Jade Empire: Gameplay

By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 30, 2007

Filed under: Game Reviews 19 comments

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.

Jade Empire sidesteps all of this. Foes no longer spew treasure like a ruptured pinata. Occasionally you’ll meet someone important, and when you bring them down a popup will appear, a little music will play, and you will understand that something really great has fallen into your hands. The “crap” loot is left out entirely, and the money falls into your hands the moment a foe goes down, without you needing you go through their pockets. Maybe some players will dislike this, but I found it kept the game moving and made acquiring notable items more exciting.

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.

But this means that you need to be open to a little button-mashing. The controls are far simpler than those of modern fighting games. There aren’t pages of special combos (Mmmmm… Combos) to memorize, or moves that require long chains of button presses to pull off. Here we just have the basics: Attack, block, strong attack (which is slow but penetrates blocking) and an area attack. That’s pretty much it. The result is sublime and appeals to people like me who love the sensation of administering a beating via button-mashing but are daunted by the complexity and frantic speed of traditional fighting games. Having said this, if you don’t enjoy fighting games then you’ll find Jade Empire to be an all-you-can-eat buffet of your least favorite dish. This is a game for people who like fighting games but who might not be so good at them.

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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19 thoughts on “Jade Empire: Gameplay

  1. EpeeBill says:

    I play the City of Heroes MMOG and it has a similar ‘auto looting’ feature. It’s cool for all the reasons you mention for Jade Empire, plus one additional bonus due to the multiplayer nature of the game: It removes any competition for loot. If your team takes down a baddie, everyone on the team gets a chance to get stuff and it just falls into your pockets. No loot-ninjaing. No races to click on the corpse. If you help, you get your goodies.

    Can we make this a feature request for all futurt RPG games?

  2. GreyDuck says:

    On CoH: They recently tried introducing a “so-and-so received such-and-such” chat message feature… to overwhelming disgust on the part of the player community at large. Why? Because all of a sudden the “loot” becomes a bigger part of the focus, and then there’s all of that tedious banter along the lines of, “You got one of those? Neat, can I have it? Can I can I can I can I huh?” Luckily the devs listened to the feedback. *cough*

    On Jade Empire: As someone who’s only barely any good at the Soul Caliber series of games while still loving to play them, it’s starting to look like I’m -required- to pick this game up!

  3. MOM says:

    “spew treasure like a ruptured pinata”


  4. Telas says:

    “This is a game for people who like fighting games but who might not be so good at them.”


  5. I was surprised at how much thought I put into battles as the game progressed, considering how simple the combat mechanic is. You really need to consider your buffs and tactics based on the location, number of opponents, and whether you’re fighting casters or not. The final battle really was more tactical than button mashing.

    Definitely one of my favorites on the X-Box.

  6. Da Penguin says:

    Would someone recommend this on xbox? (i have an xbox360)

    I’m notorioisly bad at figting games like mortal combat because i can’t seem to do combos but i love the fighting style of mashing buttons so this seems to appeal.. I’m looking for something to play as i’m gameless at the moment. I played and enjoyed Dead Rising (loved!), Oblivion (apart from the game flaws which i will not start again here) and that’s about it. I tried saints row but could not get use to the aim/shooting style of the game at all and i am not a Halo person ..

    Keep up the reviews Shamus.. I get more and more out of the site each time (and i am trying to move from lurker to regular poster)


  7. Nilus says:

    It was good on X-box. The PC version benefits from almost a year and a half of refinement and some cool added features(to get those of us who have both a PC and an X-box to buy it again) but overall it was still a great game on X-box.

    If you get it now you can have something to waste your time on until Mass Effect comes out for the 360 at the end of May

  8. Kris says:

    I played this–all the way through! Twice!–on the Xbox 360. And I am a girl who isn’t good at fighting games at all, and who hasn’t finished the Oblivion main quest because of the frenetic nature of the last couple of main quests. The level of challenge never got beyond my abilities to button-mash, and I really enjoyed being ably to flip myself into battle, hit my foe, and jump out before they could hit me.

    I agree with all of your points, and have to point out that one of the parts of the game I really enjoyed were the relationships between the characters. And the plot had actual unforeseen twists in it!

    The only real complaint I had about the game on the Xbox was the amazing number of load screens. This is especially noticable in the arena sequence.

