Jade Empire Special Edition Review

The original console-based version of Jade Empire scored an 89 on Metacritic, a remarkably high score for a game. The follow-up Special Edition for PC released a few years later scored an 81 which is still admirable. Since the actual game's story, interface, and gameplay mechanics in this iOS version  of Jade Empire: Special Edition ($9.99) are identical to original game, I won't spend much time on going into those aspects of this conversion.  For those interested in a review of the core gameplay experience, there are a number of reviews for the game already on the web such as this one from Gamespot.

So it was with this lofty expectation that I had high hopes for Jade Empire: Special Edition optimized for the iOS platform. While I did struggle initially with the on-screen touch controls, there is no doubt that this premium-priced game is a technical masterpiece. It's an amazing showcase of how the latest iPad or iPhone can graphically deliver a cinematically and artistically rich entertainment experience just as competently as the PC port of the original console platform foundation. But console-experience gaming on a tablet comes at a price in terms of storage and control. This is the first gaming title I've installed on my iPhone that has consumed nearly 4 GB of storage. That's because the game, originally shipped on a DVD, includes full gender-specific voice narration of all the dialog in the game, as well as a diverse palette of sounds and sights. 

As for the on-screen controls, this conversion makes an admirable attempt to overlay the essence of a physical controller on the screen. I have to give kudos to Aspyr for posting a helpful Expert Controls Tutorial on YouTube to help players get a better handle working with the on-screen controls. But ultimately I concluded that an MFi-compliant game controller is a must for those seeking to master the game throughout the entire 40-hour experience on the harder level difficulty levels.

The game performs remarkably well on newer iPhone and iPads, though it will likely chug in spots on older models. Given its console roots, it would have been a nice surprise to have the latest Apple TV added to the list of supported system requirements. Alas, the game is only iPhone 5 or higher, iPad Mini 2nd generation or higher, iPad 3rd generation, and iPod 6th generation compatible for now. The optimal gaming experience I've found is playing the game on the latest generation iPad with an MFi controller while wearing headphones. That's when the magic of the game pulls you into the rich story that Bioware crafted so many years ago.

Now that Aspyr has clearly proven its ability to port with near perfection older Bioware titles like its previously released Star War: Knights of the Old Republic, it's time for the company to really show the world that it can deliver a beloved triple-A game experience by convincing Electronic Arts to offer the opportunity to port Bioware's Mass Effect series to iOS. Such an achievement will be a tipping point in the level of gaming excellence on iOS. In the meantime, for those seeking a state-of-the-art action RPG set in ancient China with a mix of martial arts and eastern myths of magic, Jade Empire: Special Edition offers a fulfilling, lengthy, and thoroughly captivating entertainment experience on the go.

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Mike Riley is a frequent contributor to several technical publications and specializes in emerging technologies and new development trends. Mike was previously employed by RR Donnelley as the company’s Chief Scientist, responsible for determining innovative technical approaches to improve the company’s internal and external content services. Mike also co-hosted Computer Connection, a technology enthusiast show broadcast on Tribune Media's CLTV.