As one of the most well-known RPG developers in recent times, Bioware is primarily known for two things: Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy, and space operas. Back in 2005, as the original Xbox was fading out and the Xbox 360 was on the horizon, Bioware was able to slide a little something different down the line. Jade Empire [$9.99] was a martial arts fantasy action RPG inspired by wuxia films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers. It was the developer's first real foray into incorporating real-time action into the RPG framework that had become known for, a blend that woulds  be revisited with greater success in the Mass Effect series. While it was well-received critically, the game failed to sell anywhere near as well as Bioware's other titles, so the developer went back to the more reliable fantasy/sci-fi salt mines. That's a shame, because Jade Empire is an excellent game with some flaws that could have been buffed out to marvelous effect in a sequel.

For now, we'll have to make do with this stunning iOS port of the PC Jade Empire: Special Edition. Developed by Aspyr Media, it gives you all of the punch of the original 2005 Xbox release with a handful of extras, all nicely adapted to make the best possible use of the unique properties of the platform. If you've played Jade Empire before and are just reading this review to figure out how well it ported, I can confirm the game is fully intact and as playable as can be expected given the limitations of touch controls. If you have an MFi controller, this is basically Jade Empire in its shiniest form. Some of the pre-baked assets like videos and loading stills don't look great since they're still in their original resolutions, but everything else is top-shelf. This isn't surprising given the high-quality work Aspyr turned in on the iOS version of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic [$9.99], mind you.


Jade Empire has you taking the role of the prized student of Master Li, a wise and powerful man who runs a training school just outside of a small countryside town. You're limited to selecting one of several starter characters and cannot alter their appearance, since they appear in the game's pre-rendered movie sequences. Not long after the game begins, trouble comes looking, kicking off your journey across the land. Along the way, you'll meet new companions, learn new fighting styles, and even engage in a little vertical shoot-em-up mini-game. You'll also learn your true destiny, learn the backstories of the interesting people you travel with, and if you play your cards right, you might even find love while you're at it. As with most other Bioware RPGs, there's a morality mechanic in play here that will determine how characters react to you and which ending you'll receive. Theoretically, these two paths should be equally correct from a moral sense, but Bioware's never been great at subtlety in this regard. So, you've got the light side in the form of the Way of the Open Palm, and the dark side in the form of the Way of the Closed Fist. Your actions, particularly in dialogue sequences, will determine which of the two your character follows, and certain techniques are exclusive to each path.

Distinct from the other Bioware RPGs available on iOS, Jade Empire's battle system opts for full real-time action. This was the developer's first crack at such a system, and in many ways, it shows. You can have up to four different martial arts styles equipped at a time, allowing you to switch between them at the tap of a virtual button. Basic strikes, blocks, and block-breaking specials serve as sort of the rock-paper-scissors of combat, but there's a lot of variety from style to style, so it's not always this straightforward. Most forms also have an area attack you can access, and you're always able to restore your health by tapping yet another on-screen button. The most important things you'll need to manage are your chi and focus meters. Various attacks and techniques will consume some of these meters, and if you run out, you'll not only be left with only the most basic of combat techniques, you also won't be able to heal. Certain arts consume these energies heavily, while others can restore them if used well.

Moving around in battle is controlled mostly by swiping in various directions. Your character is quite nimble, but at times they can feel a little too swift on their feet. Trying to close the distance just as often results in you leaping over the enemy's head only to end up just as far away on the other side. Enemies love to gang up on you, as well, so you'll need to be extra careful if your companion character falls in combat. One can imagine how this was all meant to go. Your character would fly from enemy to enemy, switching effortlessly between different martial arts styles in a deadly dance of balancing energy consumption with recovery. In practice, it's a little clunky, and it rarely feels like you're as awesome at fighting as everyone seems to think you are. That's not because the enemies are tough, either. Indeed, they're pretty easy to dominate with the right selection of styles. But something about the battles lacks the impact that the developers were likely going for. Nevertheless, it's still fun to collect and try out all of the different fighting techniques, and I love that you have so much choice from battle-to-battle as to which ones you're going to use.


