The following FAQ is from BioWare's official Jade Empire website.
What is the story and objective behind "Jade Empire?"
In an ancient, mysterious world based on mythical China, you train under your master's watchful eye and learn powerful martial arts and magic. From the confines of your monastery, your travels take you from the harsh mountains of the Land of Howling Spirits to the lush gardens of the Imperial Palace. In your adventures you face powerful human and supernatural foes, learn exotic and magical martial arts, and discover the darkest secrets of the Jade Empire. Only by mastering the greatest fighting styles and defeating the most powerful enemies will you earn your place as a master of martial arts in the world of the Jade Empire.
At the beginning of the game, the player is a young martial artist just beginning to explore the world. From the outset it is clear that something is wrong: spirits and ghosts are sighted more and more frequently, and are even attacking people in outlying villages. The player must investigate this threat, and eventually uncover the truth behind this mystery. This tiny thread is just the start of an epic story in the grand BioWare RPG tradition of games like Baldur's Gate I and II, Neverwinter Nights, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
What are the key features of "Jade Empire?"
Innovative fighting system. As players journey through Jade Empire, they can upgrade their starting combat style or learn entirely new styles, depending on their gameplay preferences. Gamers can learn many different fighting styles, each with unique strengths and weaknesses, including martial arts styles (Centipede, Mantis), magic styles (Paralyzing Palm, Fire), and weapon styles (Twin Axes, Halberd, and improvised weapons like chairs). Each fighting style is a package of up to seven moves with their own speed, power, and form that ranges from punches and kicks to weapon strikes, mystical powers, and even transformations into supernatural monsters. Combat is fast-paced martial arts action characterized by rapid style changes as players and enemies alike seek out their opponents' weaknesses.
Roleplay as a martial arts master. Jump into the story right away with a pregenerated martial artist, or create a custom character tailored to specific play preferences. Each character has a unique appearance, custom voice set, and a powerful combination of fighting styles and ability scores. Focus on strength, speed, or magic, or build a character with a balance of all three. As their characters progress, players can focus on a narrow channel of fighting styles and become dominant in these forms, or study a wide variety of styles adaptable to many combat situations. Players must choose whether to act for good or evil, and their decisions have consequences that precede them throughout the land, and impact their game experience.
Epic story set in mythical China. Set in an ancient, mysterious world based on mythical China, players train under their master's watchful eye and learn powerful martial arts and mystical powers. When danger threatens, they travel across the world, from the harsh mountains of the Land of Howling Spirits to the lush gardens of the Imperial City. In their adventures, players face powerful human and supernatural foes, learn exotic and magical martial arts, and discover the darkest secrets of the world. Only by mastering the greatest fighting styles and defeating the most powerful enemies will players earn their place as a master of martial arts in the world of Jade Empire.
Rally followers to your cause. The Jade Empire is filled with complex and fascinating characters. Some are simple citizens of the Empire, but not all sit passively by. Many powerful figures have interests in the player's activities and quests. Some are enemies, but others may join the players' cause and act as loyal followers. Players can send these followers on special missions across the game world. Each follower has a different personality and skills, requiring players to think carefully about which one to send on each mission. Some problems call for strength and courage, others for diplomacy, and still others for stealth and subterfuge. Players must decide carefully which follower to send, since the price for failure is high.
How many fighting styles does "Jade Empire" feature?
Players begin the game with a single fighting style, but over the course of the game they can learn over 2 dozen fighting styles. These include martial arts styles (Centipede, Mantis), magic styles (Paralyzing Palm, Fire), and weapon styles (Twin Axes, Halberd, and improvised weapons like chairs). Each fighting style is a package of up to seven moves, each with their own speed, power, and form that ranges from punches and kicks to weapon strikes, mystical powers, and even transformations into supernatural monsters.
What kinds of levels or environments does "Jade Empire" feature?
The Jade Empire is based on the myths and legends of ancient China; a version of China that might have been, if all the stories were true. The game world is huge and varied, and players can explore many different game areas, from the imposing Imperial Palace to the lonely trails of the Land of Howling Spirits.
How many different characters does "Jade Empire" feature?
Players can jump into the story right away with a pregenerated martial artist, or create a custom character tailored to their specific play preferences. Each character has a unique appearance, custom voice set, and a powerful combination of fighting styles and ability scores. We are currently planning on providing seven unique character models, each with their own voice set and unique animations, but that number will likely change during development.
Will "Jade Empire" have Xbox Live capability?
BioWare is concentrating resources on delivering the best single-player game experience possible, and as a result Jade Empire will not be Live-enabled.
