|Jade Empire (2005)
Available for: Xbox
Bioware has formed quite the reputation in gaming circles with blockbuster favorites like “Baldur’s Gate,” “Neverwinter Nights” and the almighty “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” but they never created an original property in a world of their own until “Jade Empire.” An action RPG in the same vein as “KOTOR,” “Jade Empire” boasts a fulfilling story surrounding ancient Asian mythologies and an expansive combat system that, for the first time, allows the player to completely control the action.
You play as the promising student of an infamous martial arts master who reveals the secret history behind your uncanny powers when some cliché evil empire threatens humanity with the possession of an ancient amulet. On your journey across the country to take down the baddies, you ban together with a group of unlikely heroes with nothing else better to do than join the fight. But before you start kicking butt, you’ll have to choose from one of three different male/female characters (fast, strong, or smart) and set your starting attributes in body (health), mind (magic, or chi), and spirit (focus, AKA slo-mo “Matrix” powers). Along with slowly boosting your attributes throughout the game, the player will also learn a number of different martial arts styles and additional skills for weapons and transformations into mythical creatures.
The greatest thing about “Jade Empire” is the combat system, which took a page out of Namco’s “Tales of Symphonia” by allowing the player to control his actual fighting instead of relying on the old turn-based, die-role system. The combat in “Jade Empire” is a little more complicated than the latter though, with numerous combo potentials and the ability to map four of your favorite styles to the D-pad. This way, when you need to switch fighting styles in the middle of a battle, it takes just the push of a button to do so. A clever design indeed, but while the gameplay is mostly solid, the story is a bit on the short side to Bioware standards. Still, it’s tough to deny razor sharp writing like this in a video game, and the deep narrative should be more than enough to keep you interested.