Jade Empire took two great tastes - RPGS and Martial Arts - and found that they taste great together!
GAMEPLAY (9)- The game starts out with you deciding what type of protagonist you will play as from a list of characters that have different strengths such as speed, power, magic use etc. You will also pick two fighting styles that you will use at the start of the game, though you'll eventually have the opportunity to learn many more. As with their other titles, give Bioware credit for trying something different with their gameplay that could attract gamers that might not be fans of traditional RPGs. The combat is completely in real-time and each fighting style has its own unique look and effectiveness. Some will be extremely fast while not dealing as much damage while others are slower but very powerful. You'll also find some enemies are immune to certain attacks so you'll learn to switch attacks on the fly, very easy to do with the D pad. In addition to attacking, blocking and dodging enemy attacks become very important. Fortunately the controls are very fluid and responsive, and even gamers that have avoided action games will find the combat to be fun and actually rather easy if you don't turn up the difficulty. Don't think of this as an all out action game though, as in typical Bioware fashion you'll spend a lot of time conversing with both NPCs and your allies. Bioware uses an ethics system that will use your responses in determining basically whether or not you are following the open palm (nice guy) or closed fist (stupid jerk) path, which will give you different abilities as well as affect the relationships you have with your followers. There are also times when you will be able to play an old school flying mini-game with a top-down perspective that is a fun diversion.
GRAPHICS (9) - Outstanding graphics, especially for a game that came out almost three years ago. The environments are very detailed with an almost dreamlike quality to it that resembles ancient China but still has an unearthly feel to it. The characters are also done very well and look like a lot of time and effort was put into making them look and act as real as possible.
SOUND (10) - If you are familiar with Bioware games then you already know you are going to get great voice work, and Jade Empire is definitely one of the best, perhaps only being outdone by Mass Effect in this regard. This is fortunate because there are a lot of conversations and the quality is such that you'll never get bored and want to rush through them. There were a few voices I recognized such as John Cleese, Brian Doyle Murray and Nathan Fillon but all of them were excellent. The beautiful music stays with an ancient Chinese theme that flows naturally with the setting. The sound effects, while not overwhelming served their purpose as far as the sounds of combat involving either weapons or kicks and fists.
VALUE (8) - It took me a bit longer to finish this game than what most reviewers said it would take. While many stated it would take about 20 hours it actually took me a bit over 28 hours, which was a good thing because there was never a time in the game when I was mindlessly level-grinding. Keep in mind this should not be compared to a typical turn-based RPG that can have its playing time extended by endlessly fighting enemies through boring maze-like dungeons. I was always working on a quest and in typical Bioware fashion there are many sidequests. I did try to complete every sidequest I found since they were all fun and added to my experience and gold. I'd imagine that if one were to try to stick to only the main quest they would finish the game in considerably less time, perhaps close to twenty hours, but they would only be cheating themselves of a lot of great gameplay as well as making the game more difficult because of gaining less experience. The game does have some replay value as it would be interesting to see what would happen if you chose a different path and received different abilities as well as changing the relationships you have with your party members. Considering I bought this game for $7 I'd certainly say it was a great value.
SUMMARY (9) - So much of this game comes down to saying "typical Bioware" which I consider to be a great compliment. Superb story with some interesting plot twists, outstanding conversations, beautiful graphics and a fun combat system that anyone will pick up and learn very quickly, all in a setting reminiscent of "House of Flying Daggers" or "Jet Li's Hero". Many reviewers have Jade Empire in their top five Xbox games of all time, and many have it as THE top Xbox game. Unless you're only interested in non-stop action games without any character or story I have to believe that you will really enjoy this game. Highly recommended.