Jade Empire is a great, though lesser-known, Bioware game from back when they were actually capable of making games without pissing off a multitude of fans. It also makes me feel totally racist. Some people talk with accents, others don’t, and you’re caught in the middle somewhere while trying to figure out which one is disrespectful. This is basically the kind of game you would expect a bunch of white people to make about Asian culture.
I actually laughed at a lot of the stupid racial stuff in this game. Was it supposed to be funny? It’s hard to say. If it’s accidental, does that make it more funny or less so? It’s pretty weird, but it doesn’t really detract from the game unless you take it too seriously. Still, some people might want this warning: This game is caught in a kind of limbo between being a faithful representation of Asian culture and complete make-belief. There are times when you can’t help but feel that the game is having an identity crisis and doesn’t know which of the two to stick with, but closer to the end it seems to choose the latter and the game gets much better.
If you put all of that aside, Jade Empire is a cross between Bioware’s KOTOR and a 3D fighting game in the best sense. Pretty much every Bioware cliche is present, of course, but combat is so smooth and character interaction so reminiscent of KOTOR that it’s easy to look past all of that unoriginality. Rather than inputting commands for combat, you’ll be fighting in real-time with punches and kicks and swords and guns. There are many different styles of fighting that you can learn, and some will work better or worse on certain enemies, so there’s plenty of motivation to switch things up.
The story is cliched until the end, where, as per Bioware game law, there’s a plot twist that shakes everything up. You probably won’t see it coming, however, since this game is from when Bioware was actually capable of pulling off such twists. Also per Bioware law, you can either be good or evil. It’s explained that there’s not technically “good” and “evil” so much as different ways of approaching the same situation, but it still basically boils down to the same kinds of “save the kitten and build it a home” or “drown the kitten and everyone it loves” choices.
Throughout the game there’s a spirit who talks to you, and… well, she’s pretty whiny and annoying, honestly. A lot of the voice acting is annoying, but it’s at the outer edge of being tolerable. If not for combat and the fact that most of the characters are either genuinely amusing or interesting in some way, this game would probably be mediocre. Those two things hold up the entire game and make it worthwhile, however.
Here’s what you should do: