Sometimes you love a game for what it could have been, instead of what you are playing. I would not be surprised if somebody told me that Jade Cocoon hit its release deadline far too early. It’s one of those RPGs that clocks in at well under 20 hours; brevity isn’t a sin, but it’s not always a virtue.
Ironically, the game is also too long. Lemme explain.
Basically, you go through four dungeons, then repeat three of the dungeons, and then fight the final boss.
The dungeon delving is interrupted by time spent in a village, and with conversations at the end of the dungeons, which is used as an opportunity to enlighten the player about the setting. It’s fascinating stuff, but it stops almost entirely after the fourth dungeon is complete, and only kind of picks up again during the final battle. The dungeons themselves have practically no puzzles; I’ll note here that each dungeon is actually a forest, sometimes mixed with ruins. The challenge is surviving and avoiding monster battles (enemies appear on screen and collision leads to battle) and navigating the increasingly labyrinthine layouts. However, the battles have little complexity to them, and the labyrinths aren’t that difficult to memorize. The selling point of the dungeons (and the game as a whole) is how beautiful they are, even as (of the time of this writing) the PS4 is preparing to roll out. The game’s backgrounds have aged well – it’s just a shame that three of them get rehashed (with color filters) for the last half of the game, by which point the novelty has worn off. And, sadly, the character sprites and, more importantly, monster sprites have not aged nearly as well. The character portraits are still cool, and the game is almost entirely voice-acted (quality, at that), but this isn’t enough to carry the game.
So if I’m bitching about how the game basically doubles its already tiresome length, why do I think the game is too short? Because they could have filled that same time with so much more detail about the world. The setting’s mythology is fascinating, and gives the world and its characters a sense of grandeur. Also, I can’t recall the last time I played an RPG whose setting didn’t remind me of medieval fantasy or sci-fi; this one goes for a tribal forest atmosphere – points for originality. I want to know more about these people, and visit these places they’ve mentioned. I want to know more about the motivations of the characters, and spend more time learning about the people of the village, and what happened in the forests. The game tantalizes the player with snippets throughout the game, even through the ending, that suggest there is so much more going on here, and the player is left wanting. This would be okay if it was meant to be kind of mysterious, or if the story itself was solid despite all the hints of greater detail, but the game’s story is so compressed that it doesn’t work.
I can’t recommend this game to the casual gamer, but RPG fanatics should give it a try some time. The game’s setting and atmosphere have enough originality to set it apart.
My thanks to Naali_314 on the Jade Cocoon message board, who helped me figure out the game’s mechanics, and filled in some details for me.