Top positive review
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Among the half dozen truly great games
on March 30, 2007
A note on my ratings and preferences:
I have never been able to come close to giving a game 5 stars. There are just way too many ways for a game to go wrong. I am not opposed, indeed I dream of encountering a 5 star game. It has just never happened. 5 stars would mean it was a work of art. 4 stars means it was a truly excellent game that I highly recommend, but it will still have problems. 3 stars is mainly positive but with notable problems- worth trying depending on your preferences. 2 stars is seriously problematic and not recommended.
I prefer storyline and character in a game. I am not terribly good at games and have a very low frustration level and so like the difficulty on the easy side, however, I will fight through difficult play if I really like the game. I read complaints sometimes about games being too short, but I have yet to find one that was too short and rarely finish the games I play. My favorite genres are rpgs and action adventure, but I will try anything.
Jade empire, a beautiful game I loved, is a classic example of the four stars above. Easily one of the best games I ever played I can still name a lot of small things wrong with it. It's funny, before I started playing computer/video games in the current 3D generation I would have assumed that a great many of these games would be much like jade empire. These would be games with strong stories, meaningful dialogue choices, intelligible character development, people to talk to, heroism, at least somewhat diverse challenges, and, yes, fighting. It is still surprising to me how rare bioware is and how rare a game like this is. I mean, I finished this excellent game about 5 minutes ago, I appreciated it, even loved it a good bit, and I really don't want to sound like a complainer, but sometimes I feel like this is the 10,000 pound elephant in the room nobody ever ever talks about and I find I just need to now, here, after this very enjoyable game. It's like this. What if you loved movies, but no one had ever made anything like, I don't know, the godfather (pick your own; what I mean is a masterpiece, Casablanca, sunset boulevard, fanny and Alexander, whatever). What if the only movies were like, oh, at best, superman returns (by this I mean a good popcorn genre movie, a good movie, a fun movie)? What if two or three movies came out a year that were even as good as superman returns and the rest were various levels of worse. That's how I feel about games, that's where I think we are with games, and sometimes I feel stupid for liking them or for believing, hoping, waiting for them to be more. And sometimes I get so tired of the hype, the games that score 100 or 5 stars or whatever, games I like but still think, yeah, but it's just a game. There are thousands and thousands of movies, songs, paintings, books, that stand in some other realm of power. Maybe a game is just different and cannot go there, but somehow I think they can and I await the people with the vision and talent and courage to take the first game over. I do think it's possible and I do think bioware, the people who made Jade Empire are probably the most likely of all the people currently making games to do this.
Okay. I will rate on these categories:
Difficulty: excellent! There are difficulty levels (which I love with a burning passion, and see no good reason not to have). I think there were three and I unlocked a fourth when I finished on easy. Easy was very very easy and I imagine on normal I would have been fine, maybe dying six or a dozen times, but I love cruising through the combat. It helps make the walking around, talking, collecting parts of the game that I so enjoy that much larger. It also alleviated some of the issues concerning sluggish, non responsive controls that, fairly speaking, had something to do with my framerates and fading computer. The rpg elements were quite clear and sensible and dialogue/puzzles and navigation were pretty simple. I actually hate to say it since it didn't bother me really, but a wee bit more challenge on dialogue and puzzles might have been okay, I'm just thinking of a little more kotor type things, just, maybe something with a little math or something. But, really, for me very high marks on this, if you like things deadly challenging, complex, obtuse, involved, you might not be so happy.
Graphics: very very nice, varied and pretty environments. It is in no way a jaw dropper like oblivion or something, but on the other hand, unlike oblivion, its environments tend to be on the wilder more inventive side which makes up for a lot. Indeed I think that is the more important to me. Also the characters look really quite good. I enjoyed walking around the world looking around, though it had its limits- mainly that the view always seemed a bit hemmed in, not a lot, I'm just saying getting to a high spot didn't really lay it all out for you. I liked the Far East setting, particularly for being modestly original. After getting a ps2 and trying some of that system's rather overrated japanese rpgs it was funny to finally play a game with actual Asian characters and have it be made in the west.
Storyline: very good, well paced, interesting and clear. The characters and character interaction in say, knights of the old republic 2, was deeper and to me better (I compare because these are both similar and the best of their kind). Also there was a section of kotor 2 that hinted at greatness and there was no moment like that in jade empire, but on the other hand jade told a whole story that was complete in itself. It made basic sense and didn't dissipate into emptiness or nonsense. This is a more rare and valuable quality than one might think in gaming. I also really liked that you really moved through the story, there weren't any big actions or sections that felt so separate, like, here's the gameplay and the story is over there. The meaningful dialogue was really important to making that happen and the more I see of that in games the happier I shall be. Of course, the lack of regenerating enemies, random fights, and leveling up also added to the pace and the immersion of the storyline. The game handled serious stuff pretty well, but the comic relief stuff was fairly weak though the crazy inventor may have had a moment or two. Everything about this game was elevated by the totally great and professional 100 percent voiced dialogue. So, if it were a book with this story, or a movie, kind of cleaned up, it might be a C or something. For a game it was great, maybe an A- (I don't know where these grades started coming from all of the sudden).
Gameplay: Sorry, this is getting ridiculously long so I'll try and move along. Let's see, loved the dialogue stuff, just talking to people and basically doing quests that involved talking. I mean, loved it. I only wish there was more of it and more complex, especially using charm or intuition which I went to some trouble to develop very highly but too rarely got a chance to employ, especially in the last third of the game. I'd read the complaints about the simplified rpg elements with stats and equipment and all so was more surprised at how much there actually was to it. But that's just expectation. In reality It was pretty slim, no clothes or armor or weapons (sort of) and you don't do anything with companions stats or anything. I think you do tend to have more money than things to buy and your development is maybe more standardized underneath than it seems. The biggest diversity in the development mainly comes in the weapon styles and it's most meaningful because you can only develop a small percentage significantly. Only one companion travels with you at a time, but that was actually better than I thought too. There are enough cutscenes and gathering spots to feel like you're a little group. Navigation is clear and pretty fun. Minigame is fun enough. Load times for everything are shortish. The amount of fighting in this game, while significant, is, thank the celestial bureaucracy, definitely less than most, and in a way that tends to leave you in the game world more and in your stat screens less (though maybe a little too much less, but barely). I will add, mainly since I've been messing some with the PS2, that there is no nonsense about fights taking place somewhere else, out of nowhere, or with load screens (god how a hate that stuff). You see an enemy, you fight it.
Okay, I rarely finish games, but I did everything possible in this game and it took me 31 hours. I really liked it and in the middle dreaded that it had to end at some point- a way I feel when I'm reading a book I like a lot, but so very rarely with games. I would rate Jade Empire on a level with maybe 4 or 5 other games ever! Everything else would rate below it. I strongly recommend it if you're at all inclined. Good luck.