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Jade Empire: Special Edition

Pumped up with improvements, BioWare's revamped RPG is full of Eastern promise

Before we roll out the Buddhist barrel of improvements that BioWare are pumping into the PC release of oriental RPG Jade Empire, let's first take into account that John Cleese is in it. John Cleese! Playing a blundering Brit explorer with a blunderbus! That's great!

However, if you want a less superficial take on affairs, what really strikes you as the silk painting tableau of Jade Empire rolls out its opening dojo scenes are its real-time battles. Whereas in engine-mate KOTOR on PC, battles were rather static (if tense), the many and varied martial arts disciplines on show can now happen while nipping around the enemy at will - sometimes in slow-motion 'focus' according to your whim and chi-level.

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It's got a greater emphasis on combos and the killing blow now too, which can leave an enemy as little more than a fine mist and growing puddle of blood, and touts numerous additions to the console release such as a new monk character to play as, bigger and more varied monsters to fight and a bonus extra-special hard mode in case you're begging for more come completion.

Fighting styles, meanwhile, are unlocked as you progress through the game (opened up to you through sub-plots and your varying allegiances), and this time there'll be two extra on show - one of which being a tasty and rather nippy Viper stance, as used by real assassins. Oh, and a first-person view as well if you're in the mood.

With BioWare's patented devotion to letting you plough into good or evil, or rest somewhere in between, and 12 followers to help you in combat and exchange banter with, the charms of Jade cannot be denied.

It's a special game, perhaps somewhat beleaguered by the graphical superiority of the Neverwinter Nights 2s and the Oblivions of this world, but its pedigree is clear. Did you know, for example, that the old language spoken by many NPCs is actually a specially created tongue made by clever people from university to ensure that it was linguistically sound?

Set in a mythical ancient China where magic is real and the fate of the Emperor is linked empathically with that of his lands, Jade Empire should be as rare and magical a treat as it was on Xbox all those aeons ago. Its age could possibly show through the manifold tinkerings going on backstage at BioWare, but it'll be a beauty nevertheless.

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