Jade Empire

Not sure if the next FSN post will be read for Saturday, but you do get this, so, it’s something, I guess?

Anyway, this was a fun and solid wRPG that gets major points for just being something different. It’s not a must-play for all, but if you like wRPGs I’d definitely rec it.

Also worth noting is that there’s one white person in the whole game, and it’s John Cleese.

I really enjoyed this game. If you’ve played Dragon Age: Origins, you’ll be familiar with the UX: lots of choices, lots of control, deep party member characterization (the base camp setup is here!), and a ton of sidequests with flavor text and rewards for exploring nooks and crannies. Combat can be a bit button-mashy but is still quite fun, and I found the boss battles to be nicely challenging on Grand Master difficulty. Nothing revolutionary, but certainly solid.

The selling point of this game, though, is the setting. Instead of the general Tolkienian high-fantasy setting, the game is set in a Chinese fantasy world, and it’s really, really cool. It’s a new mythology, a new philosophy, and just so incredibly unlike everything else it’s really hard not to be enamoured of it. Perhaps the biggest sin of the ciswhiteguy control of media is the lack of variety, the lack of originality when there’s so much in the world at large to explore, and this is the perfect reason why– the setting completely revolutionizes this game, taking it from mediocre to a hearty recommendation mostly just because it’s different.

Also, dat twist. It was one of those things where for like 20 minutes I was thinking, “Wait, no, this has to be wrong… right?” But that’s all I’ll say about that.

I broached this in my Witcher novel review, but I… like learning. I like the idea of being thrown into a world whose entire cultural history I hadn’t committed to memory by age 10. I like stopping gameplay to go research what a striga is or how the heavens are arranged in Chinese legend. These are additions to the gameplay experience. The idea that we should be striving for habituation as it yields ease is incredibly bizarre to me. Why don’t we seek the mythos of Eastern Europe, of China, to create more distinct narratives? In doing so, we actually bolster the narratives we already have, because we prune them. Everyone gets better for it. Why don’t we want to tell more stories?

Well, racism is why, but it’s not a particularly logical platform, so needless to say I just don’t get it. The idea of not wanting to expose onesself to new ideas is so incredibly bizarre to me I honestly have trouble wrapping my head around it.

Also, you should watch this because it’s freaking hilarious:

Changing topics, let’s talk about women.

I said before, and will say again, that I genuinely think Bioware tries really hard to be inclusive. They don’t always succeed, but I feel like they try, and I really appreciate that, because it’d be too easy for a big-name studio to go, “Whatevs,” and keep raking in the cash, which is indeed what most of them do. (Aside: I once tried to Google for a list of female characters in DA2, and all of the results were neckbeards complaining that there were too many women in the game. I need a male tears mug, they really do sustain me.)

I think this game is a really good example of how you can do really good things and get brownie points for them while still messing some stuff up when marketing/patriarchy gets the better of you.

First of all, the costuming is freaking ridiculous, and I honestly would have passed over the game based on that alone if you hadn’t recced it. People made fun of the midriff Dalish armor in DA:O, which I always thought was kind of weird. The armor was stupid, but it’s wasn’t super-sexualized and it was the lowest-level armor of its kind and basically all the other armors in the game were fine, so I really don’t get why people are so caught up on it. Why more people don’t mock the costuming in this game instead, I don’t know.

But I do have a theory. I actually noticed that the weirdness only applied to the female PC and one party member, which makes me think this was a case of marketing insisting there be ~sexy women~ for the obviously-male player to ogle. There were no sexualized children, all the female NPCs were dressed normally, and even Silk Fox had a totally reasonable outfit. The end result is kind bizarre– the game just ends up incongruous with itself. So yeah, I’m inclined to blame higher-ups for this and not the actual creative team.

The game also had an endgame queen, which is something I’ve hit quite a bit of lately and was nice. She was of the “shun traditions and be badass in secret” stock character, but it’s a really positive stock portrayal and I like it, so I’m totally fine with that.

The antagonism between Dawn Star and Silk Fox was just this side of irksome, though. On one hand I get that they were trying to make it a genuine personality clash, but on the other I think it fell a little to much into the “women only have competitors and sycophants” camp.

