Some spoiler-free thoughts on the game overall, now that I’ve crossed the finish line:
Having been through Jade Empire one and a half times now, I can say without reservation that this is an exceptional game. This will go down as a classic for me, alongside treasures like Fallout and KOTOR. An RPG like this only comes along once every few years.
The characters are outstanding. They all have fascinating (or hilarious) stories and all of them are wonderfully voice acted. The “evil” characters that accompany you are grim or outrageous without being revolting. The “good” characters are noble and true without being irritating or sanctimonious. The funny characters are genuinely funny and charming.
As I mentioned before, the plot twists are spot on. The plot itself is fairly tight. I’m on my second trip through the game, and I have not spotted any significant plot holes. The story is epic and thrilling, and the final confrontation packs a lot of dramatic punch. When you finally get down to face your nemesis, everything is on the line and the battle has become intensely personal. The final battle was tough, but not so tough that frustration blunted the dramatic impact of the moment. This is one of my pet peeves and I’m always pleased when a developer understands that the final boss doesn’t need to kill the player a dozen times for the game to be “fun”.
My biggest lament about Jade Empire is that I wish there was more of it. A single play-through takes between fifteen and twenty hours, depending on how aggressive you are with the sidequests. Sure, you will probably go through it more than once, but I felt like the game needed a longer first act. I would have liked to spend another hour or so in Two Rivers and the surrounding area. I wouldn’t have minded if the game just padded things out with a little more combat, just to stretch out the experience ladder a bit. And while we’re asking the genie for more wishes, I would have liked another town between Tien’s Landing and the Imperial City. And a unicorn. And my own fighter jet that can transform into a breakdancing robot.
Anyway, the length of the game isn’t that bad. Given the choice between short and perfect (Jade Empire) or long and unfinished (Oblivion, Neverwinter Nights 2) there isn’t any debate. I’ll take the shorter experience every single time. Saying a game was great but you wish there was more of it is a good example of praising with faint damnation.
The Mistakes DOOM Didn't Make
How did this game avoid all the usual stupidity that ruins remakes of classic titles?
In Defense of Crunch
Crunch-mode game development isn't good, but sometimes it happens for good reasons.
Crash Dot Com
Back in 1999, I rode the dot-com bubble. Got rich. Worked hard. Went crazy. Turned poor. It was fun.
There's a wonderful way to balance difficulty in RPGs, and designers try to prevent it. For some reason.
Top 64 Videogames
Lists of 'best games ever' are dumb and annoying. But like a self-loathing hipster I made one anyway.