This game breaks a few RPG gameplay conventions. One is that you don’t manually loot fallen foes. This is a small thing, but I’m surprised at how strongly it affects the pace of the game. In other RPG’s every battle ends with the requisite looting of the dead. This is often tiresome after a while, particularly late in the game. 99% of all loot is crap, but you can’t skip the looting process because that last 1% is great stuff you can’t afford to miss. If you skip it, you will find yourself with a shortage of good items and you will be missing the money you’d have made from selling all the crap. This isn’t a bad dynamic, but as the plot gains momentum the time spent frisking the dead becomes a drag on immersion and an impediment to building tension. Just imagine if Luke had stopped to check every felled stormtrooper for cash and weapons as they fought their way out of the Death Star. That sort of business gets old, and makes the hero seem like some sort of obsessive-compulsive junk collector.
In most RPG’s you just hit the attack button and the computer runs the battle by rolling dice and seeing what happens. In Jade Empire, you are involved in the combat in a realtime sense. You block, dodge, attack, change foes, and backflip around the fight area. The fight is determined by how well you do this, not by dice rolls. It’s like a fighting game. (Think Tekken, Soul Calibur, Mortal Kombat, etc.)
I thought of this myself years ago when playing one of the previously mentioned fighting games. I got to the final boss and it took numerous tries to over come him. This got me thinking, “If only I could fight the previous foes repeatedly to level up, and then overcome this final boss with superior stats gained through leveling.” I didn’t think anyone would actually go and do this, but Bioware did. The result is something I find deeply satisfying.
The game keeps this simple combat interesting by giving you a huge collection of fighting styles. You can switch between them at will, based on what the situation calls for and what you feel like doing to this particular speed bump. You can rely on just two or three styles if you like, but if you get restless or bored with seeing the same moves you can switch to another style and see how it suits you. Each one has a different rhythm. I’m about twelve hours into the game, and I know over a dozen styles. There are several more I could acquire at will if the urge took me, and I’m sure there are several secret ones floating around out there, waiting to be discovered. Just trying to catch them all probably requires a couple of play-throughs.
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