You also had that interesting problem that popped up in Radiant Historia, where the plot was driven by women (especially if you play as a woman) and there were tons of great women doing every job imaginable, but the supporting cast still tilted male. I think this is a growing pains issue, as I did in RH, and I think as time goes on the woman at the forefront will spread backwards and things will get more balanced, but it’s another look at how you can do some great things right while still falling prey to bad old habits.

And that brings us to “Henpecked Hou.”

The old “women are harpies who live to tormet poor, maligned men” is stupid, sexist, and I shouldn’t have to elaborate any further and if I do, welcome! You must be new here. It annoyed me every time it came up.

However, something kind of bizarre happened. It almost seemed like they were going to deconstruct it.

When you find out late in Hou’s companion dialogue that it was an arranged marriage neither of them really had any say in, and then that they couldn’t have kids even though they wanted to, it seems like the game is trying to say that there’s usually a lot of deep reasons people are unhappy in marriages, and none of them have to do with women being “nags.”

Except that the game just kind of stops there and then keeps playing the trope straight. It was like they wanted to make the situation deeper, but either didn’t know how or didn’t have the nerve to go through with it. It was honestly really confusing tonally, because you go from Hou pouring his heart out right back to “lol women” jokes, and it doesn’t make any sense with what we now know of the character.

Going back to opressive mindsets stifling creativity, I think the seeds of a really interesting plotline were here. They even started to sprout and then… they were just abandoned. It was almost a kind of inverse Big-Lipped Alligator Moment, and I still don’t quite know what to make of it. It didn’t seem sure of what it was trying to do.

The only other thing I have to say, I think, is re: gameplay. I really liked playing on the highest difficulty setting. However, this meant dying sometimes, and my boss strategy generally was to do a suicide run or two to figure out how the boss fought before settling in for the real fight.

This game had some of the longest loading screens I’ve ever seen, and I have no idea why. It actually significantly impacted my ability to play the game, because I ended up dialing the difficultly back so I wouldn’t have to deal with them.

I honestly don’t know what was up here. I was playing it on a 360 even though it’s an original-XBOX game, so theoretically there should be more than enough processing power to run things relatively quickly (and I’m finding this to be the case with Morrowind), but maybe there was some weird compatibility issue going on? IDK.

Anyway, for you teal deer:

If you like wRPGs, you’ll really enjoy it. While the gameplay is rather rote, the setting and story are engaging, there are some really nice characters, and there’s tons of sidequests oh god the sidequests. If wRPGs aren’t your bag it probably won’t convert you, but the uniqueness of the setting alone may make it worth a look if you’re on the fence.


  1. Roarke says:
    Not sure if the next FSN post will be read for Saturday, but you do get this, so, it’s something, I guess?

    I kind of love how you start almost every non-F/SN post with an update on the progress of F/SN. Also, I don’t mean to put any pressure on you, but literally the first thing I do every Saturday morning is check for F/SN. It will be even more the case for this next post, because the next day is…

    edit: Relevant to the actual post itself, yessss John Cleese. Having great Brits voice acting in RPG’s reminds me of Tony Jay (rip) as The Narrator in The Bard’s Tale (2004). editedit: Yeah, on consideration, I have to put that in the Recommendations post.

    And yeah, I feel like a lot of Jade Empire went into Dragon Age, and it speaks well of both games that they’re so awesome.

    1. Ezequiel Ayoroa says:

      I kind of love how you start almost every non-F/SN post with an update on the progress of F/SN. Also, I don’t mean to put any pressure on you, but literally the first thing I do every Saturday morning is check for F/SN. It will be even more the case for this next post, because the next day is…

      Yeah, same here. I was thinking of writing her a letter. Something like…




      1. Roarke says:
        kill you wait patiently.

        fun advice for future reference: strikethroughs are created using “s” within brackets and the “/s” within brackets at the end of the strike. Same with “i” for italics and “b” for bold. HTML can be fun!

        1. EdH says:
          And the HF jokes have begun
          1. Roarke says:
            I’m sort of dreading Act’s review of HF. So far I’ve predicted her responses to F/SN fairly well, meaning we’re fairly well in-tune with our reactions. But HF is already in a terribly shaky place in my esteem, so I’m both worried Act will love it and worried she’ll hate it… if that makes any sense at all.
            1. guestest ever says:
              That’d be appropriate. HF is as full of hateable crap as awesomeness.

