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MIA - Jade Empire

Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting!

MIA is back for a new season after the 2013 MIA champ was crowned.  We let you, the PixlBit community decide on what the season’s first MIA spotlight would be.  Your decision was the dark horse candidate Jade Empire. A game that practically no one on staff has played. 

Yeah, thanks for that.

Anyways, to combat our non-familiarity with the game, we delved back into the community pool and enlisted the help of Casey Curran, known around these parts as Epic Greenman, to get this up for you.  That’s how much we trust and love our community.  Sometimes we let them post stuff up on the site. 

Many thanks go to Casey and his willingness to help us out of a bind.  Everyone should give him a hug - an unwanted, uncomfortable hug. That lingers just a little too long.

With all that said and done, we now submit to you, for your consideration, Jade Empire!

In spring 2005, the original Xbox got its swan song in the wake of the 360’s announcement with Jade Empire. Developed at BioWare, who had recently achieved success with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire was published by Microsoft exclusively for the console before coming to the PC in early 2007. Despite rumblings from both BioWare and even EA concerning how they would love to make a sequel, this series ended after just one installment.

What separated Jade Empire from BioWare’s previous games was that it was their first RPG set in their own world rather than the already established universes of Star Wars or Dungeons and Dragons. They took full advantage of their creative freedom by crafting a land that felt unlike anything before it; combining the art design and aesthetic of a Kung-Fu movie with the mythology and lore of a fantasy world; some steampunk technology to mix things up even more. These elements flowed together seamlessly to create a game where in one second the player would be fighting demons in hand-to-hand combat, and in the next be flying a dragonfly inspired airplane in a top-down shooter minigame.

BioWare’s creative influence did not stop with its world building, as it told a very engrossing tale of the mystery behind the corruption of those in power of the Jade Empire. It was smartly told, giving the player just enough information as the game progressed to feel rewarding while still knowing what to keep hidden so that things stayed interesting.

This being a BioWare game it should be no surprise that there was also a fantastic cast of characters, including Henpecked Hu whose stories were all about how his wife was ruining his life or his failed attempts to kill her and The Black Whirlwind, a dastardly fellow who makes the Krogan in Mass Effect look like a group of pacifists.

Combat, while simple and a bit clunky, was saved by its variety. Picking a fast, slow, or balanced character completely changed not only how the character controlled, but what tactics would be best used to take out enemies. There were also countless fighting styles of all varieties, including hand-to-hand, weapon based, and even ones that would let you turn into some of the various demons you would encounter on your journey.

The different styles were so integral to the core mechanics that arguably the most important part of leveling up was centered on them. The player would level up their health, magic and focus bars (more on that last part later), but the most important points were used to make combat techniques faster, stronger, or use up less focus/magic. These were tied to each individual style, so if the player bought or discovered a new style that they preferred, they would be forced to start from scratch.

The focus and magic bars also added their own unique elements; giving a variety of options in how to use them. Magic could was used to balance ranged and transformation styles, making the regular styles more powerful with chi damage or restoring health. Focus was used for weapon styles and slowing down time. These options fell into one of two categories: use what you have to pack an extra punch, or save it to escape a tight situation.

As much as I enjoyed the combat, it was far from perfect, which is why a sequel to the game would work so well. The game could benefit from a Mass Effect 2 style streamlining in which an extra layer of polish is put into the combat while also taking cues from other games and franchises to improve it overall. Ideas plucked from either Ninja Gaiden 2 or the Batman Arkham games could work quite well in Jade Empire’s universe. Keeping the number of different styles with these changes could make for a very engaging RPG.

Not to say that the game needs to completely imitate what Mass Effect 2 did, though.  Utilizing a character leveling tree more similar to Dragon Age or even Mass Effect 3 would improve the RPG aspect of the game. While on the subject the game could also benefit from more types of equipment being available for use, as the original was limited to medallions which would only boost stats or provide player bonuses.

The game would fit well as a third pillar for BioWare alongside Mass Effect and Dragon Age. It could even deliver what Dragon Age 2 was attempting much better than that series could offer; allowing Dragon Age to stick with its more tactical combat instead of 2’s greater focus on action. The original Jade Empire could even be offered as an HD port to let players transfer its data to a sequel if they want to continue from where the player left off in the first game.

Above all else a Jade Empire sequel would simply need to offer more of its unique world. Like I said before, this world was incredible and the possibilities for a sequel are endless. The mythology, history, and workings of the world are merely touched upon, all of which would be an excellent element for a sequel to focus.

Finally, the morality system initially seemed like a much different take on good and evil with the Open Palm based on providing aid to others while the Closed Fist was about letting people learn to deal with their problems themselves. The characters would often explain how one could still be good or evil while following either one of these philosophies, yet decisions that impacted your alignment remained the standard good or evil options. A sequel which explored these two philosophies could offer a very interesting take on moral choices.

BioWare has gone through a lot of changes through the past eight years, for better or for worse. A Jade Empire sequel could be just what the company needs; something which can draw on their past while offering the advantages they have today as one of the biggest developers out there.




04/22/2013 at 01:22 PM

It is a great game and I'm glad more gamers are getting around to appreciating it. You echo my thoughts exactly. I'd really enjoy a sequel to JE, especially if the combat was improved and there were more varied and complex skill trees. (Additional equipment choices would be nice too)


04/22/2013 at 01:32 PM

Great write up! I never had an original Xbox and so never played Jade Empire but I've heard lots of good things. The world they built sounds like the most intriguing part, really, and it'd be cool if BioWare could make a more action-oriented RPG without having to piss off a segment of their fanbase to to do (Dragon Age 2). At the very least an HD port on XBLA and PSN would be a good way to gauge player interest.


04/23/2013 at 05:21 AM

It is available for download on LIVE in it's original (though probably now laggy) form, but I agree that a true redux would do more for Bioware than not. 


04/23/2013 at 01:05 PM

Yeah, I'm suspicious of Xbox emulation on the 360 but if they put it on sale, well, that's another matter lol

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

04/23/2013 at 05:38 PM

I just saw it used on disk over at Amazon for around 2 bucks if you want to give that a shot.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/22/2013 at 01:43 PM

For the record, I played most of Jade Empire. It was my way of getting to know BioWare games before Mass Effect came out, because I hadn't played any of their games before.

I just didn't sign up for this MIA because I had a lot of projects in the air, but I'm much happier with a community member working on this one. Great job!


04/22/2013 at 02:30 PM

Played it on Xbox when it came out. I don't remember much about it other than that it was a good game. Deserves more recognition.


04/22/2013 at 06:41 PM

Jade Empire was a preorder for me and I actually really enjoyed it but never finished the game.

I just listed it for sale on Amazon along with almost half my Xbox collection. It brought back some memories that's for sure.


04/23/2013 at 05:13 AM

For the record, turning into a giant frog and crushing people into red paste is still awesome.

 Although you'll feel the roots of any Bioware game when you play it (character archetypes, plot progression, etc.), it still feels like it's own game, making the lack of a sequel seem like a real wasted opportunity...

 Not sure how choppy X360's port of it is, but I'd say the game still merrits a playthrough if you haven't experienced it. 

 Thanks Green.

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