I have just spent a few hours playing Jade Empire. I got the Limited Edition, which contains one extra character, one extra fighting style, a G4 video, and a few game demos. I will get to the Limited Edition at a later date.
Suffice it to say that for the same exact price, you get the LE edition. The main reason is for Monk Zeng and his Monk Spade style. The other bells and whistles are just there to sweeten the deal. This LE version of Jade Empire was only pressed once, and you can find it at retailers until supplies run dry. Did I mention it is the same price as the version without all the goodies?
The fighting system is rock solid, the combos sweet. There is a light and heavy attack, block, and "slow-mo" button. You can also turn on Chi attacks with the black button for stronger attacks. The white button is used to regain heath (at the cost of Chi).
You use B (the block button) in combination with the left analog stick to do evading maneuvers including flipping over your opponents. You use the D-pad to switch lightning fast between fighting styles. The L and R triggers are used to switch targets, and L+R is used to free roam.
The controls just feel right, with almost no learning curve. You can tell that BioWare was striving for a refined control scheme over KOTOR, and we got it in Jade Empire. When not in battle, you control the map with the X button. In the START screen is your status screens, ala KOTOR, only with refinement. The map here shows important points with colored stars, which you can move the cursor over for information.
Your amulet that holds gems (adds modifiers like +1 to Body) is a great system. There are three holes to place gems, so you need to chose wisely.
The leveling up system is surprisingly deep, but is handled like no other RPG, and nothing like KOTOR. You could say that BioWare has watered down the RPG of this Action-RPG, but its really more of a smooth refinement then a watering down effect. They have just made it more usable. You upgrade your Mind, Body, and Spirit, and then you also get to upgrade your fighting styles, which have three attributes to them, which are: Damage, Chi, and Speed increases.
This might sound complicated, but it's handled almost transparently. It is really an ingenious system they have devised for Jade Empire.
Right now I have gained a creature style, so I can morph into this Toad Demon. I have a weapon style, a support style, and my main fighting style, plus an elemental style, Ice Shard. I am really surprised at the level of customization that has been presented to me. I had the choice on my weapon style and my elemental style. Not to mention in the character creation process, I could totally customize my beginning fighting styles and stats.
This story does not get off slow. I am NOT going to spoil any of it for you. I will just say that this story starts off at a blistering pace and does not let up. The events in the first few hours so far is just superb story telling. But then again, these are the KOTOR writers at work here. I expected nothing less, and the story thus far has far exceeded my expectations. The entire game has exceeded my expectations.
The voice acting is just superb -- there is actual emotion in the speech.
The graphics are just down right lick-able. The score hits the mood right on the head. The war drums are great when you head into battle.
The 1942-inspired top down plain shooting mini game is great, and it is woven into the story.
So far I have two other party members, a woman who is a friend from the school, and a man I met in a swamp. It seems quite odd that I do not flick a button to control them ala KOTOR, but it also makes the real time fighting that much quicker paced then we are used too. It works well. Setting your partner as Support adds some real strategy here.
I have been really psyched about this game since the rumors started flying after KOTOR came out. The verdict is in: this game is worth the purchase. But you didn't need me to tell you that, I mean, IGN only gave it a 9.9.