time is dramatically reduced from the Xbox version.

Another area that attracted some concern was the ease of the battle system. Even on higher difficulty settings the tactics are rather facile and tend not to change. For instance, the player attacks until the opponent blocks, the player then uses the special attack to break through the block, and the process is thus repeated. However, enemies being immune to certain styles forces players to diversify their skills, and some encounters require special techniques to win (to defeat one boss, the player must knock down some pillars to collapse the cave, while another boss is able to become immune to certain attacks at will.)

Some have claimed that the game is too short. However, it takes longer to complete if the player completes various side-quests along the way, and replay value is added with the different endings and the ability to follow the Way of the Open Palm or the Way of the Closed Fist. According to the developers, the average playtime is approximately 26 hours (assuming that no dialogue or cut-scenes are skipped and all the quests are undertaken.) Compared to BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic, there is less variety in locations (for example, Jade Empire only has one major city and two small towns, one of which is inaccessible after a short time)

Awards

Awards include:

  • E3 2004 Game Critics Awards: Best Role Playing Game[14]
  • Electronic Gaming Monthly’s June 2005 Game of the Month award.
  • Included on Game Informer’s “Top 50 Games of 2005” list.
  • Gamespy’s 2005 Xbox RPG of the Year, Top 10 Xbox Games of the Year.
  • IGN’s Xbox RPG of the year; XBox game of the year; Best Story on Xbox 2005; Best Artistic Design on Xbox.
  • Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’: RPG of the Year; Outstanding Character Performance: Female.
  • MetaCritic’s RPG of the Year, 2005.

See BioWare’s page on their official Jade Empire site for a complete listing.

Versions

Limited edition

A “Limited Edition” of Jade Empire was available for those who pre-ordered the game. Eventually, they came to the shelves also. The Limited Edition version has a different box art than the original. It has a red, reflective background instead of the sky blue, and the words “Limited Edition” was printed on the bottom of the name. This version of Jade Empire was packed with an extra disc that contained the data for the character model Monk Zeng, a magic type character, a “Making of” video by G4, and three game demos; Forza Motorsport, Conker Live & Reloaded, and MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf. The game itself is also slightly different; the first staff that can be chosen is Tien’s Justice instead of the Golden Star.

Special edition

The PC version of Jade Empire is known as the “Special Edition”. It is based on the Xbox “Limited Edition”, and also includes the Monk Zeng character, but not the Tien’s Justice weapon style (both of which are available in the limited edition described above). Changes from the Xbox version includes increased resolutions up to 1600×1200 (1920×1200 in Widescreen), new special effects and redrawn textures, two new martial styles named iron palm and viper, a new rhino demon transformation, new monsters, new high level weapons, an improved AI, with enemies able to take cover more often; a new “Jade Master” difficulty level, with ability to import savegames; a new world map interface; and keyboard and hotkey support. It also contains a bonus art book and poster.

Like the original version, the Special Edition has also been criticised for being too short and for having rather easy battles using a simplistic battle system, getting an average review score of 83% according to GameRankings. Other criticisms included a lack of cheat codes, and the ease of changing your alignment (hence changing the ending) at a point near the end-game which effectively discounts any good/evil deeds you’ve done for the majority of the game.

Misc

John Cleese lent his voice to game. His role was that of an “outlander” named Sir Roderick Ponce von Fontlebottom the Magnificent Bastard, stranded in the Imperial City of the Jade Empire. His character is essentially a British colonialist stereotype who refers to the people of the Jade Empire as savages in need of enlightenment.

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