This isn’t the first time Aspyr has remastered a modern classic for mobiles and tablets. A few years ago it release Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic before turning its attention to Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy – Quantic Dream’s original interactive thriller. Despite their scale and complexity, both games managed to feel right at home, especially when playing on iPad. Not only that, they both looked fantastic. Remember when Sony made a big fuss about Fahrenheit coming to PlayStation 4 earlier this year? Compared to Apsyr’s remaster, it felt like a shockingly cheap cash-in, opting for PS2 emulation instead of a proper upgrade.
With its latest game, the Texan studio has gone back to another BioWare classic. Although best known for their work on Mass Effect and Dragon Age, Jade Empire is arguably one of BioWare’s best games to date. Instead of reaching for the all-too-familiar crutch of sci-fi and fantasy, Jade Empire went for something a little more ambitious and off the wall, opting for martial arts and far eastern mythology.
Originally released as an original Xbox exclusive, Jade Empire cast you as a fledgling student – an orphan that has been trained by the venerable Master Li since childhood. The school and its surrounding settlements are isolated from the influence of the empire, though trouble soon comes knocking. Upon discovering an ancient power within themselves, the protagonist and their fellow students are attacked by a mysterious force. With your home nothing more than burning embers, you set off to find answers, stumbling upon a memorable and diverse line up of characters.
You’d think that the chosen theme for Jade Empire would limit BioWare’s creativity, but the studio is quick to flex the muscles of its writing team. The opening half hour isn’t exactly gripping, yet you soon find yourself eager to explore this mystical world and interact with its cast members. Like many BioWare roleplaying games of the early 2000s, Jade Empire was way ahead of its time with full voiceover and a branching narrative.
Although there is some uniformity when it comes to morale and dialogue systems, each BioWare IP has its own distinct approach to combat. Where Mass Effect can be likened to a third person shooter, Jade Empire slips into the guise of an action brawler. Battles are often limited to a handful of combatants though this allows players to weave in their combos and abilities without being completely swamped.
Combat starts off a little basic, but it soon grows in complexity. By acquiring new fighting styles and improving your attributes, you’ll begin to experiment more and more. Aside from fisticuffs there are a small selection of weapons that compliment the new abilities you find scattered throughout the world. These range from deadly ranged fire spells to one that lets you transform into a giant toad, crushing everything that gets in your way.
If you’re lucky enough to own a MFI controller, then Jade Empire will feel almost exactly as it did on the original Xbox. While Aspyr has done a good job in translating the controls to a touchscreen device, it’s never the best solution for games such as this. Even on Jade Empire’s easiest difficulty setting, fumbling at the closely placed digital buttons can be an issue.
Still, if you’re looking for a mobile game that has a little more meat on the bone than typical, Jade Empire: Special Edition is essential. The visual upgrade is clearly noticeable though what really stands out is BioWare’s craftsmanship in building one of their stranger, more unique game settings.