Jade Empire is an action role-playing game developed by BioWare and first published in 2005 by Microsoft Game Studios as a worldwide release for the Xbox. The later, two-disc Limited Edition contained extra content. On May 10, 2006 BioWare announced a version for Microsoft Windows, to be published by 2K Games and developed by LTI Gray Matter, which was subsequently released in North America on February 26, 2007 as a Special Edition. The Special Edition was also released through the Steam delivery system on February 27, 2007 published by Valve Corporation. Jade Empire was released as an Xbox Original on Microsoft's Xbox 360 on July 21, 2008. TransGaming Technologies announced immediate availability of the Special Edition for Intel-based Macs on August 18, 2008.
Jade Empire follows the style of the Wuxia genre within a mythical setting inspired by ancient China. The player, who can be either male or female, progresses through an adventure based on traditional martial arts and can discover and develop new fighting styles: martial arts, weapon styles, magic styles, support styles, or transformation styles. Combat is not turn-based, but is in real time, granting players control over how and when characters dodge or attack.
The role playing statistic system in Jade Empire uses a tri-stat system Body, Mind, and Spirit. These primary stats control the secondary stats of Health, Focus, and Chi (respectively), and the conversation skills of Charm, Intuition, and Intimidation. Focus is used by fighting with weapon styles (such as a longsword or a staff) or by choosing "focus mode", which slows the movements of other characters, allowing the player to attack at high speeds. Chi is a character's spirit energy. The player can use it to heal himself, to charge up a powerful "chi strike" to deal large damage, or to use it as "mana" when casting spells or transformations. Health, focus, and chi can be replenished by collecting power-ups left by defeated enemies in combat or by using Focus Shrines and Spirit Fonts found in the game world. Additionally, certain party members have the ability to add their power to yours—refilling your stats while they remain out of harm's way.
Certain aspects of Jade Empire's gameplay engine, dialogue and quest systems are handled in a way that is very similar to BioWare's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games for the Xbox and PC. Players can speak to NPCs in the game's towns and other areas, asking questions for information to learn more about the world, the storyline, and other characters. Many of these NPCs will offer the player side quests that can be completed for experience points and items. These quests often have more than one method of completion depending on whether the player chooses to follow the "High path" (in the game referred to as The Way of the Open Palm) or the "Low path" (The Way of the Closed Fist]). The player can respond to questions or take courses of action that are consistent with the philosophy he or she follows; different actions will affect a character's alignment and his or her ability to cast certain spells or equip certain items.
There is also a vertical-scrolling airplane shooter included in Jade Empire as a mini-game, which is triggered by certain events in the storyline. In the mini-game, only the health and chi bars are active. Chi is replenished by shooting enemies, and is used for special attacks specific to the mini-game. The yellow focus spheres will upgrade your primary cannon up to three times. Red health spheres refill your health bar as in the main game. Jade Empire also features the constructed language Tho Fan developed by Wolf Wikeley, a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics at the University of Alberta.
Much of the game places emphasis on the two major philosophies in the world of the Jade Empire, the Way of the Open Palm and the Way of the Closed Fist. These paths bear a close resemblance to the "Light Path" and "Dark Path" described in the BioWare title Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic; however, a minor character states "I believe there can be intrigue behind the Way of the Open Palm, and honour behind the Way of the Closed Fist." Thus one who follows the Way of the Open Palm is not necessarily good, and one who follows the Way of the Closed Fist is not necessarily evil. According to the "Way of the Open Palm," the key to maintaining the universe is by being in harmony with nature, one's surroundings, and one's station in life. As an effect of being in nature with one's surroundings, one is expected to actively assist in lessening the chaos in the area, through the assistance of lessening burdens. While this seems "Peaceful", the Way of the Open Palm is strict in another form: one should not act outside their station and purpose in life.
According to the "Way of the Closed Fist," on the other hand, the purpose of life is to follow the ways of serving oneself — to face one's challenges head on, challenge one's station in life, and work to become self-reliant. The emphasis of the Way of the Closed Fist is combat, turmoil, and constantly challenging oneself, which is why many of those who are evil tend to be considered to follow the Way of the Closed Fist, in that they bring about chaos in the universe.
