Jade Empire: Special Edition review

Bioware has a long history of bringing thrilling fantasy-based role playing games to life with titles like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate. The company has made its bones by closely adhering to real Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, creating a “legitimate” role playing game (RPG) experience that still has all the thrills and action of a computer game. They also thrilled Star Wars gamers with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Jade Empire: Special Edition, a game that originated on the Xbox, made its way to the PC in 2007 and finally ended up on the Mac this past summer, is most definitely a Bioware game. The game is inspired by Asian history and mythology, and while it feels a bit hackneyed at times, it’s still an engaging and fun romp that might merit your attention. And while it’s been stripped down compared to an “official” D&D game, it’s still very much an RPG.

You start out as the promising apprentice to a wizened old martial arts master (really, who doesn’t these days), and you find yourself thrust into the limelight as you defend your town against invaders, thus setting off a cascade of story elements that peel apart much of the convoluted (and alternately funny, sad, adventurous and heroic) plot devices you’ve seen in countless Hong Kong martial arts epics over the years.

If you’ve played Knights of the Old Republic, you’ll be familiar with a concept that’s recycled for Jade Empire: moral ambiguity. You can make positive or negative decisions that will affect your standings with others, and in turn, will direct you down two different alignment paths within the game, unlocking new story elements, capabilities and rewards. It isn’t presented as “good versus evil” - instead, it’s “closed fist” choices (often aggressive and can carry with them some sort of extreme negative connotation), and “open palm” ethical choices (more noble and upstanding).

You’ll need to choose a weapon and fighting style, and three main attributes-Body (health), Chi (magic powers) and Focus (special combat techniques)-help you succeed at what you do. You can learn a wide range of techniques, everything from wielding specialized weapons like a master to understanding the arcane arts and mastering shape-changing ability or the control of the elements. You’ll need different styles and weapons to combat different foes, so it’s a good idea to learn as much as what suits your particular playing style.

Mouse and keyboard control is very effective, especially compared to the game’s gamepad basis on the Xbox. They’ve carried over an intuitive targeting system that will help you focus on who (or what) you have to fight quickly. You carry on conversations with computer-controlled characters through branching dialogue trees, but it’s worth noting that those conversations (as well as the action that unfolds around them) are pretty linear. They’re there to dress up the story a bit, but not much more.

NEXT: What's so special about this edition?


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