Jade Empire: First Impressions

Right. The game arrived at 4:30, and I put it down about 11pm. That’s six and a half hours of playtime and enough for me to gauge a pretty good feeling of the game.
And to be honest, I’m looking at the scores this is getting and scratching my head. Review sites like Gamespot and 1Up are ripping into the game and giving it an 8.4/8.5. Gee it couldn’t be grade inflation/power creep could it? Gaspshockhorror!

Anyway, my feeling son the game are mixed. For everything there is to like, there is something bad about it. Case in point: Character selection gives you half a dozen choices to start out with, but then you can customize the characters however you want, so really, you’re just picking a skin for your character to wear. That’s both good and bad. I went with the magic based character, because I wanted a Chinese Witch. Of course, you don’t get magic until about 2 hours into the game so… that rather bit.

The game is amazingly easy. I can take on 5 people at once or an Ogre and not even remotely risk getting down to half my life. And this is on the highest difficulty rating. The starting attack skill your character comes with seems to be the best over all, with your first choice of magic fire/ice coming in second. The starting support skill feels rather useless to me, and the weapon I chose (Staff for length) is slow and dull. I did earn a Demon Toad transformation power which I really enjoyed.

Over all it seems Chi, then Health, than Focus should be your emphasis, as Chi allows you to heal, cast magic, and transform. Towards the end of chapter 1, I’m very glad I chose to be a magic player due to all the fire and Demon Toading I was using.

Graphics are above average to amazing, with little rhyme or reason to the shifts. A lot of the human faces look rather poorly designed, but the bodies and the monsters are excellent.

Cut Scenes don’t press the Xbox system at all graphically, but are pretty nice to view.

Controls are simple and there’s no real depth to them. I’m guessing (as I’m only a chapter in) that the “25 skills” will be 4 Magic (fire, ice, electric, wind), 4 support, 4 attack, 4 transformation, 4 weapon, and then 2 skills devoted towards the path of the open palm, 2 to the closed fist and 1 final super secret uber power. But again, this is a guess.

I flipped through as the beefcake and a fast character to test their starting skills, but really no one at all seems to be better than any other. It looks different on the screen but it all feels the same in the end.

The American voice acting is TERRIBLE. Voices don’t match up with the characters at all. Dawn Star? YUCK. And you’re stuck with her. There’s two good voice actors I found in the first chapter and a half. The first is Gao the Lesser, and the second is Zu, the second follower you get. Thankfully the Chinese voice actors are in place for some characters (Review build, remember. I don’t know if this holds true for the copies you can get) and the Chinese voices are infinitely better. I loved those and loathed the American voice acting. And usually I’m a big supporter of American voice acting because I tend to find the Japanese voice actors on my import games lifeless and dull.

By the time I had come to the near conclusion of Jade Empire’s first chapter, I was very disappointed. It in no way lived up to the hype and the praise. It was Fable all over again, and in fact, Jade Empire reminded me a LOT of Fable in everything from the alignment = physical and power change to the overly simple gameplay lacking any real difficulty. I was expecting this game to get a 6 or so, but I never assign scores until the second my review is done, so I wouldn’t be for sure until Friday, as my next few days are going to be devoted to playing this enough.

And the game throws me a curve ball and gives me my first mini game. And it is a 2D vertical scrolling shooter. Like 1942. or Ikaruga. And if you read IP at all, you know what my genre of choice is and how easily I mark out for 2D shooters. It was exceptionally simple compared to a normal shooter, but this was one for RPG’s and these two genres don’t seem to intersect much (I seem to be the only guy I know who prefers 2D shooters, RPG’s and 2D fighters as their top three game styles), but it was still fun and it made me happy to see this in here. And the game implies there will be many levels of the Shooter aspect, which makes me even more happy. Kudos to Bioware for changing up mini games from tacked on crap we find in “epic RPG’s” to tacked on pretty good ideas that actually have something to do with the plot.

So now I’m stuck. On one hand it plays like Fable but kicked up a few notches as Emeril would say, but on the other hand, it plays like Fable but kicked up a few notches. I’m only halfway into Chapter 2 (I could be farther. This is a guess and I refuse to use the Strategy Guide M$ sent me with the review build) right now and there are 7 chapters in the game. It looks like they’re doing a good job, but it’s not going to win a GOTY award or anything like that.

Right now I can safely say this game won’t be getting one of those massively inflated scores you’ve seen on other sites. And hell, we get along with Bioware enough to do interviews with them. But if you’re looking for a 9 or a 10, go to another site, because from my first impressions, this game is decent to good, but nowhere near the realm of great.

Here’s hoping first impressions change.