              And it’s a good thing we’re not putting any pressure on the esteemed blogger by starting up FSN conversations on comments of every single post on this blog.

              1. Roarke says:
                I mean, I have faith in a diamond’s ability to withstand pressure, and I have a similar faith in Act’s. But yeah, it’s kind of funny how that happens.

                HF is just terribly polarizing, innit.

            2. EdH says:
              Yeah even if it’s my favorite (I’ll make a long post at the end of the UBW discussion if I’m allowed to), it has so many problems, especially with the original having some lines that are really wrong.
              1. Roarke says:
                What, you mean about HF?
                … No, I don’t think you’ll be allowed to discuss HF on the Final Thoughts post of UBW. editing out the sarcasm: it’s something Act and her audience would really prefer you not do.
              2. EdH says:
                Ah figure it could be a why I like this without spoiler thing, but yeah shot in the dark.
  2. EdH says:
    Funny you mention Hou. Jade Empire basically went for shout outs to various literature characters and stock comedy (I was having a blast when a friend showed me a bit; Black Whirlwind is a reference to the Water Margin for example). Hou fits a Chinese comedy stereotype (henpecked husband; mild version is like the landlord in Kung Fu Hustle). With Hou I get the suspicion they wanted to try something different, but at the end of the day, he’s one of those Chinese comedy stock characters, so it just has to keep going (I mean, he’s even mousy looking).

    Still sexist, but does bring up a question. If the values of the times, and the stock characters are wrong, What is the line between researched/shoutout versus just wrong?

    1. illhousen says:
      Using stock characters is wrong in general even if they are stock characters from another culture because they are stock characters. There is no depth to them, no life.

      Using stock archetypes is fine as long as you add substance to the old formula. There were discussions about how Rin is a good tsundere because she has actual reasons to act like that which are natural extension of her character.

      Likewise, a henpecked husband is fine if we later find out that the situation is more complex than “women, right?” and there is some kind of character grows or at least character revelation.

      There are exceptions, of course, as there aren’t many ironclad rules in writing. You can parody a given archetype by taking it to extreme and showing how ridiculous it is. You can use stock characters in in-universe fiction to show the believes and social attitudes of the setting.

      Long story short, there must be some kind of purpose for using a stock character, otherwise it’s lazy writing.

      1. EdH says:
        Thank you, that sounds right. Well, that’s quite a lot of Chinese fiction out there. I mean, I’m generalizing, but I’m not joking either when I say henpecked husband, as it is, is still a thing in mainstream Chinese media.
        1. Roarke says:
          They’re a common stock everywhere. Last I remember reading one was in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel, Snuff. Except, like a good author, he put a twist to the typical stock.

          Which basically leads me to another thing: if the stock character is common to many cultures, that doesn’t really give research value if they include it. If they added something that was really uncommon in Western media, that would be better.

          1. Guest says:
            No I got that, I just meant no one really changes it as far as I recall with Chinese works. I’ll leave it at that; I’m not good enough with words to describe things. Could talk about heroics and monsters in Chinese stories though.
          2. EdH says:
            Good point. I dunno, I must have seen it for so long I get a different perspective of it. Like sometimes a character like Hou and his wife are equivalent to comic relief, or it’s a satire of society. But really, that doesn’t help the point here.
            1. Roarke says:
              Yeah, it happens. Marriage gets discussed a lot in fiction with varying degrees of seriousness. I mean, people wrote entire plays about shrewish women getting their “comeuppance” in England, but that stuff slips through sometimes. The way things are presented in different cultures can make you miss the connection, I guess.
  3. guestest ever says:
    “Also worth noting is that there’s one white person in the whole game, and it’s John Cleese.”
    Now you’ve seen the best Bioware has to offer. It’s ALL downhill from this point on.

    “Why don’t we seek the mythos of Eastern Europe, of China, to create more distinct narratives? In doing so, we actually bolster the narratives we already have, because we prune them. Everyone gets better for it. Why don’t we want to tell more stories?”

    Because gaming industry is full of shit and shitheads. Voice acting, mocap, 3d renders, orchestral musics, engines and all other ingame stuff is expensive enough; but the bean counters and suited drones waste fuckloads of money on hollywoodian marketing campaign bullshit, fake internet hype and “journalist” bribing. So not doing the exact same thing done hundreds of times beforehand has become too risky.

