I can't recall having seen many playthrough threads here before, but I've always found other people's enjoyable to read and it helps alleviate my guilt when I play a game for the nth time (it's actually going towards something!).
Jade Empire was released earlier this year for PC; and as I'd enjoyed it on a friend's X-box I didn't hesitate to pick it up. I actually found I enjoyed it far more the second time round; the first time I was too busy being disappointed by the obvious plot twist and story that was a rehash of Bioware's previous RPGs. Since I already knew how it ended when replaying it, I was able to sit back and simply enjoy it more.
For anyone who doesn't know, Jade Empire
is an action-RPG from Bioware. It was first released in 2005. The setting is a mythical one inspired by ancient China; while the landscape, names of people and Imperial establishment resemble history, the flying machines, golems and demons perhaps do not. It's slightly more linear than their previous games, although there are still multiple endings that depend upon which path you choose. There's supposedly not a true good/evil divide, but this is largely rubbish.
This post is going to be image heavy, but I've kept the screenshots low-res and the file sizes small. I thought it'd be better than having to click on lots of thumbnails.
Meet Furious Ming. He's the default fast character, only customised to have more balanced stats and the Leaping Tiger starting style. He's who I'll be playing as.
The game begins with your character in the fighting ring. You've grown up in Two Rivers' martial arts school, having been brought to the school as an orphaned infant. You're roughly twenty years of age and already renowned as the school's best student.
Two Rivers itself is a small fishing village situated at the borders of the Jade Empire. It's quiet and rarely does it receive visitors other than the usual traders. The heart of the Empire, Imperial City, is a far-off place with almost mythical standing amongst the villagers, few of whom have ever ventured far from home.
Your best friend in the village is Dawn Star
, a girl almost as old as you and who has been at the school nearly as long as you have. She maintains a close link to the spirit world, and is able to communicate with ghosts, which hasn't brought her very many friends - people, even in this world, are fearful of what they cannot explain.
I'm in the fighting ring facing Jing Woo, another student. He's easily defeated; to be honest, no one here is really a match for Furious Ming. Jing Woo takes it all in stride, however. He's gracious in his defeat.
I'm informed that Master Li would like to speak to me. Master Li, as his name suggests, is the school's teacher. It was he who brought me to this school as a baby, having rescued me from an unknown fate. I go to find him - but before he can tell me what he wanted to say, we are interrupted by another student bringing news of a bandit attack. Bandits, in Two Rivers? Li suggests that I go and find Dawn Star and fetch a weapon from Gujin the Weapon Master so that we can join the villagers in fending off the bandits.
No bandits here...
I've found some! Distressingly I appear to spout Wolverine-esque claws every time I launch into Leaping Tiger style. Nevertheless, they appear to do the job. Dawn Star does little other than to show off some leg. Followers in this game aren't a tremendous help; they're often best off in support mode. At least they don't die very easily.
I head down to the beach where I find the ship the bandits came in on.
Aboard the ship is the apparent leader of the bandits. His sports a strange brand on his forehead and a sickly pallor.
I don't see that there's any 'of course' about it. I'm certainly not going without a fight.
The ship's armed with a rather nasty cannon, however, so I shall have to watch out for that.
I don't share the same fate as the other villagers in being blown to smithereens, but the cannonballs do set me on fire. Fortunately I appear to have a resilient skin, and there's no lasting damage.
My skills are sufficient enough to intrigue the leader.
I think he's about to finally come and face me himself...
He appears to have the ability to control the undead. Ghosts rise from the ground.
Fortunately they're easily laid to rest.
Finally! The bandit leader realises that if you want a job done properly, you have to do it yourself.
Ah, the archetype villain. Bioware never shies away from stereotypes. Note the dark eyes and liberal use of what appears to be black lipstick, not to mention the empty threats. They never do, but say. They also always take care to show their complete lack of concern for innocents and bystanders, never doing anything by halves. It's always 'everyone must die!'.
I haven't died yet
, so come and get me!
