I generally like to finish the games I start, even if I can immediately see I’ll have less desire to pick it up for a second time than a condom. However, I have run into a few things that just completely bring the game to a premature end (thankfully, not like the condom). I couldn’t finish Star Ocean: To the End of Time because the disc had a hole through the label the size of a small dog. I’ve quit a few games because of corrupted game data at the end of disc three. Some games may get lost during computer formatting (another reason I prefer consoles), while some games get lost when lent out to friends (which, I suppose, beats the book I got back once in a ziploc bag). Anything for the NES risks the connector pin death seizure. And Soul Reaver…well, that one just sucks like a hoover. But I can add a new one to the list–I sold the game two hours into playing it. I’ve recently opened a small book/game store on Amazon, and after a week of not selling anything, I got bored and fed up and decided to toss in one of the games I thought looked interesting. And naturally, someone swipes it from me. I should play games I want to sell more often.
So my review for Jade Empire might end up a little short, but after hours of listening to the characters blather on endlessly and trying to feign consciousness like a volunteer at a senior citizens’ home, a good concise review would do us all some good. So…
Jade Empire combines Onimusha with Fallout.
There. Another day’s worth of writing finished. Or rather, since I can’t figure out what to do with chapter 14 of my novel, I might as well keep going. Jade Empire combines an action combat system with RPG character growth, much like, well, Onimusha. Or Fallout. The player chooses from a list of premade characters, each with a blank personality installed, and then sets out on an open-ended quest full of choices. Occasionally you choose which quests to accept and which skills to level up, but by far most of these choices involve picking one of three dialogue options in the standard formula of “Magnanimous kindness the likes of which would make Pope Francis look like the offspring of Joseph Mengele and a nazgul by comparison,” “Waffley, non-committal response that any sane person would give when asked to get involved in the problems of strangers,” and “Murderously arrogant phrases generally only uttered by the offspring of Joseph Mengele and a nazgul, which would strike you down with the crippling guilt of a Catholic grandmother should you even consider selecting it.”
Choose whichever dialogue option you like; inevitably it will lead to an extensive expository monologue that will repeat useless information and refuse to tell you anything that might actually advance–or even initiate–plot. It gives the impression the game’s authors never once considered that more skillfull methods of exposition might exist. “Show, don’t tell? Trust the players to understand simple clues? Fuck that! We need everyone at the martial arts school to constantly talk about your mysterious orphan back story while throwing in comments every other sentence about how much your rival student acts like a dick!” These writers must envision White House aides bursting into the Oval Office each morning saying, “Mr. Obama, as you know, the American Public elected you, our first black president, in 2008, but you have had to face adversity from the GOP establishment blocking your every move. Yes, indeed, you’ve had a rough seven years, with the Republicans not letting any of your legislation pass. Just think of how much progress you could have made had they not prevented your agenda from…”
We know. He knows. They know. We all know. Now can we please just get to the martial arts action? Historically, talking to NPCs in towns and villages has provided a clever, enjoyable, and optional method of exploring the culture and history of a fantasy world, but navigating these giant sequoias of dialogue trees feels like a mad dash for the end, trying vainly to choose the most taciturn response possible, but even saying “Goodbye” often commits you to a Shakespearean sonnet or two of exposition or unsolicited advice.
Still, despite the pacing, which often places these lengthy cut scenes between each battle, I had a fairly positive reaction to the design. The setting replicates a loosely Chinese-ish country, in a political climate loosely resembling the historical unification of China by the first Emperor, Qin, albeit much in the way that Edward Cullen loosely resembles a vampire. The story starts in a small, rural martial arts school, where people take every opportunity to tell you how awesome you are, usually via some stereotypical Chinese-sounding platitude, which people speak as fluently as their native…English. (And also some weird made-up Russian/German sounding language meant to show how old people resist change) Even your bitter rival, Gao the Lesser, can’t resist throwing a few jabs over how no one at the school can beat you. Also his voice sounds familiar.
…is that Nathan Fillion?
Did they just cast Malcolm Reynolds as the son of a Chinese aristocrat? Not that I mind him reprising his creepy priest/obsessed starship captain voice for an epic RPG…I just don’t always see my epic martial arts villains as the riding-roping-wrangling cowboy types. Couldn’t they get Chou Yong Fat or Jet Li (or Jackie Chan!) as their celebrity cameo?
Whatever. Anyway, you engage in the obligatory MacGuffin conflict with Gao, thus providing the standard impetus to pull you out of the village for the inevitable razing and murder of all its inhabitants, except for the one you most likely would attempt to rescue. Points for originality, as I can’t think of another game that destroyed the protagonists home town except for Nifleheim in Final Fantasy VII. And the Mist village in FFIV, the Esper world in FFVI, Fynn in FFII, Zanarkand in FFX…and also in the Four Heroes of Light, Bravely Default, Legend of Dragoon, Kingdom Hearts, Xenogears, Dragon Quest, Star Ocean, Shining Force, Banjo Tooie, Sands of Destruction, Metroid…you get the picture. You gain access to a flier–a kind of ancient Chinese version of steampunk technology, an aircraft shaped like a mosquito. Which the villains almost immediately swat out of the sky–but not until after playing a space-shooter style mini game–and the questing ensues.
Yeah. This game really wants me to put it in the WTF category. But, beyond the nap-inspiring dialogue and poor attempt at Chinese atmosphere by an almost entirely white development staff, the game doesn’t suck. Even if it skimps heavily on the combat, it won me over when I stumbled upon a cook who bragged about having food so bad that no one ate more than one meal from him. After acing his challenge of eating three meals, he gave me the option of a super-secret developmental dish, which I ate. My next set of options let me lie and tell him I liked the food and that he should try it, which he did. Next thing I know, I have to decide whether or not to loot his corpse. You win, Jade Empire. Points for style.