Context plays a large part in the interpretation of these philosophies. For example, an evil follower of the Open Palm path could enable the suffering of others in order to achieve greater order, and a good follower of the Closed Fist path could encourage self-reliance in others, thus making them happier. For instance, if a follower of the Open Palm came upon a peasant being attacked by a gang of bandits, he would help because it is the right thing to do. Conversely, if a follower of the Closed Fist encountered this situation, he would reason that the peasant must survive on their own merit, or die. However, the Closed Fist student might also help the peasant if he felt that the peasant was too far out of his league for such a battle to be a valid test of his strength. For example, if a common thug came upon this situation he may not help the peasant due to concern for his own safety, but then later claim he was merely following the way of the Closed Fist. In this way, the Closed Fist tends to be misconstrued as evil.
Despite the philosophical nuances, the actual game play in Jade Empire for the most part casts Open Palm actions as selfless and heroic, and Closed Fist actions as selfish and thuggish. In this interpretation, they are close to the "Paragon/Renegade" morality system employed in BioWare's later Mass Effect.
Prior to starting the game, the player must choose one of either six or seven playable characters, depending on the game version. The sex of the character is by far the most important factor at character creation, since it will determine the various romance options as well as the responses of many non-player characters throughout the story. There are no differences in combat capabilities between the sexes.
The default playable characters are labeled "fast" (Mind specialists), "magic" (Spirit specialists), "strong" (Body specialists), or "balanced." The male playable characters are Furious Ming (fast, tattooed), Lu the Prodigy (balanced, athletic), Monk Zeng (magic, dressed as a Buddhist monk), and Tiger Shen (strong, large & muscular). The female characters are Radiant Jen Zi (fast, diminutive), Scholar Ling (magic, contemplative), and Wu the Lotus Blossom (balanced, seductive). Monk Zeng is only available in the Limited Xbox and Special PC editions of the game. The names of the characters can be customized prior to starting the game. Other than sex-based differences, the Jade Empire plot does not distinguish among the player characters (e.g., all male characters will have the same dialog response options, and will be received the same way by the story). As a minor detail, some NPCs will give a vague description of the player character's appearance.
The player character models all share common expressive traits. Through most conversations, the faces of the playable characters are calm and expressionless. When choosing a rare humorous or witty response from dialog options, a slight, barely perceptible smile appears on the character models. When choosing a mean-spirited or angry response, a much more perceptible scowl shows itself. Many of the pre-generated video cut scenes are rendered separately for each player character model.
During the course of the game the player will meet various non-player characters. Some will have the willingness to join the player's party and thereby become a 'follower'. Many more characters will not become followers, but will present opportunities for side-quests or casual conversation.
- Dawn Star, voiced by Kim Mai Guest, is a fellow student of the Two Rivers school under Master Li. She is an orphan with the ability to sense spirits, and the only thing she knows about her past is that she is named after an ominous light, which causes people to be wary of her.
- Sagacious Zu, voiced by Robin Atkin Downes, is a former member of the Lotus Assassins, who disagreed with the unnecessary slaughter ordered by Death's Hand. He attempts to stay away from trouble to avoid them, but he is drawn into the Spirit Monk's ordeal, often providing valuable insight into the Assassins. He hides much of his past, which includes getting an unnamed child to safety and his role within the Assassins.
- Sky, voiced by Cam Clarke, is a thief, who has a grudge against the Lotus Assassins and the Empire for the death of his young daughter. He does not like being shackled by society, so he constantly travels, all while looking for his revenge.
- Wild Flower, voiced by Nicky Pugh, is a young girl, who died during the flooding of Tien's Landing. She is then used by the Heavenly Gate Guardian, Chai Ka, as an anchor to the world, so that he may help the Spirit Monk and safeguard a piece of the amulet. He cares greatly for Wild Flower, and protects her from harm. Ya Zhen, an evil demon with goals of world domination, also inhabits her body in order to counterbalance Chai Ka's existence. The two constantly battle for control, and they manifest from Wild Flower's body in order to fight.
- Silk Fox, voiced by Masasa Moyo, is a mysterious, black-clad assassin, who reveals herself to be Princess Sun Lian, The Heavenly Lily. She works undercover as a commoner in order to seek out evidence that Death's Hand is manipulating her father. A stereotypical rich girl by nature, she comes over as snobbish and a bit naive, seeing her allies as commoners who are only worthy of traveling with her because she allows it. Nonetheless, she enjoys her other side as it gives her the freedom to break away from tradition from time to time.
- Henpecked Hou, voiced by Josh Dean, is a Bun Master, and a former combatant in the Imperial Arena. He formerly used the "Drunken Master" style of fighting, but the constant consumption of alcohol left him destitute. Eventually, he married his promoter's niece, who quickly became overbearing, and forced him to stop fighting and settle down. He does whatever he can to get away from her, but he is too afraid to leave her.