However, someone's quicker off the mark than I am.
Just like that, Master Li decimates the bandit ship.
Always spoiling my fun.
Intriguing. This bandit leader appears to recognise Master Li.
Did he just say 'assassin'?
Just like that, the bandit leader is felled.
Master Li is nothing if not cryptic.
I'd say we do.
Li leaves, and I am left alone on the beach with Dawn Star.
Dawn Star noticed the use of the word 'assassin', too. She notes that assassins usually have specific targets; could it be that their target is Master Li? If so, why? We've always known him as the relatively benign teacher of Two Rivers school; why would anyone be searching for him after all these years?
Master Li mentioned that Dawn Star could help explain the presence of the ghosts.
It's my first sign of the troubles that plague the Jade Empire.
Fortunately right now the bandits have been defeated and I have little more to do than to flirt with my oldest friend. Which reminds me, I've never asked her about her unusual name.
Dawn Star was brought to the school when she was three years old; by contrast I've been here since I was but a couple of months old. I ask Dawn Star if she remembers anything of her life before she was brought here.
Throughout her entire life she's had the feeling that she's unwanted. The only person who showed her real kindness was the person who brought her to Two Rivers school in the first place.
My training has taken precedence for seventeen years, yet Dawn Star doesn't seem to begrudge me in the slightest. Personally I think I'd be rather irritated if I were in her shoes.
My ego must be enormous.
If I needed further proof of my being held in high regard amongst the villagers, I could find it just by hanging around and listening in on other people's conversation.
I'm not sure about the young ladies
, but I'm rather fond of my tattoo myself.
I return to Two Rivers school. Fortunately none of the students were killed by the obviously inept bandits.
I need to talk to Master Li; but I see little harm in taking some time to speak to each of the students, first. Maybe it's because I'm feeling a little embarrassed at how much attention I've been receiving, but it occurs to me that in all the years I've been here I've never grown to know them very well.
This student came to Two Rivers from a school in Imperial City. His mother had felt that the city was growing too dangerous for him. It's yet another sign of troubles in the otherwise peaceful-seeming Empire.
At least I'm not the only flirt in the village!
Jing Woo is as pleasant as ever. The man he is referring to, Gao, is my rival here at the school. His full title is Gao the Lesser. Earlier when I had called in upon Dawn Star I had found Gao attempting to foist his unwanted advances on her, and I was happy to intervene and send him on his way. It would appear that Gao is a little jealous of my skills and popularity.
Here, by the way, is a view of the school and its sparring ring:
Kia Min is interested in sparring with me; she recently beat the record for fighting multiple opponents, and wants to give me another chance at it. The only problem is that she was injured in the bandit attack and obviously isn't well enough just yet.
I offer my help. It seems that there is a medicinal herb that might help her recover more quickly, but she has forgotten its name.
Old Ming down at the beach might know more.
I find him sweeping up the mess that the bandits created. Over in the distance the flaming wreckage of the ship serves as a reminder of Master Li's skill. I only hope that I'll be able to match him one day.
Since I'm in a generous mood, I take heed of Old Ming's words and purchase the red silk grass poultice from the village merchant. The other option would be to buy the bearded tongue grass poultice, which would make Kia Min feel better but ultimately do nothing, meaning that if she were to fight her injury would cause permanent damage.
Back at the school I hand the poultice to Kia Min. She instantly feels better, and I'm ready to challenge her record.
It requires little effort on my part, and soon I found myself crowned the new victor.
I'm still reluctant to face Master Li. Surely there's something else I can do?
I'm mesmerised by something.
After running round for a little bit, I return to Master Li. Gao the Lesser has been speaking with him, and doesn't appear to be too happy.
Seems like Master Li has some grand plans for me!
I have to admit, Gao does have a point. I have
been shown favouritism by Master Li; it's only natural that other students should resent me. Then again, if Master Li had actually been fair, there would probably be no story to tell.
Gao makes the mistake of challenging me to a duel.
