This is the start of a new series I'm experimenting with. I can’t promise that it’ll 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 aren’t very good. This feature will celebrate, for better or worse, these kinds of games, the ones that I’ve passed by until now. Some of them may or may not be well known, but that’s not the point. The point is to give these “under the radar” games a chance. If you think I’m crazy for not playing some of these sooner, then let me know in the comments.
Title: Jade Empire
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 it’s useful for showing how far BioWare have come in recent years.
is set in a fictional world heavily inspired by Asian martial arts. Think along the lines of Avatar: The Last Airbender
and you’ll kind of get the picture. The player chooses one of the preset characters and embarks along an “epic” 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 BioWare’s other RPGs, I can’t say that Jade Empire’s
story is that engrossing. Maybe it’s because I have very little experience with wuxia
style fiction. I couldn’t get into the story and again unlike other BioWare games—Mass Effect, Dragon Age II
—I didn’t care about any of the supporting characters at all, which incidentally made it easy to play as an “evil” or Way of the Closed Fist character.
Combat is handled in a third person action game style, but there were issues with the camera—mainly 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 Tien’s 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.
I’m 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 isn’t 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 game’s “big choice,” 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 Empire’s
story felt engrossing. My character’s actions and the reactions of my party members were fascinating. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite as “evil” before.
Hint: it involves this guy.
As might be the case with this series, it could be that I’m 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 don’t “get it.” However, I can’t help but think that’s 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 future—once 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 it’s a mainstream game that’s only a few years old, it flew under my radar because I was too scared to try and play it…until now.