Jade Empire Character Spotlight

Take a look at some of the dramatis personae that will populate BioWare's new mystical world.

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If you've played BioWare's previous role-playing games, such as Neverwinter Nights or last year's blockbuster Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you know that while the wondrous landscapes and finely honed game mechanics are important elements of those games' success, it's the characters at the heart of their stories that really make them work. Who could forget Bastila's quiet contemplation or the wisecracking antics of HK-47? For the upcoming Xbox-exclusive role-playing game Jade Empire, BioWare is crafting a supernatural, Eastern-themed realm filled with all manner of brave heroes, sage masters, and wily demons. We've been just as curious about these characters as you, and thankfully BioWare recently threw us a bone with some new character art and information. Read on for a look at just some of the dramatis personae that will populate Jade Empire's mystical world.

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Emperor Sun Hai

Emperor Sun Hai holds dominion over all the Jade Empire, but at the height of his reign, a terrible drought destroyed crops, livestock, and entire towns. When it seemed as if the empire itself might fall, Emperor Sun brought water back to the land. No one knows how he did it, but the rivers rose and rains fell. As a symbol of this magnificent achievement, a never-ending torrent of water continues to flow from the Imperial Palace day and night, spilling onto the ground far below.

Since the drought, the emperor's reign has been marked by stability and peace, but all is not right. The emperor has become withdrawn, and shadowy agents patrol under the watchful eye of Death's Hand, a lieutenant of ever-increasing power who preaches the value of fear over loyalty. In addition, the dead have become restless, and ghosts wander the land. Some whisper that the emperor has upset the order of things, that he has stepped beyond his station, and that all of the Jade Empire will suffer the consequences.

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Kang the Mad

The Jade Empire is a land of wonder, in no small part because of people like Kang the Mad. He is one of a new breed of artisan that pushes the boundaries of what can be done with hammer, chisel, and divine appeasement. Even the skies have yielded to his skill; his Marvelous Dragonfly flying machine is an amazing feat of ingenuity. It may share some of his eccentricities and use questionable sorcery, but it can travel great distances with almost no injury to the pilot or people on the ground.

Kang has been accused of not ensuring his creations are safe and of spending more time on appearance than actually making the things work. He counters that there is more to violating nature than simple mechanics. "All men of learning know that not a bolt in the world will save you if you offend the eye of the spirits that govern where you would tread. If you made a machine that looked like a phoenix or, wise men forbid, one of the Great Dragons, it would be an insult to their majesty. But if you use the shape of a lowly creature, like an insect, you glorify its form. The heavens welcome the inoffensive."

An eminently practical man, Kang the Mad cares little for politics or intrigue. A well-stocked workshop is all he needs to be happy, so long as his creations are not misused.

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Mask Spirits

Mask spirits are the spiritual remains of corrupted monks and holy people who died in turmoil because of unresolved shame. While most atone in the next life, some wander among the dead for too long, losing their kinship with the living. They become tempting prey for more malevolent beings, demonic spirits that bind them to their wills. The masks prevent them from seeing their own faces and remembering who they are. No longer able to control their fates, they are driven mad by their torment and become hateful and violent.

Though a single mask spirit might not be considered a great physical danger, they are formidable in other ways. They can exert influence over lesser spirits and coordinate the movements of otherwise shambling ghosts to make them a more cohesive threat. They will often also act in concert with others of their kind, and their combined magical attacks can present a serious challenge to even the most skilled of fighters.

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Death's Hand

An imposing figure clad head to toe in fearsome armor, Death's Hand became the right hand of the emperor at the end of the great drought. He heralded a new philosophy in the palace: Respect is best gained through fear. He's the head of the Lotus Assassins, and the grim visage of his mask is the new face of law in the Jade Empire.

No one has ever seen Death's Hand without his mask, and many have wondered about his true identity and purpose. He presents himself as a zealous servant of the empire, but there are whisperings that he has taken more power than his station should allow. Which would be the greater worry: that Death's Hand manipulates the empire or that the emperor has weakened enough to allow it? Very few people are willing to voice these concerns aloud. The Lotus Assassins are ever-present, and enemies of Death's Hand have a habit of disappearing.

