RPGs for the Playstation 1 were often groundbreaking, or at the very least unique and interesting. While Jade Cocoon is certainly interesting and different from other games, it’s hard to tell whether or not that’s always to its benefit. Some will discover this game for the first time and squeal with unmitigated glee, while others will consider some of the themes and mechanics too abstract and frustrating to be compelling.
It’s difficult to say which of those two groups you’ll find yourself in. In fact, it’s very likely that you’ll bounce between the two several times while playing, because there are serious high points and serious low points that you’ll seem to encounter in equal numbers. Jade Cocoon begins with a high point, as the first thing you’ll notice is that the art style is very interesting and colorful. The second thing you’ll notice is a low point—you have to select where you want to go in your village from a list rather than just walking there.
It’s a bit annoying to have to scroll down a list and wait rather than just running to wherever you want to go, but this turns out to be a blessing in disguise; movement in this game is agonizingly awkward, more reminiscent of old Resident Evil games than any role-playing game out there. It’s frustrating to have such a cumbersome movement system in place, especially since it serves absolutely no purpose other than getting in the way. Here’s how the controls work: Left and right turn your character, but your turning speed is irritatingly slow. Up moves you forward, but only at a walking pace unless you’re also holding Square. You can hold triangle to run without the need to press up, but it just feels wrong. All of it feels so very wrong.
The story is a mix between good and bad, though there’s no denying its uniqueness. You’ll be hit with a lot of lore early on without enough explanation detailing its relevance, and though you’ll eventually get a feel for all of it, many times you’ll be clueless as to what’s actually happening. By the time you grow accustomed to the little stories and remember all of the names, you’ll be at the end of the game and have no use for them.
Another problem with the story is that there’s nothing interesting story-wise outside of that lore; were one to strip away all the little stories, nothing would be left. The main character is a silent protagonist, so he’s not growing or changing. The other characters don’t grow or change, either. The entire plot can be summed up as, “You have to save everyone, then you do.” It’s not particularly interesting, and you’re not given any reason to care about any of the people who you’ll be saving, one or two people aside. However, the lore reframes everything that’s happening and contrasts it with things that have happened in the past, and though I found the little stories that reveal this lore annoying and vague at first, I ended up enjoying them quite a bit by the end. It’s not your ordinary kind of lore, though—this is more like a mix between Gnosticism and Native American religion explained through stories reminiscent of Greek mythology than anything you’d expect going in. Some will find that refreshingly interesting, while others will undoubtedly see it as too foreign and abstract to make Jade Cocoon worthwhile. It’s worth repeating that it becomes much more enjoyable later on in the game, so quitting because of your initial opinion of it is ill-advised.
There’s also a revelation at the very end of the game that I called within the first ten minutes of playing. It’s as obnoxiously obvious as a brick to the face.
Combat is a cross between Pokemon and a more traditional RPG in the sense that you can “catch” monsters in reusable cocoons and then use them to fight other monsters. Those monsters then level up, both by killing and being merged with other monsters. Leveling up by fighting raises their stats, while merging them can raise stats, change their elemental properties and attacks, and shift their appearance, though this often comes at the cost of some other stats being lowered. It’s an interesting system that doesn’t get the opportunity to be fully realized, because this game is both short and easy.
It wouldn’t be surprising if you could get through this game in a day. Of course, that’d require playing non-stop for several hours, and there are many points where the game drags that could make that a very frustrating experience. These points usually take the form of having to trek through forests, avoiding monsters while figuring out where you’re supposed to go. There are dead ends and a few doorways that aren’t obvious that make it a more annoying experience than it should be, but fortunately there are no random battles to have to deal with.
Many points in this game are a case of style over substance, though it periodically switches to moments of pure substance without style. It’s an interesting game that you may love or hate, depending on how you end up feeling about the lore; I started out hating Jade Cocoon, but it wound up being a positive experience by the end. There’s no denying that it’s a mixed bag of good and bad, but it’s very possible to become so enchanted by this game that the bad gets tuned out completely.
Here’s what you should do: