SOFTWARE REVIEW: Body and soul, Asian style

My first recommendation after installing this game - a process that takes a long 15 minutes - is to go immediately into the Options and click off "Gore."

jade disk 88 (photo credit: )
jade disk 88
(photo credit: )
Jade Empire, a DVD-ROM in English by the BioWare Group, distributed with a 40-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP or higher and a Pentium 4 PC or better, for ages 16 through adult, NIS 219. Rating: *** 1/2 My first recommendation after installing this game - a process that takes a long 15 minutes - is to go immediately into the Options and click off "Gore." That easy step will spare you from seeing all the blood and disemboweled people that result from swordplay and other violence in this role-playing martial arts game based in a non-existent Asian land called the Jade Empire. Then, if you have an interest in the Orient and plenty of patience for the constant dialogue, go ahead and play the role of a young adult who was orphaned and raised in the martial arts school by its enigmatic and astute chief, Master Li. You first choose among seven characters, a minority of them women. The game begins with a karate challenge from a fellow student who is quite easy to defeat. Oddly, nobody else seems to be watching. Then, dusting yourself off, you are told to see the headmaster, who says, as the scar under his right eye vibrates, that you are his best student and that he has plans for you. This conversation is interrupted by the news of attackers who have wounded a fellow students, and you must spring into action to defend your classmates with your steely fists, legs and other weapons. After about 25 hours of playing, you will discover some facts about your mysterious background as an orphan who initially knows nothing about his past. Success depends not only on your martial styles against enemies, but also your magic and demons, weapons, support and transformation styles (the latter requires large amounts of a type of energy called Chi, which can be used to heal yourself). That's natural, as Asian mythology is a dominant theme at Master Li's school. Although over the years, most videogames have been released first for PCs and only later for consoles, this one appeared two years ago as an Xbox offering, and only now has been issued for those who play games on their computers. It seems that the Canadian software maker - which previously issued very good offerings such as NeverWinter Nights and Baldur's Gate - didn't bother to upgrade the graphics, which in 2005 were quite advanced but today look a bit dusty. The plant life in the small village where the martial arts school is located looks quite alive, the waterfalls sparkle, the hills are covered with mist and the endless dialogue on the screen runs pretty much in synch with the moving of the characters' lips. But there is something old-fashioned about the feel of it. As this is a role-playing and not just an action game, all the characters you meet - from small children to old crones - tell stories to provide you with clues about where to go. Most speak in American-style English, which is odd but practical for an English-language gaming audience; however, a few speak in an Asian language called "Old Tongue," and their words are translated in English on the screen. In fact, they talk so much that it may overwhelm gamers, especially if their English proficiency level is not very high. The young warrior you play never speaks a word but only nods and blinks his eyes in response. You have to click on his answers from a multiple choice of three. In some cases, you are posed with ethical questions and must decide where you stand, often having to choose between the generous "Open Palm" approach and the hardhearted "Closed Fist" approach. The choice means that if you want to replay the game, giving different answers will make it somewhat different the next time. The voice acting and sounds are very good. But while there is much dialogue, fighting is the name of the game, and you have the choice of a fast attack, a strong attack and an area attack and can block aggression against you. The game designers went a little overboard with effects, so that even simple karate strokes appear with circles of light or balls of fire pouring out of your fists. After only a short while, this ceases to excite and becomes tiring. Here again, understanding the torrent of dialogue in this game requires excellent proficiency in English. Those who don't have it had better bow out.