Things fare better outside of battle, where an invisible virtual stick guides you around the environments and a single button is used to perform contextual actions. The game doesn't feel terrible different from most other Bioware games when you're wandering around exploring. There are lots of characters to talk to, though only a small percentage of them will offer any meaningful exchange, and plenty of sub-quests to seek out and accomplish. Jade Empire is a bit more linear than many other games from this developer, however, so you'll want to make sure you don't leave quests hanging too long. The game is broken up into chapters, and it's not unusual for the areas you were previously in to be closed off to you temporarily or even permanently when you move on to the next chapter. You'll be traveling through a wide variety of locales, and although even the higher-res assets of the Special Edition are nearly a decade old, most of these places look lovely. Again, it helps that this setting is considerably less common in Western RPGs, as there's a certain level of novelty here that you might not find in more generic fantasy settings.

That being said, the whole wuxia-inspired fantasy China setting is really only skin-deep. It certainly looks the part, but when characters start talking and the plot starts rolling, Jade Empire quickly settles into comfortable territory for Bioware. It's less Hero and more Star Wars, with the requisite straight-laced good guys, irredeemable bad guys, and identity twists that Bioware stories are typically built on. It's a fun story, and you'll likely be surprised at certain revelations, but it's probably best not to expect the complex philosophical themes that are often found in the wuxia genre. The character archetypes, their behaviors, and their mannerisms are nearly indistinguishable from Bioware's other RPGs. Everyone you meet has their own secrets and quirks, though it's up to you whether you want to invest the effort to fish out all but the most important of them. As usual, the developer really nailed the dialogue here, and the voice acting is on the whole quite excellent. There are some genuinely hilarious and heartfelt scenes in Jade Empire, and it's perhaps in these flashes of brilliance that the truest joys of the game can be found.

The iOS platform certainly isn't hurting for action RPGs, but there's nothing else on the platform with exactly the same appeal as Jade Empire. That alone isn't enough to give the game a solid recommendation, but in combination with an all-around strong effort from Bioware and the quality of this particular port, it's hard to envision a scenario where an RPG fan wouldn't want this game in their collection. Even one of the most frequently-heard criticisms of the game, its relatively short 15-hour main quest, seems increasingly like a plus when compared to more bloated, slow-paced games. There are slow points in Jade Empire's story, but far fewer compared to many RPGs in a similar vein. For the most part, this is a snappy, kung fu road trip adventure, and that's fine by me.


In addition to the aforementioned support for MFi controllers, Jade Empire: Special Edition also supports iCloud saves and Game Center achievements. Fair warning: although the game auto-saves at certain intervals, you'll want to make sure you're making regular hard saves as well, since those intervals can be a bit infrequent during certain stretches. There are also a lot of options you can play around with, enabling you to tinker around with graphical settings, set the difficulty for combat and the mini-games independently, and toggle options like sub-titles and gore.

The UI is an impressive improvement over the one found in Knights of the Old Republic, and the game looks and runs great on the iPhone 6S Plus and iPad Air 2 I tested it on. If you're rolling with weaker hardware, you might need to play around with the graphical settings a bit, but at least you have that option in this game. While there are occasional issues with the touch controls not present in the original game, I'm hard-pressed to think of a better way Aspyr could have done them, so I'm not going to be too harsh on the results. The game generally plays fine, and the battle system certainly leaves plenty of margin for error, regardless of the source of said error.

Jade Empire might not be Bioware's best RPG, but I'm fairly sure it's the developer's most under-appreciated. While the combat can be a little clunky at times and the story hews a little too closely to Bioware's typical oeuvre, its unusual setting, strong character work, and excellent pace help it stand out from its stablemates. Even if it were merely an average Bioware RPG, however, that would still be enough to put it on any iOS RPG fan's shopping list. Aspyr Media did a marvelous job with the port, too. It might be a Saturday morning cartoon version of a wuxia story, but it's one heck of an enjoyable ride in any case.

TouchArcade Rating

  • neumanator

    Downloading it now! Very excited to jump back into this game. I loved it when I was younger. Oh man. Love this!

