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Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy [2002/2003 -- Raven Software]

Started by Doc_Brown, August 18, 2022, 01:51:25 AM

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When Fallen Order first came out, there was some discussion about how the game lacked a dismemberment system despite the prevalence of lightsabers.  It ultimately boiled down to the fact that Star Wars was now owned by Disney, and there was no way Disney would ever allow such a thing.  This got me thinking back on the likes of Jedi Outcast, a game made when Lucas still owned the franchise.  Technically, dismemberment wasn't a feature then, either, but the developers included it through a cheat code.  Keep in mind, this was back before the Hot Coffee scandal, when something you had to go out of your way to access was, reasonably, not considered anything worth getting worked up over.  It occurred to me that I'd never played its sequel, Jedi Academy, so I decided now would be the time.

In Jedi Academy, you're a new student at Luke Skywalker's, well, Jedi Academy.  You start the game with a lightsaber, and there's only one level in the game where you don't have it (more on that later).  There's a little bit of character customization in the beginning, and you have the option of playing as some non-human races (while I appreciate the recent attempts at diversity, I'm frankly getting sick of nearly every significant character in the franchise being human).  You can also customize your lightsaber (the color being more noticeable than the hilt), and later on in the game you are given the option of upgrading to dual sabers or a double-bladed saber (you can stick with a single saber as well, since it has access to three different stances; with the others you can turn off one of the blades and use either balanced or speed stance, but the power stance is exclusive to single saber users).

So far, so good, but from a narrative perspective the game is garbage from the word 'go.'  On the shuttle in, your character, Jaden, meets another new student named Rosh, who "befriends" you in the way a kid with absolutely no social skills would--glomming onto you and simply declaring that you're now friends.  He quickly comes across as overly competitive and jealous of your talent, endangering your life and ultimately going over to the Dark Side, then crying to be rescued later on.  He's just about as annoying as humanly possible, and the sad fact is I don't think the developers were going out of their way to make him so.  At one point, when your mentor, Kyle Katarn, is talking about mounting a rescue mission, Jaden declares the following (my actual spoken commentary included):

Jaden: I want to help.
Me: No I don't.
Jaden: He's my friend.

Of course, the game gives you the option to go over to the Dark Side yourself, and with as annoying as Rosh is it's certainly tempting to do so if for no other reason than to get to kill him (perhaps that's the point).  But as soon as you turn evil--which, mind you, isn't foreshadowed in any of the previous cutscenes--Jaden is immediately plotting on how to take over the galaxy.  It's all just so poorly written.  Even the villain of the piece isn't anything to write home about--the previous game's villain's apprentice, now leading a cult that wants to resurrect some ancient Sith.  None of it is particularly compelling, and while I admit the appeal of the game is more in its gameplay, there's no reason for the narrative to be this bad.  Jedi Outcast's story is a masterpiece in comparison.

The gameplay, as mentioned, is fine.  Who wouldn't want to run around with a lightsaber, deflecting blasters and dueling Dark Siders, with a dismemberment system to boot?  Structurally, the game is largely divided into thirds, starting and ending with mandatory levels but allowing you to choose amongst five others in between.  There's great variety in the levels, you only have to do four to progress, and after each one you get to upgrade your Force powers.  On the downside, though, you won't know which three to skip (like the aforementioned one without your lightsaber) until you play them, narratively it's all just busy work until the mandatory, plot-relevant missions, and many of the levels feel awfully fanservice-y.  Look, kids, it's Mos Eisley on Tatooine!  It's Chewbacca and the Millennium Falcon!  It's Wedge Antilles in his X-Wing!  Oh, wow, here comes Boba Fett!

When all was said and done with my playthrough, I was left feeling a bit disappointed... so I then proceeded to replay its predecessor, Jedi Outcast, which I remembered more fondly.  Or so I thought, at least.  Turns out all I remembered was literally the last level of the game, where you get the highest concentration of lightsaber duels (including the final boss).  I recalled that you didn't start out with a lightsaber, but I didn't realize we were talking, like, the first third of the game at least.  And, whoo boy, as a shooter these games are not particularly good (there may be something to Stormtroopers having such lousy aim after all--those repeaters can't hit the broad side of a barn).  Even when you finally get your lightsaber, the levels proceed to throw out of reach enemies at you, like distant snipers or grenadiers high above you, immediately rendering it useless.

