The Let's Play Archive

Jade Empire

by Doc M

Part 2: Tale of Two Rivers

Episode 01: Tale of Two Rivers

Jade Empire has no opening credits or epic cutscenes or anything like that to start things off. As soon as we've set up our character, we start off with a panning shot of what looks to be a martial arts academy of some type. This is the Two Rivers School, located in the town of Two Rivers in a remote part of the Jade Empire, and if we look closely we can see some of the students of the school practicing their moves.

Our main character, Wu the Lotus Blossom, is the top student of this school and we can see her sparring with another student in the center ring.

This is Jing Woo. We don't know much about him right now, but he seems to be friendly to us even though Wu is the superior fighter.

The dialog system is mostly the same as it was in Knights of the Old Republic. One detail that doesn't show up very well in screenshots is that Wu's facial expression actually changes depending on the tone of the currently highlighted dialog option, smiling when you're picking a friendly response and frowning when you're a dick. Jing Woo is a good guy, so we'll be nice to him.

I just realized that the bottom option here is pretty much just "You fight like a cow" from Monkey Island.

Happily! I feel that I learn something every time I face you, even if it's only a new place to nurse a bruise. So long as you're certain you have time?

I am rarely beaten, friend.

Let us begin.

MUSIC: Fist/Test Your Mettle

Jade Empire is a full-on action RPG with combat that is technically still turn-based with action queues like KotOR but has been tweaked to feel as close to real-time as possible. The fighting system is not particularly complex or difficult to master, but you do get a decent number of different fighting styles to choose from and there are some pretty cool ones in the game.

Button 1? Great. Jade Empire came out on PC before Xinput support really took off, so we're going to have to see which button does what. Button 1, or A, is our basic attack, and the tutorial is telling us to try it on Jing Woo here. Our starting style is Legendary Strike, which is your basic kung fu style with a lot of roundhouse kicks and that sort of thing.

The blue lightning aura around Wu denotes a strong attack, which is used by pressing X (or Button 3 in this case). I didn't actually mean to press it here and there's a separate tutorial for it, but might as well show it off anyway.

Focus mode (Y button) slows down time, which obviously can be very helpful in fights against tougher foes. As the popup helpfully informs us, Focus mode also drains your Focus (the yellow bar) constantly and quite fast as well, so you can't rely on it too much especially if you use other styles that consume Focus.

Once we've hit Jing Woo enough with our basic strikes, the game teaches us how to block (B button). As long as you hold block, you're protected from basic attacks.


Jing Woo eventually decides to clock us in the face with a strong attack, bypassing the block and dealing major damage. Chi healing can be used at any point as long as you have some blue bar left.

Now that we're all healed, we need to hit Jing Woo with a strong attack of our own.

The PC version's default input for evading attacks is a double-tap in any direction. It's incredibly awkward and doesn't seem to work half the time, but fortunately you don't have to deal with it. Switching to the alternate (block + direction) input makes Jade Empire's combat far more enjoyable.

We finish off the tutorial by beating the living hell out of Jing Woo, which appears to be a fairly common occurrence around here.

MUSIC: Hills and Fields - The Dance of the Babbling Brook

The master of the school was watching our little tutorial bout and seems to be satisfied with our progress.

I learn something every time we meet, proving that loss sometimes is the best teacher. Thank the heavens that the bruises are worth it.

Thank you for the bout.

You are gracious, as always. I regret that there won't be much time for such practice now that you have almost finished your training. Master Li told me to pass on that you should speak to him when you have the chance. He said you could take your time, so you need not rush.

Why didn't you tell me earlier?

He specifically told me that it was no rush, so I didn't think it would be vital. Besides, who could turn down a chance to practice with you? You have some time to wander the school and talk with other students. Smiling Mountain likely has some of the younger students available if you want to spar. I shall leave you to it. Take care, my friend.

As Jing Woo mentioned, we now have time to wander around and talk to the other students. The chufty fellow over there in the upper right corner is Smiling Mountain, and he can set up some practice fights for us if we feel like beating up more underclassmen. Right now, I think we'll just have a chat with a couple of the other students.

