Inside Pulse 12

Review: Jade Empire (XB) (2)

Lucard’s Note: We normally never do second reviews here at IP, saying other opinions for THE TRIBUNAL. But after my review in which I called the game good, worthy playing through once, and gave it a respectable score of a 7, Bioware’s PR firm called Pankonin, Bebito, Widro, and myself whining like babies saying “A 7 isn’t good enough! We demand a second opinion! A second review! How could you not jiz yourself over Jade Empire? OMGWTF!” And well, there was only one other guy who beat the game besides me on staff and well…this is his opinion. Be careful what you whine for kids…

Criticism is a thankless occupation. In all honesty, the most positive response a criticism seems to bring out in people is acceptance. This sorry state of affairs is only acerbated by Internet culture, with hair triggered half-wits flaming anyone who dares stick their hand up in opposition to whatever it is the majority seems to enjoy. There would seem to be no reason to subject oneself to the rigors of online criticism again, especially in a world that is now so unforgiving towards those who aren’t beholden to the PR department tit.

Fuck that.

I still have sleep in my eyes and the taste of Belgian whitbier in my throat, but here I am after 4 hours sleep to return to writing, as if I left, and try to be a prophet in the wilderness. Truth is, I’ve been trying to write a big ’69 Comeback column for months, but the ideas and words seldom connect in a way that is both interesting and entertaining. Then I bought Jade Empire.

“OMFGIH! Inside Pulse shud fire you! JE, as all the cool people call it, is the greatest thing evar! It’s so much better than sliced bread that I’m going to buy multiple copies so that after the world is turned into a high density matter ball by a quark strangelet I can go to the nirvana of always playing JE. I will consume a copy of JE so that it’s awesomeness is inside me. I will find a person willing to change thier name to Jade Empire, marry them and change my name to Chuck Platt-Jade Empire. There is but one god, and that god is Jade Empire. Now, if you’ll excuse me Alex Suckhard, I’m going to Blockbuster to pick up my copy.”
-My response to Alex Lucard’s initial impressions of Jade Empire

AThumbToTheEye: Bioware owes me $50.
-Me, via AIM, to Alex Lucard after beating Jade Empire

Where did the love go? It, along with my respect for Bioware and my love of action RPGs all went to creepy velvet painting Hell, just like my character in Jade Empire did. Oh no! I forgot to say it…

SPOILERS ARE AHEAD!!! TURN BACK YOUR VIRGIN MINDS!

In other words, if you have not played Jade Empire or are surprised by totally obvious, M. Night Shamalamadingdong style plot twists, then go play the game. Or don’t, you really aren’t going to be missing anything. You can O. Henry yourself to death if you like, but I’ll just let you know what’s going down anyway. It’s not like you haven’t ever watched the Twilight Zone or anything. Holy Bejeebus people get mad if you don’t give them a
spoiler warning. Anakin becomes Vader at the end of Episode III and the Harry somehow finds away to save the day in the next movie. Not that too many people even know what that means anymore. Go read a book or something and come back. I swear the Internet isn’t going anywhere. I can wait.

Before I start talking about Jade Empire too much, let me clear up two things. First off, my score doesn’t mean anything. No, really. It is only a largely arbitrary number that I use to describe my feelings about a game. There is no science in this. If this were 1996 and I was reviewing fighting games, I could tell you all about the framerates and the such, but now, technology in a game is largely irrelevant to the larger truth of what is communicated and how it is done. Much like how people stopped being impressed when a movie had sound or color, I believe a game must now be superlative on top of it’s technology to be anything more than a tech demo with a price tag. I also believe it is important to judge a game based on the intent of it’s creator and it’s scope. You would never give a lower score to a Ministry album for excess noise or negatively, just like giving a positive score to an attempt an epic film would be positive if the whole thing felt like it was filmed on a soundstage. That said, a game must be taken into account of its pedigree, its promise, its potential, and if anyone will still care in six months. If I buy a used XBOX in five years, what games will you recommend? Would this game be one of them? That is the test I dictate.

Issue does is the state of jackass forum monkeys, those who have nothing to contribute to the ongoing state of gaming but thier staunch defense or offense with regard to a given game or system. While one would expect that the system wars would be dead in this era, they continue, as does the constant defense of any exclusive content and ire at the fans of anything that is exclusive to another format. I like records, but I don’t go on the Kelly Clarkson forum to slag on her and her fans just because I cannot score her album on vinyl.

Thing is, at the end of the day, a reviewers job is to be critical, to call into question what is wrong with a work and to celebrate it’s beauties. The road the critic walks is thankless, but the rewards come in the form of honest appraisal of the arts, in the informing the masses. Truth is, I’ve seen the worst that forum monkeys can do and I’ll be God damned if there is something they can do to make me care what they think.

So, can I talk about Jade Empire, now?

I remember the first time I was made aware of Jade Empire. It was the cover story for PLAY magazine, in the months before I realized that Dave Halverson was dead to me. The preview inside painted a world of Chinese legend, with strange demons, witchy women, ambiguous moral dilemmas, interesting followers, and various martial arts forms. I was entranced. I soon sought out all the screens and images I could, trying to contain my excitement. And I didn’t even have my XBOX, yet. After my brother gifted me with the mighty XBOX, the only hardware with Illuminati Inside, I bought the previous Bioware epic Knights of the Old Republic, despite the mouth full of bile taste that giving George Lucas money. I hate to admit it, but I loved KOTOR. It had micromanagement, upgradable followers, and tons of dialogue choices. It was so good I was able to look past the rather flat moral ambiguities, hack until it dies combat, and inane plot twist. If only I had known that Jade Empire would throw out the likable qualities and make the problems even more pronounced. Ugh.