    And, yes, I agree with the poster who said that the final battle was a lot more tactics than button-mashing. I think I played through that one about six times before I managed to master the tactics that eventually got me through it.

  9. Mordaedil says:

    Or just hope for Mass Effect’s release on the PC 2 years from now.

    Jade Empire surely is a great game this way. The styles however, might be where the game falls short, in having too many of them. And you’ll only be focusing in 2-5 of them. (Your primary martial, weapon, second weapon, support style, magic, transformation and secondary martial.)

  10. Janus says:

    I actually found the last battle to be really easy. All enemies fall with the quickness before a maxed-out sword style. Except spirits, because they’re immune to weapons.

  11. Pumpkinetics says:

    A Bioware game you enjoy? I’ll have to tell Obsidian!

    (Please don’t kill me)

  12. I love Jade Empire. It’s easily one of my favourite games of all time, and I’m therefore thoroughly glad you’re enjoying it. I wrote a review of it a million years ago: http://goblinpaladin.livejournal.com/14699.html I’m pretty sure it’s spoiler-free.

    Man. Now I wanna stop studying the Latin and go plug myself into the Xbox. Thanks a lot, Shamus.

  13. Rich says:

    I am installing Jade Empire as I type this. I purchased it primarily due to your glowing praise. I wasn’t going to buy another game this month, but you forced me. That is my story and I’m sticking to it. ;)

  14. Morrinn says:

    You aught to play “Dark Messiah”, Shamus. The combat system is wonderfully simple yet extemly dynamic. You leed to Aim your weapon carefully, try and pass around your foe’s parry and lift your sword to meet his blows.
    Smaller weapons are quick and can deliver a flurry dificult to parry while giant claymores are slow and break through shield and bone.

    Alot of people hated the game because of its Railroaded storyline… But while the story is set on tracks its fun to experience the wonderful areas, monsters and battles that await.

    The game looks beautiful, much like Oblivion, while it doesnt really put to much strain on the average computer.
    I found it ran at most points even smoother.

    What Oblivion Lacked in Combat, Dark Messiah acomplished, and what freedom of movement and exploration Oblivion featured is surely missed in Dark Messiah.
    But if you liked one, you’re bound to enjoy the other.

  15. Jeff says:

    “[…] the hero seem like some sort of obsessive-compulsive junk collector.”

    Aren’t we supposed to pick up everything that isn’t nailed down and stuff them into bottomless pockets?

    Oh wait, that’s Adventure games, my bad.

  16. Antiquated Tory says:

    Am hacking my way through Morrowind (actually sneaking and backstabbing and smoothtalking my way through it) but will have to try this game sometime.
    Oh, got a copy of Outcast on Shamus’ recommendation from ages back. Aside from the interminable cut scenes (which become an in-game joke) it’s a real gem of its generation.

  17. Khoram says:

    Wow, I am surprised at how much people love the combat in Jade Empire.

    I played it on XBox after following its development for a long time. During development they made it sound like there would be all these different combat moves and martial arts styles you would learn, but when I actually played, every single supposedly different “style” boiled down to the same 4 options:

    1. fast attack. Can be blocked.
    2. slow attack. Breaks blocks!
    3. Block attack.
    4. area attack to swat encroaching additions away so you can continue spamming fast attack on the one guy you have targeted, until he blocks, then you hit slow attack to break it and go back to spamming fast attack.

    I wanted to love it, but I found the combat so lame I quit in disappointment sometime after getting to the Imperial City and/or where you go to that place with the fox people. I forget now. I never even needed to use the Chi/Bullet-time thingy at all to that point.

    Is any of this somehow improved in the PC version, or are you all just overlooking the shortcomings of the combat system?

    I agree, a CRPG with a martial arts combat system somewhere more advanced than Jade Empire but less so than a Tekken or Virtua Fighter would be absolute awesome-sauce.

  18. Shamus says:

    I was overlooking the shortcomings you mentioned. I never used bullet-time except for boss battles.

    A little more variety would have been nice, but I didn’t even think about it until you brought it up.

  19. I remember liking the game very much on the Xbox, but slowly realizing that I was always using the same ol’ moves when fighting. Luckily, I finished the game before realizing that this was in fact a weakness of the combat system. A wonderful game. :)

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