Restless dead? Pft, I'm sure it's nothing to worry about.

Do my senses detect a hint of sarcasm from Student Lin here? Well, yes, to be honest. It turns out some of our fellow students aren't quite as friendly with us as Jing Woo was earlier and there's some resentment over our status as the top student.

I understand your training is almost complete. I wonder who will replace you as our "example?" It certainly won't be me. I can't even imagine Master Li saying, "You must strive to be like Lin in all things," to the others. Just the opposite, more likely.

If you want Master Li to say it, don't give him a choice. Be the best you can.

That makes sense. Is that how you live your life? If so, it certainly seems to be an effective philosophy. Maybe I should spend more time training and less time worrying about where I stand in the school. How else will I be good enough to take you down one of these days? Besides, there might be bigger things to worry about. I find myself intrigued by the ghost tales that everyone's mentioning?

Huh, seems like there's a lot of talk about ghosts going around.

Other than what Dawn Star "senses," all I have is stories, but they're becoming more and more common. Tales of people being haunted by loved ones, and mad ghosts attacking people on the roads or even in their homes. And Master Li accepts Dawn Star's ability to see and sense things others can't. If he believes her, then how could I believe otherwise?

Where do these ghosts come from?

According to the stories, ghosts are usually people whose souls are trapped in this world either by circumstance or because they won't let go of their old lives. The thing is, those circumstances are very rare, and you never heard about ghosts ten years ago. Now everyone's talking about them. It's like something has happened, and people aren't leaving this world like they should be. Either that, or it's mass hysteria, but I can't believe that explanation.

Goodbye for now.

Stay well. After all, how could we learn without our most senior student to guide us.

Lovely, thanks. Lin mentioned someone called Dawn Star who can apparently sense ghosts or something to that effect. That's a party member name if I ever heard one. Dawn Star is actually supposed to be a longtime friend of ours, and we'll see more of her soon enough.

Right. Let's go see Master Li, we've wasted enough time screwing around here.

Gao seems to have been visiting the master and doesn't sound too happy about their discussion. Let's have a chat with him, I'm sure he will be very friendly to us since we're Master Li's favorite student and all that.

If I'd known it was holding up your training, I would have come sooner.

Really? You would have dropped everything to make way for me? I don't think so. You're far too important to waste time worrying about my education. Master Li certainly considers your training important enough to shove all others aside, so why shouldn't *I* bow down to your greatness?

Such a personable fellow! Gao is voiced by Nathan Fillion, who does an excellent job playing this arrogant jackass.

I really should have picked the lower option. Oh well.

I'm sure Wen could stammer out an answer for you, something to make you feel all warm inside and just great about yourself. Master Li wants to talk to you. Do me a favor, and go talk to him. Then maybe I can actually receive some education at this school.

What a cheerful person. Now that he mentions it, I think I do actually have some other business to attend to first. Master Li can wait a bit longer, he did say there's no rush after all.

First off, we have some reading material to check out. These scrollstands give us a bit of EXP, and we can also earn some useful stat boosts if we do enough reading so it's always in our best interest to look around for scrollstands and books.

This particular scroll has a bit of Jade Empire lore for us.

The box next to the scrollstand contains a scroll on martial styles.

Iron Palm and Viper are the two new styles introduced in the Special Edition. To master them, we need to find three scrolls of each. They're technically not mutually exclusive, I believe, but one of the Viper scrolls is a reward for doing some pretty evil shit and I'm playing this as a good guy. (edit: they are in fact mutually exclusive, as the same quest that gives you the Viper scroll gives you an Iron Palm scroll instead if you're not an asshole)

Actually, that's something that should be explained in a bit more detail. Like most BioWare games released after KotOR, Jade Empire has a morality system with two paths: Way of the Open Palm and Way of the Closed Fist. It wasn't necessarily supposed to be a simple good vs. evil system like the one in KotOR, but in practice that is what it ended up becoming anyway. Closed Fist was meant to be more of a "strength is power and the poors should pull themselves up by the bootstraps instead of asking me for help" path, but some of the things you do as a Closed Fist character are just ridiculously evil.