  • ashmike3

    Been aware of this since it released in 2005. Feeling fortunate that I never actually played it. Will experience for the first time on iPad Pro 12.9. Mmmm procrastination pays off.

    • Saucepolicy

      I don't know if it pays off per se. It was designed for controllers more so than KOTOR, and it's not like they've done a significant remaster for modern devices. I hope your opinion of the game won't be clouded by potentially awkward touch controls. :/

      • ashmike3

        I've got a controller just in case.

      • Stelios Bakolas

        I'm about to buy a controller for my iOS devices iPad mini 2 and iPhone 6s and I'll be getting the new Apple TV. I'm thinking to get the game after I get the controller this week. Can you guys advise me on which one to buy? In your opinion which budget controller is best, a midrange price one and the best one in your opinion if money is not a problem I ask this cause I can afford an expensive one but if I can get a good one cheaper I might get 2 so I can play with my daughter on the Apple TV that we get at Christmas even though a friend told me there are not many games for 2 player fun I read in an article online that Apple is going to support Apple TV with much more games and emphasise in a 2 player ( family) experience.

      • DanKetch

        I use and enjoy my SteelSeries Nimbus on my iPad and phone, it was approx $50 Canadian. I've had it for 9 months now and got it at EB games.

      • AlexBi

        If you want play at home (and with Apple TV) best solution is steelseries nimbus. It seems a console controller

        If you want a stick with you (for playing outside home) the only possibility is the steelseries stratus: very little (you can have it in a pocket or in every bag) but usable

        I've both 🙂

      • AlexBi

        Eh eh... a"stick" ... a "joypad" 🙂

  • volcanopele

    I played this on the original Xbox when it came out and is one of my top 5 games to come out for that platform (the others being GTA San Andreas, KotOR II, GTA Vice City, and Halo: CE). I am tremendously excited to give this game another playthrough.

    • Grantlionheart

      Well with a recommendation like that I'll have to try it.

  • HelperMonkey

    Why didn't anyone mention that this was coming out?!
    What a happy surprise!......

    • Saucepolicy

      What, like the article earlier today? Or the one a few weeks ago?

      • HelperMonkey

        Or all the comments and questions every week from those of us who were eagerly waiting...

  • drmad

    So what's the installed size?
    Im low on space now....😅

    • curtneedsaride

      The forum has mentioned 3.7 GB and 3.9 GB. So, just shy of 4 GB. Mine is finally installing now, so after I reboot, I can confirm.

  • curtneedsaride

    I just checked the Mac App Store and it looks like Aspyr just released the Mac OS X version. I have to admit, I definitely double dipped on KOTOR and Fahrenheit. SO, chances are, I'll be picking this one up too. I wonder if Steam will get the Mac version as well.

  • Duane Locsin

    Haven't had a chance to play JE back in the day and now it's something I can add to my growing collection of console class games on my iPad.
    Going to grab this in a few minutes..

    when is the Gamevice for the iPad Pro 12.9 going to come out, I have soo many games beggging to be used with that controller.

    • Stelios Bakolas

      Can you give some titles from your list of console quality games on iOS? I have a list also and here are some titles I believe are the best I ever played on my iPhone/iPad:
      1. Oddworld "strangers wrath "
      2. Oddworld "Munchs odyssey "
      3. NOVA 3
      4. Xcom "enemy whithin"
      5. Godfire "Rise of Prometheus"
      6. Eisenhorn Xenos
      7. Titan Quest
      8. Ember
      9. Horn
      10. Rayman adventures
      11. Hearthstone
      12. KOTOR
      13. Shadowgun
      14. Warhammer "Quest and Tyrannids invasion "
      15. Warhammer freeblade
      My list is nearly 30 titles and the order is random if you're interested I can give you the rest of the list and last I would like to mention are the most anticipated games according to my opinion coming out soon on iOS if ever come out:
      1. Shadowgun Legends
      2. Torchlight (haven't heard any news for long time but...)
      3. Xcom 2
      4. Elderscrolls (The card game)
      5. Titanfall frontline

      • curtneedsaride

        A few more ports on my list are Fahrenheit, Dragon Quest VIII, Final Fantasy IX, Dust, Costume Quest, the TellTale games, Broken Sword games, MHFU, Oceanhorn, Crashlands, a few of the LEGO games like Star Wars & Batman & Jurassic World. A couple indie games that I think deserve mention are Nimian Legends: BrightRidge HD and Stellar Horizon. Both are updated frequently and are big passion projects.