- Kang the Mad, voiced by Paul Eiding, is an avid inventor who specializes in making things "fly and explode." He is generally eccentric, not very socially skilled, and quite arrogant about his creations. He does not believe in making improvements, and he instead completely destroys older models before building new ones. He has a very faulty memory, and he has a mysterious connection to Lord Lao's Furnace, which was created by a celestial being.
- Zin Bu is a high ranking member of the Celestial Bureaucracy charged with keeping tabs on the damage caused by the student and cataloging it to keep the universe in balance. After being replaced by an entire department, he is relegated to trade, and forces the student to purchase wares from him.
- Black Whirlwind is a dual axe-wielding mercenary known for his short temper, affinity for wine, and his eagerness to kill. He is very simple-minded, he lives to fight, and he often ends up killing the people who hire him.
- Death's Hand is the mysterious, armor-clad leader of the Lotus Assassins and the Emperor's adviser. He is believed to be fanatically loyal to the emperor. However, the emperor's daughter Sun Lian, has other thoughts about his loyalty, assuming that he is attempting to seize control of the Empire.
- Abbot Song, voiced by Armin Shimerman, is a deceased Spirit Monk killed during the siege on Dirge. He helps the student restore Dirge and the Water Dragon's power.
- Master Li, voiced by Barry Dennen, is a humble martial arts master, who trains his prized student for a coming ordeal. He reveals that he is really Sun Li, The Glorious Strategist, the brother of the Emperor said to have been killed as a traitor years before. He is soon kidnapped by the Lotus Assassins, and his student begins to search for him.
- Emperor Sun Hai, voiced by Armin Shimerman, is the leader of the Empire and the savior during the "Long Drought", which completely crippled the Empire. He eventually stops appearing in public and stays within the confines of his palace, while Death's Hand is very active.
Jade Empire gives the player-character the option to form a romantic relationship with several of the non-player characters, including characters of the same sex. Successfully romancing a character results in them standing outside the player-character's tent on the eve of the battle against the golems, whereupon unless the player chooses to reject them, the player-character and the NPC will lean in to kiss (although if the character is of the same sex, the camera will pan away before the actual kiss itself). Male characters can romance Dawn Star, Silk Fox or Sky. Female characters can romance Sky or Silk Fox. Male characters can also romance both Dawn Star and Silk Fox at the same time. If this is the case, the cutscene and dialog at the tent implies that Dawn Star and Silk Fox spent some time together in their grief and lead the player character off for a menage-a-trois. When romancing a certain character, the opportunity arises to influence his or her way of thinking. For example, the normally calm and collected Dawn Star can be persuaded to stand up for herself and become an altogether less mellow person, effectively following the path of the Closed Fist.
Jade Empire takes place in a fictional kingdom inspired by ancient China.
Tho Fan is a constructed language created by Canadian linguist Wolf Wikeley for the game. The language has been designed to sound ancient and distinctly Asian.
Tho Fan does without the verb "to be"; instead, articles — words like "a" and "the" — would be used to mark tense. In the game, the Tho Fan phrases do not actually match up to their on-screen translations — most of them are actually a set of a few dozen pre-rendered phrases. In fact, the game will often use exactly the same audio track to say successive sentences, much akin to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
Chapter 1: Two Rivers
The game begins with the player cast as a martial arts student under the tutelage of Master Li, head of the Two Rivers martial arts school, based in the in-game geographical locale of the Golden Delta.
The player's training is interrupted as the town of Two Rivers comes under attack from an aggressor in a strange ship who summons ghosts to attack the student. The attacker is defeated by Master Li, who comes to the student's rescue and reveals that the attacker was a member of the Lotus Assassins, a mysterious force serving the Emperor of the Jade Empire. Gao the Lesser, a rival of the student, issues a challenge for a duel and loses. He is expelled from the school after he attempts to use explicitly forbidden magic on the student. Master Li explains that the student is the last of the order of Spirit Monks. He, a brother of the Emperor and leader of the Empire's army, had ordered an attack on Dirge, where the Spirit Monks' temple existed, in order to end the Long Drought. He claimed to have opposed the act and to have saved the student and the Dragon's Amulet.
