A classic, if different title from the Xbox comes to the PC finally this summer. Jade Empire, the acclaimed title from Bioware has finally been ported and made available for us enthusiasts of the PC, which some (myself included) would say is where it should have been released initially. But we all know the perils of porting, and on top of that JESE has to compete with other recent RPG titles, all of excellent calibre. How does it stand up to Oblivion or Neverwinter Nights 2?
Jade Empire is set in a land that is strongly reminiscent of many classical oriental cultures. Magic, souls and various creatures from Chinese and Japanese mythology are all part of the rich tapestry that makes up the world. You play the student of an aging master, secluded from the affairs of the greater empire, until the tyranny and corruption that is lowly spreading finally and forcefully intrudes on your tiny world. After that you go on a quest to uncover both your roots and to save the land from the mysterious affliction that seems to not just be affecting the living, but unsettling the dead as well. Although the storyline is strictly linear and to be honest, a bit weird in places (a good comparison would be to anime) it is nevertheless very epic.
Added to the classic game are several pieces of new content, with which Bioware justify the ‘Special Edition’ label. First they’ve added a new character, Monk Zeng, with his own balance of fighting and spiritual skills to work with. With the transition to PC comes the need for the provision of much higher resolutions than the original console game, and JESE can purportedly go up to 1600x1200. On top of this the special effects from the original game have been redone, and a lot of textures have been redrawn in higher resolution. In the original game you learnt any one of a variety of martial art styles, and now with SE two more have been added for your gaming pleasure. Finally, more monsters, better AI and more weapons have been added which diversifies the game that much more.
There are a few things that let this title down. First is perhaps the overeager labelling of ‘Special Edition’. An obvious game that must be brought up for comparison is ‘Fable: The Lost Chapters’, another Xbox title successfully ported to PC with extra content added. In this game the ‘Lost Chapters’ title signified the addition of almost a third again extra content. It was truly amazing, as literally every part of the game was expanded in some way, in addition to whole new quest chains and areas. It was truly impressive. Whereas for Jade Empire, as explained in the above segment, the additional bits of content tend to be small, trifling things. Extra resolutions and better graphics? Why even mention that, except as space filler? Of course you would expect such things, going from the television resolution Xbox to the PC resolution PC.
It also looks quite dated. Try as it might, it cannot compare to titles like Neverwinter Nights 2, Oblivion, Dark Messiah etc. The graphics look jagged and old, and although the environments are pretty, they too suffer the wrath of no blooming or HDR lighting. A small issue, this is true. After all, neither does Fable any more, to be honest. But it is an issue. More pressingly annoying is the one flaw of porting that is worse than anything else: Consolitis. Yes, Jade Empire SE feels like a console game. And there is nothing worse that playing a console game on a PC. As an illustrative example when you move your mouse you expect more or less freedom of view in an RPG, depending on the circumstances. This is certainly so in a graphical title like Jade Empire or Fable. However where Fable does allow this, Jade Empire does not. It even extends to keys. You can tell the basic controller keys have just been straight-mapped to your mouse keys. It is irritating that no further work went into this to help acclimatise the game to a more PC friendly state. Oh well.
In conclusion Jade Empire: Special Edition is a good game to play. However, the new features added to the game does not significantly add to the original title so if you are going to play it then it would probably be best to play it first on the Xbox platform.