Beyond Good and Evil 20th Anniversary Edition Review – Jade Empire

Beyond Good and Evil is one of those games that have an outsized fanbase and reputation for how well they did back when they released. When it launched over two decades ago in 2003, the action-adventure title was received well by critics and audiences alike, but its sales didn’t reflect that acclaim. The game was regarded a commercial failure, and though it achieved cult classic status through sheer word of mouth in the years following its launch, it wasn’t until 2017 that Ubisoft officially announced a sequel. And of course, we all know how that went, too, because Beyond Good and Evil 2 still remains MIA.

Now, however, celebrating the original game’s two-decade anniversary (which actually happened last November), Ubisoft has released Beyond Good and Evil 20th Anniversary Edition, an enhanced remaster of the beloved cult classic, bringing it to modern platforms with updated visuals, quality-of-life improvements, a new coat of polish, and some new bits and pieces of content. And though Beyond Good and Evil undoubtedly does show its age in some ways, this is ultimately a solid remaster of what is still largely a great game. Whether you’re a returning fan or someone who has never experienced the original, Beyond Good and Evil 20th Anniversary Edition is well worth checking out.

“Whether you’re a returning fan or someone who has never experienced the original, Beyond Good and Evil 20th Anniversary Edition is well worth checking out.”

You play as Jade, a human on the alien planet of Hillys, where in addition to running an orphanage of sorts where she fosters several children with her uncle, the pig-like Uncle Pey’j, she also works as a part-time reporter. The story revolves around an invading alien force in the form of the DomZ, as well as conspiracies surrounding the militaristic dictatorship of the Alpha Sector, who may just be in bed with the DomZ themselves, with Jade working with the underground resistance movement known as the IRIS Network and attempting to both overthrow Alpha Sector and defeat the DomZ.

Beyond Good and Evil’s rich world was one of its biggest strengths when it launched two decades ago, and that’s still true today. The story that it tells is a compelling one in its own right, thanks in large part to an endearing cast of characters, generally strong writing and voice acting performances, and oodles of charm, but what really helps the game stand out in a narrative sense is its setting. The planet is Hillys is a melting pot of groups and cultures, and it’s ever so vibrant and visually diverse. It’s also got more thematic depth than you would expect from a game that is, on the surface, so colourful, with things such as the flavour text, conversations with characters, NPC chatter, and even the main story itself often touching upon hefty themes- and doing a pretty good job of roping them into the main story.

Something else that helps the planet of Hillys and its environs come alive is the game’s visual style and how good it looks. Even back in the day, Beyond Good and Evil’s graphics stood out not because of their level of detail or fidelity, but their strong art design and aesthetic. That’s still very much the case, as is evidenced in a game world that’s brimming with strong, vibrant colours and varied sights to see, all of which comes together to lend the game a great sense of place and personality.

With its 20th Anniversary Edition release, the game has, of course, also seen some technical enhancements, most of which work out well, too. Running at 4K and 60 FPS, it’s mostly a solid and consistent performer, with some technical hiccups coming in the form of the occasional frame rate drop, or textures on characters’ faces or skins looking like they’re a bit too detailed for a game that otherwise looks ultimately like a 20-year old game that it is. Beyond that, however, everything has been touched up nicely, and the remaster does a great job of making everything look sharper and crisper while still retaining the original game’s distinct aesthetic.

Beyond Good and Evil’s rich world was one of its biggest strengths when it launched two decades ago, and that’s still true today.”

From a gameplay perspective, Beyond Good and Evil feels like a slightly more aged experience than it does from a graphics viewpoint, though ultimately still one that’s worth diving into. In essence, the game is structured somewhat similar to a classic Zelda game, with a semi-open hub world leading players to several dungeons that you tackle sequentially, while also tackling some side quests, optional areas, exploration, and more in the hub itself. Moment-to-moment, the game blends simplistic combat, puzzle solving, stealth, and exploration, with a significant chunk of the gameplay experience also revolving around a photography mechanic.

Equipped with her camera, Jade can click photos of any and all creatures, animals, and enemies she comes across, which in turn nets her with credits that can be used to purchase upgrades and consumables. Another crucial currency is pearls, which are gained by defeating bosses, completing main quests, and the like, and are used to both purchase upgrades for the speedboat that Jade uses to traverse the water-filled hub world, or unlock new areas to explore. As you might imagine with a game that’s as old as Beyond Good and Evil is now, there are some parts of this core loop that still work, and others that haven’t quite aged as well.

Take, for instance, the photography, which is still an absolute blast. Coming into any new area is always exciting, because finding new plants, animals, species, and what have you to photograph and catalog always feels equally enjoyable and rewarding. Even in the middle of combat, I made it a point to always get some distance from whatever new enemies I was taking on so I could click a clear picture of them. Maybe it’s the Metroid Prime scanning fan in me, but anytime a game has a mechanic like that, it’s bound to sink its hooks into me.

Exploration, as such, feels rewarding as well. A lot of that is, of course, down to the solid design, with paths that weave in and around each other to create shortcuts and loops, all with a decent dose of branching pathways, hidden rooms, and what have you. Even though most of the areas you’ll find yourself in are pretty constrained and focused in their design, they feel appropriately dense, so that it never feels like the game is trying to discourage exploration. Whether you’re driving your speedboat out in the hub world of Hillys, or trudging through one of the game’s dungeons, exploration always remains fun.

beyond good and evil 20th anniversary edition

“As you might imagine with a game that’s as old as Beyond Good and Evil is now, there are some parts of the core gameplay loop that still work, and others that haven’t quite aged as well.”

Other parts of the experience, however, feel like products of their time, where the gameplay side of things is concerned. Combat, for instance, is a bit too barebones and straightforward, to the point of almost not being engaging in the slightest, with the exception of some boss fights. Stealth, too, is often frustrating, thanks in equal measure to annoying enemy AI and strange design choices with the arenas you’re skulking through. Beyond that, simple movement itself can often feel a bit clunky, whether that’s because of floaty platforming mechanics, animations that are often sluggish, or a camera that, despite quality-of-life improvements, can be a bit frustrating at times.

There is, ultimately, a lot to like in Beyond Good and Evil 20th Anniversary Edition yet. I haven’t even mentioned its new speedrun mode, or its new galleries, which include artwork and behind-the-scenes development insights, among other things, or the re-orchestrated soundtrack, or even the new treasure hunt that has narrative ties to the supposedly-still-in-development Beyond Good and Evil 2. This is obviously not a full-fledged remake, but it is definitely a more comprehensive remaster than you maybe would have expected. How long it’ll be before Ubisoft finally gets its act together and releases the long-awaited sequel is anyone’s best guess, but for fans of the original, or those who never got the chance to check it out but are interested in doing so, Beyond Good and Evil 20th Anniversary Edition comes strongly recommended.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.