In any event, we've got a couple more books to look at:

Harmonic Combos are a gameplay mechanic I've never really used all that much on any of my Jade Empire playthroughs. It can be very useful and I will be showing it off as best I can, but it's not something that is absolutely required by any means.

Might as well talk to some more students while we're here. The guy in the red headband is Wen, who Gao told us may be willing to tell us just how great we are.

Sometimes I wonder if I am ready to train with others of such skill, even in the robes of a junior student. I feel a long way from my home in the Imperial City.

If you are here, you belong here.

You're right. Master Li would not have accepted me if he did not see potential. He measures all people carefully. I will just have to work twice as hard to catch up to your level of skill. Even then it will take a long time to be your match. How long have you studied with Master Li?

That doesn't really answer the question, you know.

I'm sorry. I shouldn't pester you with my questions. Is there something you need?

Since you're new, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on Master Li.

He is one man and guides his students well. My last school had two masters who feuded all the time. It made learning very difficult.

Wu is clearly not impressed. Or she was blinking as I took the screenshot. Pick one.

I'd demonstrate, but I don't think I even could. Master Li's teachings have been so much more effective that I have forgotten most of what I learned in the capital.

How do Master Li's skills measure up to your teachers in the Imperial City?

He is greatly skilled and tutors his students intently. You especially. My school in the city was mired in politics. Not an environment that promotes diligent study.

All right, that's enough of that.

Tho Fan is the fake language BioWare created for Jade Empire, and basically sounds like three phrases repeated over and over like the alien languages in KotOR. There aren't that many Tho Fan speakers in the game anyway, so I'm not sure why they bothered. Well, it's a nice bit of worldbuilding, I suppose.

Right, that's definitely enough messing around, let's finally go and see Master Li. Gao certainly looks like he's waited long enough.

MUSIC: The Way of the Open Palm

You are my best pupil, though you came to me an orphan. I have tried to prepare you for the responsibility your skills will bring. Have you given thought to your future?

Here's a better look at how the player character's expression changes depending on the dialog option. It sometimes looks a bit silly due to the low-poly faces, but the idea was neat and nowadays BioWare does a similar thing with their dialog wheel icons.

I recall that, as a child, you fell and bruised your arm. I comforted you, saying that small pains are part of learning. But not every setback imparts wisdom. You must be careful. Sometimes all you learn in defeat, is that you have been defeated. This world is out of balance. Spirits grow restless, and you have a role to play that I have kept secret.

Unimpressed Wu is the best (and so is my timing with screenshots).

The people are scared... I do not have all the answers, but I know you will become very important to the fates of many. You will be called to face a great evil.

What is this interruption? This had better be important... there is much to say.

Where is she now?

Still outside the village by the outlook. Ni Joh couldn't carry her. Please come, Master Li. The bandits are not at the village yet, but they could arrive at any time!

What would you have me do, Master?

The time for practice is over. Go to Gujin the weapon master and get a weapon. You may soon be called to use it. On your way, make certain Dawn Star is aware of the danger. Her skills have always complemented yours, so take her with you. Prepare yourself for a potential attack while I tend to my fallen student. I will return as soon as I can. We will continue our discussion when the threat is over.

I will do as you ask.

Good. The time comes when you will know all you need to. For now, keep the basics at heart.

Master Li walks off to help out Kia Min, and before we go anywhere we can explore his place a bit.

We find these figurines next to a statue of a lion, and if we interact with it we can place the figurines on the altar while matching the color of the orb in the statue's hand. That seems like an insultingly simple "puzzle" even by BioWare standards, so let's just hold onto these things for now and see if there's anything else we can do with them.

Next time, we will go find Dawn Star and see if we can beat up some bandits. See you then.