    And there’s fuckloads of games too. Countless idiots rushed into gaming industry to create more and more studios as if gamers’ numbers and wallets were infinite and flooded the market. So they kind of need to waste time and effort to not get swept away by the tsunami of crap now. Then shitheaded suits, being shitheaded suits, started to pour money into marketing fake hype for shitty games that’ll sell explosively at launch day; preferably to the coveted neckbearded manchild demographic that’ll eat up anything that looks like it’s got tits and explosions.

    And that’s how gaming industry went to shit.

    “If you’ve played Dragon Age: Origins, you’ll be familiar with the UX:
    lots of choices, lots of control, deep party member characterization
    (the base camp setup is here!), and a ton of sidequests with flavor text and rewards for exploring nooks and crannies.”
    This was the last time they ever did that right. Both ME and DA series do their damndest to fool you into thinking there’s choices you can pick and different ways of doing things to affect the setting and plot, then proceed to kick sand in your face and laugh at your naivete before tying you onto their railroad tracks.

    This is caused by the “cinematic gaming” thing they keep harping on and it’s a pile of elephant shit. If I wanted a “cinematic experience”, I’d watch a movie. It doesn’t help that what passes for “writer” in games industry are the hacks who wouldn’t be allowed into even the shittiest of direct to DVD movies.

    If this is a game, I expect some interaction with the story, not fanfiction level writing puncuated by mediocre gameplay sequences (that mostly consist of explosions). You can pretend to be a movie if you’ve created a flawless gameplay to entertain me but BW is at best above average in gameplay department. They don’t get a pass for railroading me and they doubly don’t get a pass by trying to trick me with fake choices that don’t do anything.

    That used to be acceptable back in Baldur’s Gate, because back then they didn’t have a hype machine going on and on about how awesomely choiceful their games were and how responsive their setting was and how in control I was gonna be.

    BW was the first western RPG maker that started the party characterization train years ago, but then they went and flanderized themselves over and over until their games become goddamn soap operas where saving the world/universe takes a backseat to getting into as many NPC pants as possible. While that’s probably as much fans fault as it is BW’s, the fact of the matter is that BW has basically become the “waifu provider” for western terribad neckbeard audiences (who mock the Japanese otaku for doing the exact same thing with JRPG characters). Their official forums might be the second worst place on the english typing internet after 4chan.

    That is a giant wall of text containing the gist of my hatred towards gaming industry in general and Bioware in particular.
    Hmm, it seems hate will out. And I was sure I’m too tired to bother elaborating on my hatred of Bioware. Apparently hate feeds me.

    Luckily, this game is mostly exempt from those. Traces can be seen, but JE is overall a good story with a servicable actiony game attached. It even has two completely different endings that don’t get trivialized in the sequel by some dumb hack (because there’s no sequel, which is for the best).

    “Also, dat twist.”
    If only there were spoiler tags here, I could gush about that. It’s not done as expertly as a certain other twist, but it’s up there. Them cinematics were a work of genius….
    “I said before, and will say again, that I genuinely think Bioware tried
    really hard to be inclusive. They don’t always do it, but I feel like
    they try, and I really appreciate that, because it’d be too easy for a
    big-name studio to go, “Whatevs,” and keep raking in the cash, which is
    indeed what most of them do.”
    Well you don’t get the threesome option for your female character, you have straight choice Sky and gay choice Silk Fox. Dudes can totally get both Dawn Star and Silk Fox (at the same time too) or they can get Sky instead if they swing that way. Dunno how much that counts as raking in the cash, but it’s there.

    “First of all, the costuming is freaking ridiculous,”
    We live in a world where Scarlet Blade exists. JE got nothing.

    I assume you’ll move on to another old rpg classic now? I’d recommend not doing Torment as it’s long, very wordy and quite deep. It’s just the best story ever written in a video game, it can wait (would also delay FSN posts, but that’s obviously not my ulterior motive here). It’s also a terrible CRPG and should’ve been a branching visual novel instead. So do Fallouts instead. Or maybe a nonrpg. It’s not like you’re legally obligated to finish FSN before posting other things…

    1. Roarke says:
      It’s not like you’re legally obligated to finish FSN before posting other things…

      I-it’s not like I like those posts!