He sends the student to a cave beneath the school where he or she finds part of a Spirit Monk amulet and has a vision of the Water Dragon, the entity whose death at the hands of the Emperor ended the decade-long Long Drought but left spirits roaming the land. Dawn Star, one of the students at the school and a friend of the player, is kidnapped by Gao The Lesser. The student rescues her but returns to find the village in flames and Master Li kidnapped. The student, Dawn Star, and Sagacious Zu, a man whom they had met in the swamps around the village, head off in a borrowed flying machine towards the Imperial City, where Master Li has been taken.
Chapter 2: Tien's Landing
The party crash-lands their machine in Tien's Landing and sets out to find a new flier and a wind map that will show them the way to the Imperial City. The new flyer, called the Marvelous Dragonfly, is taken from the base of Gao the Greater, the father of the dead student of the first chapter. Gao the Greater is working with Grand Inquisitor Jia's elite subordinate, Inquisitor Lim, and is distressed to hear of his son's death. The player tracks down and kills him, and recruits Sky, a rogue, and Kang The Mad, Gao's personal engineer.
The party goes to a recently drained area near Tien's Landing, which flooded when the dam was first constructed. The Lotus Assassins opened the dam in order to search the ruins of old Tien's Landing. The student fights Chai Ka, a demon bound in the body of a little girl, and learns that Chai Kai was sent to protect the student and that the Lotus Assassins already have the amulet. The player can then close the dam or destroy the controls, keeping it open forever. The student then heads to the Great Southern Forest, which is under the ownership of Lord Yun. The player then has the option of helping the Forest Shadow defeat a demon known as the Mother, or helping the Mother's cannibalistic demons destroy the Forest Shadow. In either event, the player can convince Lord Yun that the forest is recovering and get his wind map. Inquisitor Lim will ambush the player at this point; the player kills him and recovers a piece of the amulet.
Chapter 3: Imperial City
The party lands in the Imperial City and meets up with Silk Fox, who is revealed to be Princess Lian the Heavenly Lily, daughter of the Emperor. She is unconvinced that her father is behind the sickness the plagues the land, and believes that Death's Hand, the black armor-clad head of the Lotus Assassins, is responsible. After joining either the Executioners or the Inquisitors, the student's party infiltrates the Lotus Assassin's training ground to recover the last part of the Spirit Monk amulet. Sagacious Zu reveals that he was one of the Lotus Assassins who killed Master Li's family. During their quest, the party helps Master Gang assassinate his superior, Master Shin, making it look like an accident, and puts a corrupted Spirit Shard into a Jade Golem, causing it to malfunction. The golems go out of control, damaging the underground complex. The party battles two Jade Golems and a handful of Lotus Assassins, killing Master Gang in the process. They also find Grand Inquisitor Jia, who reveals that the Emperor knew about what Death's Hand and the Lotus Assassins were doing and had, in fact, ordered them to do it. The player kills her, but Death's Hand arrives. Sagacious Zu sacrifices himself to save the student, burying Death's Hand in rubble.
Chapter 4: Imperial Palace
The party fights their way to the Emperor's throne room where Silk Fox learns of what her father has done. He is aware that the Water Dragon's death is stopping the dead from reaching the underworld but is mad with power. The Emperor knocks down everyone in the throne room with a blast of magic and summons guards to attack the student, who defeats them. The student battles the Emperor, who is able to alternate fighting styles and damage immunities. The student kills the Emperor, but Master Li gets up, takes the Jade Heart for himself, and kills the student.
Chapter 5: Spirit Monk Temple
The student wakes up in the underworld as a spirit. The Water Dragon reveals that Sun Li had planned this all along; he wished for the Water Dragon's power and needed to obtain the amulet and defeat Emperor Sun Hai. The student meets up with the spirit of Abbot Song, who tells him or her what truly happened at Dirge. He reveals that Sun Li wore Death's Hand's armor and killed the abbot when he tried to stop him and his brothers. The brothers arrange for Dirge's fountains to be tainted with human blood, weakening the Water Dragon, and Emperor Sun Hai killed Sun Kin when he and Sun Li attempted to oppose him. Abbot Song then reveals that one of his order attempted to escape with the student, but Sun Li, who had escaped from Sun Hai, killed the student's guardian and assumed his identity. The player and Abbot Song make their way through Dirge and learn that an evil being has taken control after the fall of the temple. The student reaches the place where the Water Dragon was slain, and defeats aspects of his or her darker emotions. The student then returns to life, and the rest of the party, who learns about this through Dawn Star, flies to Dirge to reunite with their friend.
