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This is a new feature, one that highlights gaming's finest creations.  The character that you control when you work your way through a game, if designed well, can heighten a game's experience tenfold.  For this feature, characters will be judged by these merits - their physical appearance, their interaction with NPC's (which includes voice work and dialogue), what they can do, and lastly, what impact they bring to the gaming world that other characters could (or have) not.

As one may expect, spoilers will follow, so tread carefully.

from Beyond Good & Evil (UBI Soft)
PS2, GC, Xbox

When I think upon gaming's leading heroines, the first that springs to mind is Jade.  Her solo title, Beyond Good & Evil, is one of gaming's absolute finest, and it all comes down to her character.  She's likable, she has unique abilities, and she has personality.  When you first see her, you get her.  She's calm, and wants peace.  She's a person who cares for other people, so much so that she has adopted orphaned children whose parents have been abducted by the DOMZ.  She's strong-willed, which quickly comes to show in the first battle with the DOMZ, fighting them off with a flaming branch to protect who she loves.  And she's an aspiring journalist, one who wants to uncover what exactly the DOMZ want with the Hillyian population they've taken.  

Once the game kicks into gear, Jade's personality begins to shine.  You see that she's upset over the current situation with the DOMZ, angry at the power company Optima for refusing to protect her lighthouse under attack because she is short the money, and impassioned to save her orphan matter what the cost.  It's clear from the beginning that she has some unknown connection to the DOMZ, one that will unravel itself as the game goes along.  She also is frustrated at being stuck in a rut in life - her hovercraft is shot, her lighthouse unprotected, and her life feels like it's going nowhere fast...until she gets a chance to begin taking photos of the animals of Hillys, that is.  Thanks to the Pearl received from the DOMZ, things begin to look up.  However, after the hovercraft is repaired and a chance to prove herself appears via M-Disc, Jade's confidence is a bit shaky.  She's unsure of the initial mission, and unsure of the future ahead...yet has a blind optimism for her work.  She enjoys doing this kind of thing, and that is clear from her conversations with Pey'j.  She has an amazing depth to her that many video game heroes and heroines aspire to reach, yet fail to do.  And it is that depth that makes her so wonderful to play as.

After Jade discovers the beginnings of a conspiracy, we begin to put ourselves more and more into her shoes.  Instead of skirting away from the terrors that loom in the shadows of the Alpha Sections, the military presence that swarm Hillys, she decides to become an official reporter for the IRIS Network, a group of vigilantes determined to find out the truth about the DOMZ and the Alpha Sections.  A risky move, yet one that many of us could face.  What would we do in Jade's position?  This game gives you the opportunity to take on the choice many of us would be hesitant to make - taking a stand against tyranny.  And it is an enlightening one.

Jade's a wonderful character design.  She's got qualities that stand out, like her green lipstick, her uniquely patterned pants, and her punishing Dai-Jo Stick.  Her affinity with greens tie into her name, and her pink tank top completes the look nicely.  She looks unique, and not overtly made sexy (Taki, I'm looking at you) to try to appeal to the male masses.  And that is very much appreciated.  She may show a bit of skin, but Jade's not trying to be flirty, a la Mai Shiranui.  It's refreshing to see a girl in a game wearing more than little to nothing.  Thanks, Michel Ancel and staff, for helping break down a horrible design stereotype that prevails all too often today.

Her photographic talents come into play quickly, and these photos are crucial to Jade.  They define what she is - a photographer.  She may be able to fight with the DOMZ and the Alpha Sections, but that's not who she is.  She is not Kratos, who fights with anything in his way, including himself.  Her purpose is to uncover the truth.  And that is so refreshing.  A character who isn't about kicking all kinds of ass and taking down their names. She may have to fight from time to time to accomplish her goal, but she prefers to avoid confrontation if possible.  The game thrives on tricky stealth sections that challenge you to sneak by the Alpha Section guards without being seen.  And Jade is well suited to the task...much like photographers in the real world who do similar feats to uncover their stories.

And the actress who provides her English voice did a bang-up job.  Jodie Forrest is perfect as Jade, infusing her with a voice that has power and compassion.  Jade goes through a lot in this game, and Forrest gives each emotion the charge it needs to be properly conveyed.  And the writers behind Forrest's words did an excellent job as well.  The story is brilliant, and Jade's passionate desire to be an IRIS reporter is one of the best in gaming.  It's gripping, rolling you along like you're on a roller coaster to the game's conclusion.

Another factor into Jade's excellent design is the way she moves. She kind of bounces around as she walks, which is a little different than most characters.  Her fighting style is effective and smooth, full of acrobatics and grace.  It is a joy to engage foes as Jade.  Lastly, her stealth moves make sense.  She can creep around walls, walk while crouched, dive, and fire off discs to distract foes (or, if you're skilled, disable them!).  Her versatility offers the player many ways to engage each situation she's faced with, and most of them work out.  You can try to ambush the Alpha Sections from behind, sneak around them entirely, snipe them with discs, fight them head-on, or run past them to get by...unless there's what I refer to as "death cameras" around, which tend to be the more guarded areas.  These limit your opinions, but still, there's more than one way to weave around the sentries.  Jade's large moveset wouldn't be complete without a mention of her camera, which acts as a first-person view, a way to earn extra money/pearls by catching glimpses of rare animal life, and the tool to capture your objectives.

I think that Jade has brought a lot to the table as a gaming heroine.  She's offered us a chance to be a freedom fighter.  She's brought a human touch to gaming.  She's flown over the glut of sexually charged gals clothed in barely-there garments.  She's helped open up a new way of presenting games as more than bubbly kiddy fare and gore-drenched bloodbaths.  And ultimately, she's someone you can connect with.  You can feel her pain, her triumph, her shock, and her vindication.  And that right there is something truly special.

Click Jade for BG&E artwork from my Imagery!