      But in all seriousness, I agree about delaying Torment for as long as possible. guestest is totally right about doing the original Fallout instead. That game is very minimalistic and very powerful; you’ll have a lot of fun and a good deal to talk about while not being swamped.

    2. actonthat says:
      I actually agree that there were an increasing amount of “fake” decisions on later BW games, which is one of the reasons I never felt a drive to pick up ME (though I don’t think DAO fell into this pattern; I always felt like I mattered there). The “lol your choices didn’t actually have any effect n the ending” thing in ME3 was just bizarre, but hopefully they learned their lesson after the backlash.

      Which is a good segue to say that the next big thing on my list is actually DA Inquisition. I didn’t hate DA2 as much as a lot of people seemed to, but I think that’s because I read it as a bridge narrative that wasn’t supposed to be as big or varied as Origins or Inquisition, just connect them. In a few days we’ll know if that was right or just wishful thinking, and I honestly have no idea what to expect.

      In the immediate sense, the next post to go up that isn’t Fate is almost certainly going to be the Agatha Christie roundup. I finished all the books a couple of weeks ago and haven’t had the change to coalesce my notes into an actual post yet, but it’s coming.

      I also want to finish Higurashi, but I’m really unhappy with how those reviews have gone so I’m going to try something different… I’m just not sure what yet, hence the delay. But I do very much want to get it done.

      1. illhousen says:
        How Persona games are going, by the way? I am mostly interested in P3 and P4 as it’s when I feel the developers found what they want to do with the franchise.
        1. actonthat says:
          They got kind of lost in the shuffle. I don’t have an ETA. I’d actually like to get a hard copy, as I tend to not pay attention as much with emulations.
      2. guestest ever says:
        “I never felt a drive to pick up ME”

        ME series is space Jesus saving space by punching/shooting/shouting at robots, aliens and alien robots while hanging out with space buddies. The only good thing is Dr Mordin but that’s not worth slogging through 100 hours of bullshit.

        At this point, you’re probably better off just reading rest of Higurashi and doing one huge final review post. The only way to fix the erosion of time by now would be to reread from the start, which seems unlikely to happen. Your palate is full enough with all sorts of things and the objectively superior Umineko is also waiting in line.

        And you should probably read Hisui route some time as it’s best. No need for a review (it’d just be a wall of gifs). It’s kinda too late now but ideal way of reading Tsukihime was Ciel>Hisui>optionals.

        1. Roarke says:
          Speaking of ideal ways to read Tsukihime, the manga fucking rocks.
  4. Zephyr says:
    Does anyone here have platform recommendations for Jade Empire? I’d prefer to play on PC, but I’ve heard the Steam port isn’t real good – has anyone here tried it?

    You’re playing Morrowind, Act? Are you going to do a post about it? I’m kind of torn – on the one hand, Morrowind is one of my absolute all-time favourite games (mostly for the setting and culture stuff), so I’d love to see your opinion on it. On the other hand, it’s one of my absolute all-time favourite games, so I kinda want to be able to ignore its flaws :P

    1. actonthat says:
      Nah, there’s no point in a review of an Elder Scrolls game. They’re the epitome of the escapist power fantasy, and they’re fucking awesome. It’s not high art, but it’s not trying to be, and I am 100% okay with that.

      Though I made the mistake of assuming Morrowind wouldn’t be the same black hole timesuck as Oblivion and Skyrim and God above I have never been more wrong about anything. I was like, “Eh, if came out in 2002, how big could it be?” and now I’m staying up til one am every night.

      1. illhousen says:
        Have you tried Daggerfall?

        It’s older than Morrowind, so surely it won’t be as much of a time sink, right?

        1. actonthat says:
          Don’t mock me D:

          But yes I should play Daggerfall eventually. I was a total Nintendo kid so I missed all the classic RPGs growing up (except Diablo, somehow) and I quite enjoy going back to them.

          1. illhousen says:
            Well, Daggerfall achieves its massive size by artificial means via generating content on the fly, which means that from time to time you get quests asking you to kill a bear because it robbed a bank. Morrowind is more well-crafted in comparison (though the main plot is more complex and branching in Daggerfall, as I recall).

