in the grip
I went to Best Buy to get two things: a 512MB SD card for my new camera, and a USB 2.0 reader for said card. I came out of Best Buy with two things: a (sucky) reader for the SD card I refused to buy, and Jade Empire. I was thinking about pre-ordering this game, but I procrastinated too long. Turns out, no big deal. It wasn’t even hard to find the “limited edition” of the game at BB. I’m only about 4 hours into it so far, but it is looking great. It bears the most resemblence to BioWare’s previous Xbox RPG: Knights of the Old Republic, but only in UI and basic game form. This game looks better, in general, and the combat is totally different (and harder, since it sort of requires, you know, skill.) Actually, the combat sort of reminds me of Battle Arena Toshinden – I think it is because of the way you can roll left or right while fighting.
Update: …and done. After about 30 hours (more probably) of playing Jade Empire, I completed the game. While the game could have been longer, it didn’t really need it. The writing was excellent, it was far more stable than KOTOR 2 (which wasn’t done by BioWare, actually), and it had a pretty good combat system. In short, it is an excellent game. Other things that I liked about Jade Empire:
- Like KOTOR, all dialog was voice acted, and the voice acting was good. There were a few celebrities in the mix, but they were generally minor roles – John Cleese voiced a hilarious character known as the “Outlander”, essentially a pompous Englishman accidentally in the Jade Empire.
- While the plot was pretty linear, and there were clearly things that forced you to do some things a certain way, there were a satisfying number of option side missions, and even places where the main plot missions could be done in any order.
- The combat system was excellent, if pretty different from the other RPGs that I’ve played. The combat in this game was like a game all to itself. I can only describe it by saying that it reminded me of my first PS1 game, Battle Arena Toshinden. It also reminded my of the combat in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Otherwise, it is bit difficult to describe. Video game playing skill has an impact on how easy the fights are.
Things I didn’t like as much:
- Limited ability to upgrade. Jade Empire sort of has an inventory system, but you don’t actually trade in armor or weapons (well, a little in weapons). What you really buy (and sell) are these gems that you can use to increase your stats and have a few (and only a few) interesting effects. You can buy new weapons, but there only seems to be one new weapon of each type. You have money, but little reason to actually use it.
- So many fighting styles, so little reason to use them. The combat system in Jade Empire uses “fighting styles”. Basically, they come in five classes: Martial (basically hand-to-hand), Weapon, Magic, Support, and Transformation. Support styles basically look like the martial styles, but instead of doing damage, they impart some sort of status effect, like slow. You start with one martial style and one support style (slow). You rapidly get a weapon style, and not long after that, you get a magic style (fire or ice). You get the opportunity get new martial and weapon styles throughout the game, but there is little reason to use them. I found using the magic and support styles usually useless, and the transformation styles too costly. You have all this variety, but no incentive to use it.
That being said, like KOTOR, this game has a both a “light side” and “dark side” way through the game (in Jade Empire, these are called “open palm” and “closed fist”, but they are very very similar to the KOTOR alignments), so there is a reason to replay. Hmm, I guess I need to start playing it again…