Death's Hand is unmatchable in combat. He employs a unique style that seems to do the greatest amount of damage long after a blow has hit. Many an opponent has scrambled away only to fall dead on the doorstep of an ally. Death's Hand considers this an excellent way to manipulate the morale of the enemy.

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Wu the Lotus Blossom

Wu the Lotus Blossom offers a perfect balance between power and grace, strength and agility. Although she does not excel in any one area, she can potentially adapt to any situation on the battlefield. She can defend and attack equally well, and she effortlessly switches between deadly weapon attacks and devastating magical strikes that keep her opponents constantly off balance. Her starting style is similarly balanced and well suited to the unpredictable nature of combat, offering an excellent mix of attacks, chi- based abilities, and defensive moves. Her abilities are focused in such a way that she is rarely caught off guard. Wu the Lotus Blossom offers a practical choice for players who like to try a little bit of everything but still want room to define the character for themselves.

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Furious Ming

Furious Ming represents the quintessential light and fast martial artist. He may not be the strongest, but he attacks quickly and with more finesse than most. His starting combat style involves quick dodges, lightning punches, and liberal use of focus mode. Several weapon styles are available to him, but his typical configuration of skills favors light weapons over heavy axes and the like.

If his skills are left unmodified, Furious Ming is best used as a charismatic but capable fighter. Going toe to toe with larger opponents is perhaps not where his strengths lie, but if his skills are expanded to include some of the styles with paralyzing attacks, just about anyone on the field of combat is in danger. He is a very adaptable fighter.

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Tiger Shen

Tiger Shen is an example of the quintessential brawler. He has the strength to use the heaviest weapons available and the skill to bring them to bear against even the fastest opponents. He makes the best use of styles that bring his brawn into play, throwing his weight around to unbalance the enemy. Strong strikes and blocks make him both an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

Tiger Shen is best used on the battlefield as a bulwark against the enemy. He doesn't need to waste time getting into position if the fight comes to him. This may seem unsubtle to his detractors, but they cannot argue its effectiveness. Steady does not have to mean slow, however; if his skills are modified to suit a faster suite of styles, he doesn't have to be shy about chasing the enemy down.

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Dawn Star

Dawn Star has spent much of her life at the Two Rivers School, almost longer than any of the other students. She has excelled in her studies and blossomed into a strong, young woman, but even though she has nearly mastered several exotic styles of combat, she practices her skills more out of duty to Master Li than to sate an inner drive. She prefers her garden to the tournament ring and spends many hours there lost in thought.

She was born under an ominous sign, a red glow high in the sky in the opposite direction of the morning sun, and while it is true that she demonstrated unique abilities as a child, the scrutiny might have been lessened without this initial ill omen. The years of her youth should have been a joyous time; the emperor had proclaimed that the great drought was over and prosperity would return to the land. Instead, she felt uneasy, like there were always eyes watching her. Dawn Star's parents knew she was not happy and asked Master Li to take her in. They felt that she needed the chance to develop her special abilities, even if they couldn't understand them.

Dawn Star is very sensitive to the workings of the spirit realm, and she can see things that normally pass unnoticed by others. More people are beginning to see things similar to what she does, however--an unnerving sign that there is something very wrong in the empire.

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Toad Demon

In terms of raw physical power, toad demons are one of the stronger castes of celestial underlings. Despite their brawn, however, these swampy malefactors typically receive no respect. Stories chronicling the exploits of great warriors portray their amphibian opponents as slow-witted, often easily fooled into humorous and inglorious defeats. None of this derision has any effect on a toad demon; these foul creatures have little need for respect, settling quite happily for fear.

Even a lone toad demon can send all but the hardiest of warriors fleeing in terror. Despite their squat hind legs, these beasts are tall and broad. They fight inelegantly with clawed front flippers that can sweep across the battlefield with devastating strikes. As if the reach of the toad demon's arms weren't enough, opponents must beware of the mouth most of all. Lashing out with surprising speed, a toad demon's tongue can kill a man in swift measure.

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