Jade Empire follows the style of the Wuxia genre within a mythical setting inspired by ancient China. The player character, who can be either male or female, progresses through an adventure based on traditional martial arts and can discover and develop new fighting styles: martial arts,weapon styles, magic styles, support styles, or transformation styles. Combat is not turn-based, but is in real time, granting players control over how and when characters dodge or attack.
The role playing statistic system in Jade Empire uses a tri-stat system Body, Mind, and Spirit. These primary stats control the secondary stats of Health, Focus, and Chi (respectively), and the conversation skills of Charm, Intuition, and Intimidation. Focus is used by fighting with weapon styles (such as a longsword or a staff) or by choosing "focus mode", which slows the movements of other characters, allowing the player to attack at high speeds. Chi is a character's spirit energy. The player can use it to heal themself, to charge up a powerful "chi strike" to deal large damage, or to use it as "mana" when casting spells or transformations. Health, focus, and chi can be replenished by collecting power-ups left by defeated enemies in combat or by using Focus Shrines and Spirit Fonts found in the game world. Additionally, certain party members have the ability to add their power to yours—refilling your stats while they remain out of harm's way.