            On the other hand, you have bank-robbing bears.

            1. Roarke says:
              “Hands in the air and put the honey in the bag!
              … huh? Money? Well, maybe I can buy honey from the bees. Put the money the bag!”
      2. Roarke says:
        I actually haven’t played a single Elder Scrolls game at all. I think Fallout 3 is the only Bethesda game I’ve ever played.
          1. Roarke says:
            Sorry, but I was a 90’s RPG/RTS kid, playing things like Fallout, Planescape: Torment, and the like. And then WoW. I didn’t have time for FPS-with-RPG-elements.
        1. illhousen says:

          Seriously, Morrowind is worth getting into. It’s a pretty immersive game set in a weird and non-standard world. If you like exploration in games and want to see an alien world and learn its lore, Morrowind will deliver.

          The plot, on the other hand, is nothing to write home about, so if you play games for the story, it’s not worth the effort.

          It is certainly superior to Fallout 3 on account of not fucking with an established setting.

          I found Oblivion rather meh. It has nice moments like when you explore some necromancer’s lair with typical stuff inside and suddenly find clothes for a kid near a soul stone, but mostly it’s a pretty standard fantasy flair in atmosphere and tone, which kinda defeats the point of immersion.

          Skyrim is fine, it has a nice balance of familiar and weird, though I didn’t seriously get into it due to not having enough time.

          1. actonthat says:
            I’m obviously early into Morrowind, but I would agree that of the three Oblivion is the weakest. I’d say go through them chronologically, though, because the actual gameplay gets progressively more finetuned and it’s really wonderful. Skyrim is great because the UI and UX were just perfect, even if the setting was a little more generic than Morrowind or not as big as Oblivion.
            1. SpoonyViking says:
              Skyrim has fantasy vikings and dragons! What more could you want? :-P
              Mind you, I’ve never actually played Skyrim – or any Elder Scrolls game, for that matter -, so I don’t really know if the game is fun or not. But it caught my interest just because of the setting.
              1. actonthat says:
                I mean, you’re joking, but it’s actually ridiculously awesome. If you want to badass your way around a surprisingly deep fantasy world, there’s no better place to go than the Elder Scrolls series.
              2. SpoonyViking says:
                My PC actually can’t run Skyrim, but I’ve been meaning to try one of the games. I’ll probably start with Daggerfall, since it’s free, now.
            2. Zephyr says:
              Yeah, I played Morrowind first and I’m currently in the middle of fixing up Skyrim again after a computer move, so I have a feeling I’ve screwed myself over for Oblivion. I always felt disappointed in the creative team for that game – the Morrowind lore says that Cyrodiil is supposed to be covered in rainforest (even if that doesn’t really make sense geographically) which could have been a really interesting and different setting, but no, they went for generic medieval Europe #2358. I get that they probably couldn’t have actually rendered rainforest, but still, it’s disappointing.
          2. Roarke says:
            Yeah, if the plot isn’t really that good, I’m not going to bother with them. If I wanted to play an RPG for the setting and gameplay I’d pick up Dark Souls II or something like that.
            1. actonthat says:
              The plot isn’t bad at all, it’s just not something to write home about. It’s interesting enough to be engaging, but not really meant for serious analysis. They’re really excellent games, I’d totally recommend playing them if you ever want to lose weeks of your life into the void.
              1. Roarke says:
                Well, uh, coincidentally WoW has a new expansion out today, so… I’m probably going to just play that. I have an old group of friends who basically get together every time an expansion comes out. It’s kind of silly.
    2. Roarke says:
      How are the Elder Scrolls games? Never played one.
  5. Harpe says:
    I think I’m going to throw up. Seeing “male tears” reminds me how in highschool, that was the euphemisn for, well, sperm. Adolescence is a funny time.

    Moving on, Valkyria Chronicles was just ported to Steam today. It’s a turn based strategy/third person shooter game ala Fire Emblem. While personally one of my favorite JRPGs of all time, it does have its narrative faults as it tries to explore the ‘war is hell’ outlook but still be anime inspired. Perhaps the coolest thing about it is its art style, taking after WW1 water color paintings.

    It brings such a big smile to my face, seeing a 6 year old JRPG being at the top of steam sales, passing call of duty and Assassin’s Creed.

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