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Eurogamer Looks Back at Bioware's Jade Empire

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Eurogamer Looks Back at Bioware's Jade Empire

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 1 April 2012, 10:33:06

Tags: BioWare; Jade Empire

Eurogamer looks back at Bioware's Oriental-themed action RPG Jade Empire (2005) for this week's retrospective.

Way of the Closed Fist was, in essence, a pull-no-punches answer to the nonsensical nature of RPG questing. The world, its disciples said, was weak and complacent. So let its citizens face adversity. Let them question their values. Let them fight. After nearly topping out my Open Palm meter, I chose to bust the dam at Tien's Landing, leaving the newly impoverished settlement high-and-dry for the foreseeable future. Then I told the wily businessman who'd risen up to fill the power vacuum that - in no uncertain terms - he was to remind his skin-and-bones villagers that hardship brings strength. Served them right for trusting a stranger with their problems.


Even then, though, Jade Empire's moral code was inconsistent at best. For every moment of true complexity, I came across three or four others that basically boiled down to "Be sappier than one of Jackie Chan's family flicks or completely miss the point of your Way's teachings and take the lazy way out." Fight a bunch of normal enemies like a man or drop a boat on them and - in the process - kill an innocent slave. Good or evil. Black or white.

Sadly, that pretty much sums up Jade Empire. It was, in a nutshell, one of those YouTube videos where a kid thinks he can pull off some crazy triple-spinning kick, only to fall flat on his face. Sky high ambition minus the required know-how. But it makes sense, given that, for BioWare, the game represented a vision-obscuring downpour of firsts: first original IP since Baldur's Gate, first truly console-focused release, and first 'streamlined' combat system - among others.


Jade Empire was not, however, by any means terrible. Instead, it became the embodiment of BioWare's gangly teenage growth spurt, prone to tripping over its own two feet. And all the while, tremendous potential stirred just beneath the surface. The world and its mythology, especially, were a breath of fresh air in a genre distressingly content to perch atop D&D's reliable shoulders. Drawing from all manner of Chinese legends, action films, and martial arts philosophies, it was like a cobbled together book report written by a kid who loved the fantasy of the place, but - perhaps willfully - ignored the reality. Yes, Jade Empire absolutely was an Americanized cultural mishmash, but don't mistake it for ill-informed exploitation. The game was a work of honest reverence in the same vein as, say, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and that "China's Greatest Hits" approach was part of the charm.​

I hate to say this, but to me Jade Empire is probably the only halfway decent game Bioware did after Baldur's Gate. (Discuss!)

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