Dawn Star shows some concern for me, but Master Li lays her fears to rest.
She needn't worry, of course. I am
the better student, and I have no problem proving it.
The other students applaud my victory.
Gao, however, is not the gracious loser than Jing Woo was.
Li steps in and shields me from Gao's sorcery.
Master Li is rather angry.
Gao's made his last mistake.
After Gao has been formally excluded from the school, I go to speak to Master Li, to finally hear what my destiny is.
How can I know its importance when you've kept your lips tight, old man?
Firstly Master Li has a confession of his own to tell me. The assassin at the beach recognised him as the Emperor's brother, the Glorious Strategist - which explains the assassin's reference to 'impeccable strategy'. All of this begs the question: Why has Master Li been in hiding for nigh on twenty years?
There is a noise outside the door. It would appear that Gao the Lesser had been eavesdropping. As soon as he hears Master Li explain who he really is, Gao disappears.
It shows, says Master Li, that you never know everything; even the most unassuming person may in fact be someone important.
But now onto my history.
Towards the end of the Jade Empire's long drought, the Emperor and his army marched upon Dirge. The inhabitants of Dirge were slaughtered; only I survived. Master Li fled with me in his arms, safe-guarding me from his brother's wrath.
I can just picture it, now...
...the Emperor's army approaching the temple of Dirge; me, as a baby, in Master Li's arms...
...being kept quiet...
...lest Death's Hand hear.
Forced to leave Dirge behind.
The story has raised more questions than it has given answers, but for now all I can do is listen to Master Li.
I do ask him who Death's Hand is exactly, though.
Ah! May he finally prove a worthy adversary!
Why was it denied to me, and why? Master Li is as obtuse as ever.
Spirit Cave? How long has this lain here, exactly?
Master Li explains that Dawn Star helped him uncover the Spirit Cave. It has always been here, a part of the school. But its depths have been too dangerous for the students to explore, until now.
I read this inscription on the gate to the cave entrance.
Things are slowly beginning to make some sense.
As Dawn Star hinted at, spirits are currently roaming the Jade Empire because they are unable to rest. Their passage to the underworld is blocked; they cannot pass over into the next world. How does this affect me? Well, Master Li says:
My destiny, then, is to repave the way to the underworld. Wait, what? Me, alone? One person to set the worlds to rights?
Looks like I'm going to have my work cut out for me! Is there anything that can help?
Well, as it happens, there's this handy amulet...
So this nifty piece of jewellery allows me to wield greater power, but in exchange it's going to attract more of the undead to me. Fair's fair, I suppose.
One has to wonder if Master Li makes regular trips to these caves to keep all these lamps and lanterns alight. The floor's looking swept-clean, too.
Why is it called a spirit cave, anyway?
It's an old teacher of Two Rivers school!
A serious question, indeed. I obviously can't be allowed to fail in my task.
Well, I lay the spirits I find to rest - as best as I can, anyway. By defeating them in combat I'll be making sure that they don't immediately rise again.
With my amulet on my person and the spirits gone, my last task is to meditate on all that I've learned.
No sooner have I knelt down, however, than...
I am interrupted by a vision.
A blue apparition appears before me and talks in riddles.
She hints that although my mortal status does not permit me to understand her woe, I may be able to help her, as I am but one small person, and thus can remain more easily hidden.
She cannot answer any of my questions, however. All she can say is:
Thank you, but I'm not ready to die just yet.
She leaves behind a handy portal. I wonder where this goes?
I end up in Master Li's room! I startle him, but rather than sounding surprised he sounds almost...angry.
I explain that I had a strange and sudden vision.
Why is Li looking so shifty all of a sudden? He's incredibly curious, but doing his best to hide it.
I tell him that I was told I am the last Spirit Monk. Does he know what Spirit Monks are?
He's heard of them, but is unable to tell me precisely what they do. All he can say is:
I guess that is why it is my destiny to sort out the problem of the undead.
The Emperor destroyed my people. But why?
