In one of my previous rants I had some harsh things to say about Bioware and Knights of the Old Republic, a game that I do incidentally adore despite it's nasty framerate problems and numerous graphical hiccups. I also alluded to the fact that I was waiting in almost unbearable anticipation of their follow up RPG, Jade Empire. Just think about it, an action-RPG full of wutai violence in the vein of classic martial arts films, complete with an extreme dose of Chinese mythology, how could you go wrong? Apparently by recycling your last effort directly into it. Me thinks they called it Jade Empire because they still had fucking Star Wars on the brain.
The first few hours after booting it up were actually quite enjoyable, the action-based combat system was a refreshing break from the computer dice-rolling marathon that defined KOTOR. But after getting about halfway through the first (of only two!) major areas in the game, Tien's Landing, I quickly realized that Bioware had slipped me a regurgitated lemon. If I wanted to relive all the KOTOR side quests I'd have just played KOTOR again dammit. In all seriousness, almost every single side quest in Jade Empire is a direct parallel to one found in the original KOTOR (and because Obsidian are really good tracers, in KOTOR II as well). Want to spend a few hours battling for supremacy in a gladiatorial arena? It's in there. Care to enter into a conflict and help out one side or the other, or maybe betray them both? Well you can....twice, once as a side quest and again in the main story missions. This is the type of repetitive tripe PC expansion packs are made of. I just can't effectively put into words how disappointed I am in what seems to be a half-assed reproduction of a revered Game of the Year winner with a new skin. Reminds me of when I slaughtered millions of happy purple dinosaurs in Doom back in the day, but I got to do that shit for free.
So the story-line/side quests are unimaginatively similar, at least the combat's fun and strategic, I mean with four types of attacks and multiple styles per type, the combat's got to be varied, right? Not so Grasshopper. Firstly, only two attack types are really all that useful. Magic styles are slow and barely worth using, while transformation styles are just plain worthless. That leaves martial and weapon styles to carry you through the game. Now these are fun, at least for the first while. You can deftly carve up fools with a swift sword style then transition into some Thousand Cuts or White Demon and finish them off with a foot to the face. The combat is based on some kind of pseudo paper, rock, scissors system of weak and hard attacks, complimented with a block. However it all quickly boils down to button mashing in a game of paper, rock, scissors, where even if paper covers rock I can still take my fist and punch you in the junk. Hammering on the A button goes a long way here, unless of course the enemy blocks, and then you press X....my my...how deep. Every last enemy in the game from the tinniest rat demon, to the king-shit Emperor himself can be defeated with the same pussified fighting pattern. One of the keen things about the Kung-Fu flicks that helped to inspire this game is that the guys in those films pull some wicked and nearly impossible physical shit to vanquish their foes, and each fight is fucking unique. Just think Jackie Chan at the end of Drunken Master. Unfortunately what we have here looks more like what happens at the end of Bowfinger, where nerdy Eddie Murphy character Kit lamely waves his arms in terrified mock kung-fu action at trained pros who go flying from his "onslaught." The only difference is that there, it was a joke.
In the end, the similarities far outweigh the "newness" of Jade Empire and it stands as only the second time this hardware generation where a highly anticipated game has turned out boring through sheer repetition of played out ideas. I'll say to Bioware the same thing I say to Rockstar, hang that shit up already, it's fucking tired. Lunchbox and I owned copies of San Andreas for exactly one week in which we played it with a nagging feeling of emptiness that we soon discovered was the result of having played the same game twice already. What's that you say, you added a half-assed RPG stat-building system and a bicycle, well good for you, Rocky, now sit down quietly and stop eating the paste. San Andreas (much like Jade Empire) promised all kinds of fresh ideas to differentiate itself from previous efforts, such as "home invasion," which in Rockstar speak translates to "shitty stealth minigame." I mean who really gives a shit if the world is 60% bigger when you'll still be doing the same stuff in it: car-jack, shoot hookers, drive from point A to point B, and let's not forget, running from the Popo. But you can swim…and get a haircut. What more do you want? How about a gym? I went there six times and came out looking like fucking Masters of the Universe without the fur undies, but I shot like a million people and drove a bajillion miles and got one additional stat point for driving and shooting, now that's what I call balance. For this the game received a 10 from almost every review outlet both online and in print. Jade Empire has also made with the stellar review scores despite its outright KOTORiness (FYI, Jade Empire promised a complicated light/dark side shift steeped in philosophy which wound up being about as important and relevant as that of KOTOR, all it ultimately does is determine which ending you get). Repetition over innovation every time means we'll see Grand Theft Auto: Easter Island and Jade Empire: Return of the Rehashed Plot-Device somewhere down the line. Bottom line…its Knight of the Old Republic minus the D-20 system with an oriental rug thrown over it. If you can live with that, by all means purchase and enjoy. After four bong hits Death's Hand may start to resemble Darth Vader a little and then maybe my point will become moot. I did have fun with the game for at least the first half, but it just seemed hollow, your mileage may vary.