Does "Jade Empire" run on the "KotOR" engine?
Jade Empire uses an entirely new graphics engine and a new sound engine, both designed to take advantage of the unique power and capabilities of the Xbox console. The graphics engine has more than twice the number of render paths as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and the player character models have three times more polys than those in KotOR. Other enhancements include physics-based cloth, rim lighting, and an entirely new skeleton built to accommodate motion captured animation. The sound engine is designed to produce the most cinematic experience possible, and puts incredible control in the hands of our audio engineers.
What is your target release date?
The target release date for Jade Empire is April 14, 2005 with worldwide distribution occurring shortly thereafter.
How much will "Jade Empire" cost?
"Jade Empire" and the is expected to have an MSRP of $49.99 (U.S.). Microsoft Game Studios also confirmed that it will release a Limited Edition of Jade Empire that will feature a bonus character, a bonus fighting style and a behind-the-scenes "making of " video feature on DVD produced by G4 – video game television for the same suggested retail price as the standard version, $49.95 (U.S.).
How many people are currently working on Jade Empire?
The Jade Empire team is roughly 70 people now and will remain this size for the next few months as we finish the lion's share of the game content. As we near the end of the project, the team will shrink down again until it's just the leads and a few key people for final polish, but for now we're huge.
There are real challenges to working with a team this size. Communication becomes vulnerable, and therefore incredibly important. Human resources and scheduling issues demand more and more time. The leads must be able to communicate the project vision to all the new people who join their teams, and spare time becomes a very scarce resource. The upside is that we have the luxury of 70+ smart, motivated people who can absolutely annihilate problems.
What character ability scores will be at a player's disposal?
Jade Empire has six ability scores: three primary and three secondary. Primary abilities set the starting value for secondary abilities, but the two aren't identical, and the player can raise either as he progresses through the game.
The primary abilities are drawn straight from Chinese tradition: Body, Mind, and Spirit. Each of these ability scores is tied to specific conversation skills, so a character with a high Body is able to intimidate people, while a character with a high Mind is able to persuade them.
These primary abilities also affect the three secondary abilities of Health, Focus, and Chi. Health is a measure of the character's ability to take physical punishment--his hit points. Focus is rooted in the character's Mind and reflects his ability to enter "Focus mode", which slows down opponents during combat and lets him race around the environment while exploring. Finally, Chi is the total of the character's magic energy and can be used to power certain styles, heal wounds, and dish out special attacks called Chi strikes.
Why did you introduce fully motion captured animation technology with Jade Empire?
At BioWare, we always try to push something new with each of our games. When we decided to do Jade Empire, we put animation at the top of that list and jumped right in. We wanted to work with real martial artists to make the in-game moves look as realistic as possible. We started with basically no experience in motion capture and took our first baby steps on location at a local rehabilitation hospital that has a motion capture setup for diagnosing hip and knee disorders.
Once we had a pipeline in place for adding mocap data to a brand-new animation skeleton, we worked with Giant Studios, the same company who did the motion capture for the Lord of the Rings movies. They hooked us up with some amazing martial arts performers, all of them national champions in at least one martial art, and we worked closely with the performers to get moves that are both accurate and look great. There were some technical stumbles early on, but it's been surprisingly painless to build motion capture into our animation pipeline.
What are transformation styles?
Transformation styles are really cool. Basically, each monster has a (small) chance of dropping its spirit when you defeat it. Some spirits can only be unlocked by beating the monster in a specific way, but for common monsters you can just beat the spirit right out of them.
The character collects these spirits in a special inventory and can access them from the main style-switching interface. When you trigger a transformation style, you literally become the monster. You gain their special attacks and turn into their model, and you can rampage around causing horrible devastation until your Chi runs out. The Chi cost for these styles is directly related to the damage they dish out, so fighting as a rat demon doesn't cost much, but fighting as a giant iron golem is very expensive.
What is a "dragon amulet"? What are some examples of the gems that can be placed into it?
Every character has a personal dragon amulet; this is their birthright, and one of the keys to their power. Amulet gems include the Eye of the Demon, which gives a bonus to all primary abilities but can only be used by an evil character; the August Peridot, which grants a bonus on all weapon styles; and the Gilded Tongue, which adds a bonus to all conversation skills. These are just a sampling though as we have dozens already in the game and more planned.
What about the game's sound effects and score?
We're doing all the sound effects in-house, and besides trying to figure out what noise a 10-foot tall bull demon makes when you kick him off a bridge, audio has been smooth sailing. The game score is being composed out of house, and the early tracks we've heard are excellent.