Master Li explains that my people revered and protected the Water Dragon. This goddess governed all the water on earth; but she also governed the spirit world and passage to the underworld.
Twenty years ago the Empire was experiencing a long drought. Several years of little to no rain had seen crops devastated and scores of people dying. The Emperor realised that if he could excise control over the Water Dragon, he could restore water to the Empire and bring prosperity to his reign.
'But my people were massacred anyway...'
His story told, Master Li suddenly acts all coy again:
But before I can answer, we are interrupted by one of the students sounding rather anxious. Master Li asks him to explain himself:
Li mutter something about this being 'useful'.
But something tells me that he isn't quite telling me the truth...
No matter. What does matter is that my friend is missing - and it looks like it's going to be up to me to rescue her.
I race out of the school. Just outside a villager is burning to death; Gao the Lesser used his dark magic on him. Gao's suddenly turned from a petty nuisance to a rather dangerous individual.
At the village gate I find the guard being tortured by Gao's men. I kill the mercenaries and, after learning where Gao was last seen headed, wander off into the swamps...
I rescue a man from some of Gao the Lesser's men who then requests me to go and find his Fen, his Flower of the Fields. I'm a sucker for helping people in trouble, so I say yes.
However, before I can find Fen or Dawn Star, I come across a middle-aged, scarred man named Sagacious Zu. He slaughters a few of Gao's men and seeing as how he dislikes them as much as I do, I ask him to help me find my friend. He says no, but then I mention her name is Dawn Star and he falters...
Liar. Of course he joins my party.
We find the man's Fen - or we think we do. Turns out that his beloved Fen, who he was afraid would be beaten to death by rogues, is actually his ox and not his wife who's not at all amused at me giving her that name.
Never mind! She's so pissed off at her husband that she makes him give me all his money. So I'm amply rewarded.
Zu and I massacre the rest of Gao's cronies, but let one frightened one live. He tells us that Dawn Star managed to break loose and go and hide in a nearby cave. Gao has gone after her. Time, then, to enter the cave!
Look at all the pretty glowing mushrooms.
There are ogres in this cave. I come up to crotch-height, yet they pose little challenge.
Sagacious Zu and I waste little time in dispatching the ogres and toad demons. At the far end of the cave we find Dawn Star and Gao the Lesser.
What do you mean, Gao?...
Gao can't be persuaded to see reason. He insists that he was doing Dawn Star a favour by kidnapping her and that he 'rescued her', and he'll kill me for attempting to rescue her. I offer to fight him one on one - I could use Zu or Dawn Star's help, but that just wouldn't be fair now, would it? He agrees, and I kill him. Thus lived Gao the Lesser.
That's okay, Dawn Star.
Now we've found Dawn Star it's time to leave the swamp and head back to the village. Zu suggests that we take Gao the Lesser's flyer; it'll be quicker. It looks to be a little rickety, but I'm not scared; the prospect of taking to the air is a rather exciting one.
As we head towards Two Rivers we get to see what Gao meant by his words.
His father has rained fire down upon Two Rivers, and Gao 'saved' Dawn Star by dragging her from the village. By doing this he also inadvertently saved me; if I had not been out searching for Dawn Star, I doubtless would have perished.
We scour the village for survivors, but between the bombs and Gao's men, nearly everyone has been killed. Only Kia Min survives unscathed.
We find Jing Woo in the school itself, but he is mortally wounded. He does, however, manage to describe to us what happened right before he dies.
An advance army of Lotus Assassins first entered the village, seeking Master Li. Master Li gave himself up, but this was not enough to prevent them from massacring the students of the school and the inhabitants of the village. The Lotus Assassins were led by a masked woman and Death's Hand himself.
There is not much more that my party can do. Master Li will have been taken to Imperial City, so Zu suggests that we head there. Our home is ruined; our friends are dead and Dawn Star's gardens scorched to the ground.
We head off into the sun.
Better quality versions of the screenshots can be found here