Chapter 6: Defending the Temple
While the student was dead, Sun Li realized that action would have to be taken in case the student managed to return to the realm of the living, and he retrieved Death's Hand from the rubble of the Lotus Assassin headquarters. He then sends the Imperial Army against Dirge. Sky pretends to betray the group, and lures Death's Hand out so that the student can defeat him in single combat. However, this is not enough to defeat him; Death's Hand rises again, but the student uses the force of his will to expel Sun Li's influence. The player may then release Death's Hand, use him as a slave, or convince him to seek redemption.
Chapter 7: Back to the Palace
The party flies back to the palace to confront Master Li, now the Emperor. As they make their way through the palace they discover that Emperor Sun Hai had stopped the drought by cutting open the Water Dragon's corpse and letting the water that flows from it feed the Empire. The student chooses either to destroy the Water Dragon's body, thus freeing her spirit and allowing the dead to find the underworld, or defile the water to weaken the Dragon and claim her power after defeating the new Emperor.
The student reaches Emperor Sun Li, who first sends Constructs of Bull and Elephant demons, the most powerful in the game, after the player. Sun Li then encases the student in stone and attempts to defeat the player with the force of his own doubt. However, if the student's companions survived, they will reduce the number of enemies that must be fought in each of the two stages. Sagacious Zu appears and helps free the student from his mind. Emperor Sun Li offers to help his student live in legend forever, if the student dies without fighting. If the player makes this decision, the student is remembered as a hero for knowing his or her place as Sun Li looks on and laughs. If the player does not, Sun Li attacks, and the student defeats him.
If the student chooses to free the Water Dragon's spirit, then the end sequence shows the people of the Jade Empire cheering the student and their party. If the student chooses to enslave the Water Dragon, the end sequence shows the Lotus Assassins kneeling at the feet of the student. After this end sequence, there are short text summaries detailing the fate of any characters who survived the adventure. These vary depending upon whether the student chose to enslave or free the Water Dragon, and also what romance options the student pursued.
Dawn Star: She either settles down with the student, settles down on her own, rules the empire with the student, or if the student talked her into a Closed Fist philosophy and/or abandoned her, wanders the Jade Empire alone.
Silk Fox: If the student does not romance Silk Fox, she will become Empress of the Jade Empire. If the student does romance Silk Fox and the student is male, the student and Silk Fox will rule the empire fairly, or with an iron fist. If the student is female, Silk Fox will either rule the empire fairly with her 'companion,' or will again rule with an iron fist, and both the student and Silk Fox don the Silk Fox costume to silence dissenters.
Sky: Sky will use the Guild for good purposes, or serve as the student's consort or as the new Death's Hand. If the student romances Sky, they leave the imperial city and live on the outskirts of Tien's Landing, unless the student is male, in which case they continue on their adventures through the Jade Empire, not complacent to settle down in one place.
Black Whirlwind: Black Whirlwind will roam the empire cutting off heads, eventually making his way around the world.
Henpecked Hou: After a series of mishaps, Hou starts a delivery business which he immediately uses as a method of escaping his overbearing wife.
Chai Ka: Chai Ka will either return to the heavens, freeing Wild Flower and giving her the gift of life, or he will remain trapped in Wild Flower's body causing her to wander the empire as a raving lunatic.
Ya Zhen: Ya Zhen will either serve the student until he or she passes away (resulting in him moving to bigger plans) or serve the student forever and loyally.
Death's Hand: Death's Hand will either become more evil, mutating so badly that his armor cannot hold his demonic form, or he will spend the rest of his days wandering the empire as a crusader for good, in order to make up for his past misdeeds.
Kang the Mad: Kang will continue to invent machines until an explosion appears to take his life, although strange machines continue to appear on the student's doorstep every year on the anniversary of their victory. As Lord Lao, Kang's lack of danger affects his imagination in building machines, so as a radical solution Kang starts arming the mobs that chase after him. If the player chose the Closed Fist ending, Kang works for the emperor(player), worrying his use will eventually be worn out and he will be disposed of. Eventually, he crafts a portal to another dimension and disappears in a huge explosion, taking an entire lake with him.
A third, alternate ending is available if the Student agrees to the terms of surrender presented by Sun Li in the final confrontation. The ending sequence features a statue of the student being praised years later by a class of children with a skin condition similar to that of the Lotus Assassins. One child asks what life was like before the protagonist's honored sacrifice and is quickly shushed by his teacher as a Jade Golem readies an axe to quell such questioning. The sequence ends with Sun Li laughing evilly, as the decision to surrender has ultimately led to misery and corruption in the Jade Empire.
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