      • Duane Locsin

        You have a pretty similar list of games like me.
        These are the games I have on the iPad

        console/arcade with MFI
        1.Death Rally
        2.R-Type 1,2
        4.Sonic 1,2, CD
        5.Monster Hunter United
        6.Double Dragon
        7.AG Drive
        8.Assasins Creed Identity
        9.Max Payne
        10.GTA 3, VC
        11.Renegade Riptide
        12.Dungeon Quest
        13.Asphalt 8
        Rush Rally 2
        14.Galaxy of Fire 2 HD
        17.Jade Empire
        18.Dead TRigger 1,2
        19.Dead Effect 1,2
        20.Space Marshalls 1,2
        21.Geometry Wars
        22.Reckless 3OEvolution
        23.Metal Slug 1,2, 3, X
        24.Blazing Star
        25.Battle Evo
        26.Crazy Taxi
        27.AVP Evolution
        Halo Spartan Strike, Assault
        Munch, Stranger
        NBA 2k17
        Samurai Showdown
        GArou Mark of the wolf
        KOF 98, 2012

        arcade games that do not support MFI
        Poker Night 2
        Her Story
        Magic 2013, 2014
        Aliens vs Pinball S
        Waking Mars
        NBA Jam
        NeoTurf Master
        Deus Ex GO
        Assault Squadron
        Mass Effect Galaxy
        Street Fighter 2 collection
        Order Up
        Perfect Cell
        Raiden Legacy
        Lightning Storm
        XMen Arcade
        Osmos HD

        console class games that do not have MFI
        Dues Ext he Fall
        Star Hammer
        Sid Meirs Starships
        Warhammer Armageddon
        Dungeon Hunter 2HD
        Dead Space
        Masss Effect Infiltrator
        Stargate EP1
        NOVA 2,3
        Warhammer Leviathan
        Xcom; EW
        Leap of Fate

      • Stelios Bakolas

        Thank you for replying mate. I must agree that our lists are very similar if I would add the rest of the games from my list it would be obvious that we have similar taste buds 😂. What I like more is that there are games like warhammer leviathan or garou mark of the and 2-3 more that I never seen so I'm very happy to go later to the AppStore and check them out. Also if you like tell me of any upcoming games that you really wait to come up. I wait for 1. Shadowgun Legends 2.Torchlight 3. Morphite and 4. Jade Empire that just came at the AppStore . Go check online about the other 3 and I promise you'll not be disappointed 👌👍

  • Raoul Rico

    IOS 9.0

  • Raoul Rico

    So what the heck should i do now? This one is a must buy, but i have to update my pad and loose Bioshock. I'm one of the lucky ones with a fabulous 8.0 IOS. WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW?

    • Duane Locsin

      That's a shame, I'm starting to blame 2K more on the issue of BioShock then the whole iOS8.0 debacle since they have no problem rereleasing bs 1 and 2 for consoles and pcs, but can't update BioShock on iOS.

    • Stelios Bakolas

      I'm so angry I can't have Bioshock on my devices 😤 and what upsets me more is that when they removed it from the AppStore they said is temporary and that they put it back when they will solve the problems with the newer iOS versions and I've been waiting since then... anyway now I have to wait few days to get a prepaid Apple card to buy Jade Empire. I would also recommend to everyone to check online reviews videos etc. of the upcoming FPS Shadowgun Legends from Madfinger games is due early 2017 and looks like it will set new standards in the genre for mobiles.

  • Miyamoto

    MFi controllers are currently broken on iOS10, so I'll have to wait...

    • ashmike3

      Mine is working.

      • Warriv

        So is mine, everything's working fine on iOS 10.