I pre-ordered Jade Empire from a local corporate game store and cleared my gaming schedule, figuring that I would be intoxicated by it until I could not even look at other games. I purchased the Strategy Guide, so my second trip through could be with 100% completion and proceeded to call the game store Tuesday at noon. No dice. I waited, my life a dull gray without the wonders of Jade Empire, until it finally came in on Wednesday. I awoke my beloved and we trekked across town to pick up my new mistress. What a cock tease. I got home with JE and had only two hours of play time, enough to create a character, download the bonus disc contents, and create a second character. I was also able to play up until the Lotus Assassin’s boat load of trouble arrived. I went to work ready for more.

I was busy all day Thursday, but Friday I netted two more hours of play, getting deep into Tien’s Landing. At this point, I had learned that Heavenly Wave, weapons, and magic were no match for a Martial Art with some points in it (Leaping Wolverine… I mean Tiger) and that Focus was a waste of time and energy. In Tien’s Landing, where the big “ambiguous” moral decisions were to strike, I found little of the sort. Sure, I could get some money out of the circumstance, but real power comes from leveling your character up. Besides, the Dam Site location is such a joke, anyway. Shouldn’t you character just leap across where the bridge is folded and take care of it without dealing with the ghosts? What good is it to be an ancient Chinese Neo wannabe if you cannot jump 30 feet?

Story:
Truth is, the issues I have with the game started to pile up at this point. The Open Palm/Closed Fist thing was a joke, to the point that the exclusive Martial Arts they get are pretty similar. Hell, the only thing worth doing in Tien’s Landing is buying Storm Dragon style and acquiring the services of Black Whirlwind. The plot was shaping up to be the old “You are so fucking awesome, save the world with the help of your compatriots” claptrap.

It was when the first clues to Dawn Star’s identity came to light that I figured out why Alex hated this game (Alex’s Note: Why does everyone think I hated the game! A 7 = good! GOOD!) so and why I was starting to hate it even more…

JADE EMPIRE IS A FINAL FANTASY!

Seriously, look at the plot:

An Emperor seeking power equal to the Gods, who is cut down by a subordinate with even more evil intentions.
Final Fantasy VI! Sun Li is Kefka!

A Princess who is forced to use a disguise to go underground and find out how evil the Empire she will inherit is.
Final Fantasy IX! Dawn Star is Dagger!

A mad genius who was working for the bad guys but now works for you and has an airship?
Final Fantasy IV! Kang is any number of Cids!

The protagonist is the last inheritor of some sort of magical power that is thought dead.
Final Fantasy… well, that’s almost every god damned RPG ever.

The point is this: the plot is a pastiche of almost every lame cliche that Square has ever used. I kept waiting for the big sacrifice from a character when Sagacious Zu pulled an Aeris. Come on people! It’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Chocobo!

Graphics
I will, however, admit that I have seldom been as entranced by the look of a game. The character designs were simply divine, in my oh so humble opinion. The Followers, especially Black Whirlwind and Sagacious Zu looked amazing. The lip synching was a very nice touch that went far in making me feel entrenched in the world the game created. If only there wasn’t so much damnable slow down.

Sound
The voice acting was very well done, to the point that I sat through all the plot essential conversations just to enjoy the superb voice work. The NPCs in town were horrifying and the voice of Dawn Star hurt my feelings, but it was better than Persona 2 in this one, lone regard, so who am I to shame it? If only I could remember any music from the game. Seriously, none of it was even noticeable to me.

Control
White Button
Bane of all who need healing
Why do you mock me?

I could only cringe every time I knew that an area attack or healing was imminently needed. The white button cost me the few times I was overwhelmed and died, while the area attack’s difficulty was 100% the controller’s fault, but it got annoying fast. Other than that, the need to pause with each form change and the control pad fighting to put me into the wrong form also contributed to my, admittedly minor complaints. Adequate, but not accomplished, control.

Replayability
Do you care if your character is gay? Or slightly more evil with more evil looking martial arts that do almost the exact same thing? Do you want to try it again with a different martial art? Then you are an even bigger masochist than I am. It must hurt to be you.

Balance
Usually the hardest category to score, Balance in this game can be summed up very concisely: I beat the last boss in 30 seconds. THIRTY SECONDS! I kept expecting Sun Li to rise again as some sort of evil dragon monster or something after I prison raped him, but he just lay still, even after I poked him with a stick and brought some neighborhood kids by to throw rocks at his corpse. Weaksauce.

The truth is, if I can beat your game, you are either Squaresoft, or you are making your games way to easy. I suck. I’m stupid. I made Jade Empire my bitch. If I can piece together the Storm Dragon, Focus, Jade Golem combo, then some 11 year old kid has beaten this game without even touching it. He just looked hard at the box and it was beaten. Damn kids.

Originality
Remember my plot synopsis? This is KOTOR in Crouching Tiger drag with a Final Fantasy plot. What sort of game developing Mad Lib are they using?

Addictiveness
On one hand, I played it for 12 hours straight. On the other, I haven’t touched it since.

Appeal Factor
Do you like Chinese movies, Final Fantasy, and mashing the A Button? Then you will masturbate over this game. If you demand quality along with production values, then you might be better off with a beer and Gradius V.

Misc. (Because I Can’t Spell Miscellaneous)
Non-upgradable followers.
No difficulty outside of a completely optional boss who falls to the Storm.
Dragon-Focus-Leaping Tiger combo.
Only three stats and one doesn’t matter unless you like weapons.
No moral ambiguity.
Bleh.

The Scores

Story 2.5 out of 10
Graphics 7.5
Sound 7.5
Controls 7.5
Replayability 2.5
Balance 2.5
Originality 2.5
Addictiveness 5.0
Appeal 5.0
Miscellaneous 2.5

Total Score: 45/100