Yeah, so I spent the weekend playing Jade Empire. No spoilers follow, although I do tell how the game feels to play. And tell you two dominant strategies.
The game wasn't very good. The fighting was really boring, the balance was terrible ("shock dragon" is a very dominant strategy which kills every boss but one). The game was either too long or too short: the number of sidequests rode the trough between "a world to play in" and "a pleasant distraction". The plot was transparent, most of the character design was really uninspired, and many of the characters were... uh... inherited directly from Hong Kong cinema and Barry Hughart.
Despite that, the game was fun (for the first three quarters). It was fun because the setting was new and interesting. After a while, the newness wore off and it got really dull, but that took longer than it should have. Vibrant dialogue and great voice acting really carried it much farther than it should have gone.
The game's design was weird. All the female characters had the most incredibly boring design. None of them were at all interesting - they were all the most cliched of Hong Kong cinema stereotypes. On the other hand, the male characters were, for the most part, very well designed. Some of them were cut-outs, but their commentary and backstories made them fun and interesting.
It seems bizarre to me when I meet a random bit-part NPC and think, "Hey, she looks way cooler than any of the girls currently in my party - I wonder if I can get her?"
Here's a spoiler-free anecdote to show you how irritated I grew with the game.
After I discovered Shock Dragon, nothing could challenge me except demons. After a while, you get so much focus that even demons are child's play. So, I had been fighting for the whole game. Punching, kicking, hitting people with sticks, throwing ice at them, always the same motions, over and over. Their response was invariably to fall over and fade away. As I mentioned, the game wasn't very fun to play.
So when I started getting really pathetic challenges, I decided to try out the dual-ax weapon technique. One man attacked me, and I hit him with the axes and oh my god, his head flew off and there's blood spurting everywhere. Whoa. Never saw that anywhere else in the game. Was it a plot point?
No, I found out a moment later as I took on a flock of scrubs. Not only do the axes cause this incredibly wicked fatality - there are multiple animations. For the rest of the game, I used nothing but that except on exceptionally difficult fights, because the head 'splodies were the only interesting thing about the fighting.
How sad is it that the only time I actually was interested in playing the primary game loop was when I was getting a cool animation after each death?
Despite that, it was still more fun than most other games on the shelves.