    • AlexBi

      My two steelseries Works perfectly

    • elthesensai

      I'm just hearing about this. Hope not since I have a 8 hour flight at the end of the month and was planning a iPad gaming session.

    • Duane Locsin

      Mine is working fine as well.
      I think as part of the quick patch they sent out after iOS10's release it could have solved some MFI issues.

  • Klaus

    I was waiting for this for far too long! However, the Mac version costs the same and I am guessing keyboard will work better than touch controls, so I will play it on my MacBook Pro (and possibly hook up the PS3 controller).

    • Duane Locsin

      It has MFI support

  • jacquesy

    YAY!!! Insta-bought. It sure looks pretty on my 6S+. The movement controls took a little getting used to, looking forward to playing more 🙂

  • tubaros

    Id spend so much less money if i didnt have Touch Arcade app and RSS feed in my browser. Instabuy 🙂

    • Stelios Bakolas

      What you mean? Is there a way to get this game cheaper?

      • tubaros

        No, not cheaper, i just keep seeing notifications about cool games, and theyre all ones that I want to get for my phone.

  • Wizard of Odyssey

    Instabuy! Keep the Bioware ports coming, Aspyr!!

  • Petr Dvořák

    I really would appreciate mass effect however it's EA IP so I don't see a big chance for it. EA will bring us some F2P mess instead.

    • Shaun James Musgrave

      I mean, Jade Empire is also EA IP. If this happened, there's a chance for Mass Effect/Dragon Age. A small one, I'd think, but a chance nonetheless.

    • Duane Locsin

      Well... KOTOR and now J.E. Granted they where before the EA buyout of Bioware, but Aspyre have managed to bring those games to iOS.
      As long as Aspyre is able to continue to wet our whistles with KOTOR 2, then I have hope Mass Effect series maybe in the future.

      • Milotorou

        Or maybe even Dragon Age - Origins

      • Stelios Bakolas

        Is there KOTOR 2 on the way?

      • speedyph


    • Stelios Bakolas

      You think we will get a Mess Effect instead of a Mass Effect? 😂😂😂 To be honest though I really liked Mass Effect infiltration or Dead Space both from EA and both very good mobile games... actually are one of my favourite games.

  • Jonathan K

    it's about time we have another worthwhile game on ios it honestly feels like it's been months!! I'd love to finally retire my 3ds and vita but they have to release more of these premium titles first. Like I would rather play dragon quest 7 on ios but who knows when that will release so i had to purchase it on 3ds.

    Definitely buying this game I've heard many good things but never owned an original xbox and was mostly playing ps2 jrpgs at the time.

  • swaldo

    Any more word on how good the save system is? If I lose progress every time I'm suddenly taken away from the game then it will be unplayable. The GTA ports do a great job of this, always picking up exactly where I left off - how does Jade Empire fare?

    • Milotorou

      Im a bit late but : you can save anywhere when out of fights and the button is always present on the screen, simple, convenient, working.

      Also autosaves when you enter new area.

  • Tallgeese

    Yay, you did end up mentioning Hero! That's me faves wuxia!

  • AlexBi

    I think an MFI controller is necessary for playing this game.
    I tried touch control and are very difficult to learn... with mfi controller everything works immediately... seems an Xbox 360 in an hand! I

  • elthesensai

    This is great news but I do have to wonder why these developers don't release their games for the Apple TV. Seems like a missed opportunity considering it supports iCloud. Would have been great to play this game on the tv when I'm home and on iOS devices while on the go.

    • Stormourner of the Nature

      because there's size limitation for the games on Apple TV so they can't bring the games with large size

      • elthesensai

        That's actually not how that works. The limitations are set are for app slicing. Basically means how much at any given time an app is on the device vs iCloud. Any of these games can be ported over to Apple TV. There are some already on there.

  • http://www.PlayLegit.Net/ KJ

    Great review!

  • AlexBi

    I didn't remember how is fantastic this game!!!
    I think is the better game EVER

    I have two joypad mfi.
    They work perfectly, like an xbox360 pad.

    Question for users with touch interface: I noticed the tutorial of "expert" control... that seems great! Someone tried it? What do you think about?

Jade Empire™: Special Edition Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4.5