I'm a science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction writer by trade, but aside from writing, video games are my biggest passion. I also write over at Gamer Limit.
The first console my brothers and I ever got was an SNES for Christmas one year. Since then, we've owned an N64, Playstation, PS2, and an Xbox 360. I got a Gameboy Color one year for Christmas, but my brothers are more into handheld gaming than me. Every time they upgrade to the latest system I get their hand-me-downs. That's how I obtained my GBA and my two DS's. Handheld gaming for some reason doesn't interest me even though I know there are great games out there. The first console I've ever been the exclusive owner of is my PS3. The first games I ever played were Super Mario World, F-Zero, 7th Saga (which I've written about), and Out of This World.
My favorite genres are RPGs (Western or Japanese), FPS, action/adventure, and RTS (even though I suck at them).
This is the start of a new series I'm experimenting with. I canít promise that itíll be a weekly, biweekly, or even a monthly series; it all depends on when I can get games for it and when I finish them.
Tons of new games come out every month, and after a while some rise to the top and others fly under the radar either due to a lack of sales or because simply they arenít very good. This feature will celebrate, for better or worse, these kinds of games, the ones that Iíve passed by until now. Some of them may or may not be well known, but thatís not the point. The point is to give these ďunder the radarĒ games a chance. If you think Iím crazy for not playing some of these sooner, then let me know in the comments.
Title:Jade Empire Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date & Platforms: April, 2005 (Xbox, played), February, 2007 (PC)
First up on my list is Jade Empire, an action RPG developed by BioWare for the original Xbox and released in 2005. Does this semi-critical darling still hold up just over six years later? No, but Jade Empire is worth a try because itís useful for showing how far BioWare have come in recent years.
Jade Empire is set in a fictional world heavily inspired by Asian martial arts. Think along the lines of Avatar: The Last Airbender and youíll kind of get the picture. The player chooses one of the preset characters and embarks along an ďepicĒ journey to discover their destiny and stop the evil spirits that are plaguing the Jade Empire.
Suitable fighting attire? Not so much.
I put epic in quotes because unlike some of BioWareís other RPGs, I canít say that Jade Empireís story is that engrossing. Maybe itís because I have very little experience with wuxia style fiction. I couldnít get into the story and again unlike other BioWare gamesóMass Effect, Dragon Age IIóI didnít care about any of the supporting characters at all, which incidentally made it easy to play as an ďevilĒ or Way of the Closed Fist character.
Combat is handled in a third person action game style, but there were issues with the cameraómainly in the fact that it was hard to keep track of enemies sometimes. Players utilize normal attacks, charge attacks, magic attacks, and attacks enhanced with chi, but rarely did the fights require much strategy. I was able to use my long sword or my basic martial arts style to get through most of the game without problems.
As the game goes on, you leave the small hamlet of Two Rivers and venture out into the kingdom. In traditional RPG fashion, you arrive at a larger town and are given the opportunity to partake in a variety of side quests in order to gain gold, XP, and karma points. While the cities of Tienís Landing and Imperial City (chapters two and three respectively) have a bunch of side quests, starting with chapter four, the game takes a turn for the linear.
Iím not complaining about linearity just for the sake of complaining. It just felt like Jade Empire wanted it both ways. It felt like BioWare wanted to have a sprawling RPG, started to run out of time and/or money halfway through, and then had to scale back their ambitions. The problem is for the most part the story isnít interesting enough to carry the game without some of the freedom the earlier chapters provided.
Towards the end of the game I was confronted with the gameís ďbig choice,Ē you know that one big decision that can completely change your karmic alignment? I stuck with the evil route, and that was the only time Jade Empireís story felt engrossing. My characterís actions and the reactions of my party members were fascinating. I donít think Iíve seen anything quite as ďevilĒ before.
Hint: it involves this guy.
As might be the case with this series, it could be that Iím looking back too harshly on a game that came out years ago. Maybe in 2005, Jade Empire was considered cutting edge with a riveting story. Maybe I just donít ďget it.Ē However, I canít help but think thatís not the case, especially considering Knights of the Old Republic came out two years earlier (there will be an article dedicated to KotOR in the futureóonce I actually play it).
For better or worse, Jade Empire flew under the radar for me. I remember hearing about it, but I never gave it a second thought until a couple of weeks ago. Still despite the missteps with the story, the slightly lackluster combat, and the sudden shift toward a linear gameplay experience, Jade Empire illuminates how far BioWare has come as a crafter of top-notch RPGs in the past six years.
Next up on Under the Radar: depending on when I finish it, Dead Space. While itís a mainstream game thatís only a few years old, it flew under my radar because I was too scared to try and play itÖuntil now.