As previously mentioned, there are three different stances for your lightsaber, which you unlock as you play.  Similarly, your Force powers are simply handed out to you at the start of each mission with little fanfare.  And I gotta say, the level design in Jedi Academy is a lot tighter by comparison, not only in terms of being more linear but in being more readable.  I was constantly having to look up walkthroughs to figure out how I'd managed to get lost in Jedi Outcast (buttons and sometimes even doors aren't terribly obvious).  You don't have any choice in the level progression, but each area of the game is divided into multiple individual levels.  While this can result in things feeling like they're dragging on at times, it also means missions feel more substantial than in Jedi Academy, where they can come across as fleeting.

Once the Reborn start showing up things get better, though even then they're far and few between (at least until the end).  Plot-wise, the game concerns a rogue Jedi named Desann--a tall, deep-voiced, reptilian fellow--who tricks you, as Kyle Katarn, into leading him to the sacred Valley of the Jedi.  There he imbues his disciples with raw Force energy, instantly creating an army of Dark Jedi, and allies with the Imperial Remnant.  The Reborn are hood-wearing, lightsaber-wielding Dark Siders (weirdly enough, in Jedi Academy they're wearing downright comical-looking jumpsuits instead), and dueling with them is the highlight of the game.  There are a few bits of fanservice, like Billy Dee Williams' Lando Calrissian showing up, but they feel actually relevant to the plot as opposed to just random cameos.

In the end, I have to regretfully admit that I don't think either one of these games holds up as well as I'd thought.  They're not bad by any means, but they're both flawed in significant, albeit different, ways.  Jedi Outcast takes way too long in getting you your lightsaber, holds you back once you get it, and when you finally get to cut loose the game is practically over.  But it has a solid story headlined by a great villain.  Jedi Academy, on the other hand, is for better and worse more of a crowd pleaser, giving you your lightsaber straight away and plenty of opportunities to use it.  But the story is weak, the characters underwhelming, the fanservice blatant, and its overall structure comes across as disjointed in spite of solid individual level design.  While I haven't played it, and despite its lack of a dismemberment system, nowadays Fallen Order is probably the better game.
Roads?  Where we're going we don't need roads.

Silver Sorrow

While I liked both of those, my preference was for Jedi Academy, albeit only slightly. I agree, JO had a better story (Jan Ors!)...but JA's bite-sized missions were a bit more manageable to my 15-second attention span. I was always wanting more, however; my hope at the time was that an expansion would introduce more features (such as being able to replay earlier missions with full force powers) and/or more missions, but that never happened.

My biggest problem with JA was the severe dip in quality leading up to and after the Light/Dark Side decision. That has several subsets:

1) The "but Rosh is my friend!" thing. Agreed: I hated that little bastard. It's too bad Luke's little academy is hurting for students, as you would think they'd weed out the jerks if they could. I mean, look what happened to the old Jedi council when all the jerks were in charge. Yoda, Windu, all the rest? Jerks. Of course, if people in the SW universe were capable of making good decisions, then half the horror that went down in the first three movies wouldn't have...okay, never mind. Point made, I guess.

2) The villains are just over-the-top cheesy. The voice acting is stilted and absurd ("Silence, whelp!") and in many cases just awful ("Noooo! This is IMPOSSIBLE!"). Skin-crawlingly bad.

3) Jaden's just as bad if they choose the Dark Side. And that was my worst moment in the game: Jaden didn't become a slick, goatee-wearing (if male) evil menace -- even though one could argue that embracing the Dark Side doesn't necessarily mean that the Dark Side enthusiast is automatically a practitioner of insensate evil -- but instead develops this weird, ratty sneer of a voice that just grated on my nerves. From a normal tone to mustache-twirling dumbass within seconds? Ridiculous.

4) The final (?) mission, where Jaden proceeds out of necessity to slaughter everyone in their way comes to mind; former allies are now instantly Jaden's enemies and it's just so very wrong in tone. There's absolutely no possibility of playing along as if you're still a good guy until you get to Ragnos' tomb, no. Show up and immediately it's "Jaden's evil! Kill Him/Her!"

If they ever remake the game -- a remote possibility -- I would hope that someone with an inkling of subtlety might do the thing some justice.

Ah, well...but Star Wars has never been about subtlety, has it? If SW has ever had any depth in its characters, it was through the actors portraying them. Liam Neeson and Carrie Fisher, for example. Everything else is meant to be cartoonish and overblown, like the movie serials of Lucas' youth. I guess. Maybe.

Did I digress again? I think I did.

On a positive note, I always thought of Jaden as a Zabrak female. It just...fit. I don't know why.
It is the scent of garlic that lingers on my chocolate fingers


Quote from: Silver Sorrow on August 21, 2022, 01:01:45 AM
On a positive note, I always thought of Jaden as a Zabrak female. It just...fit. I don't know why.
That reminds me--I played as a Kel-Dor, and I was extremely disappointed that they don't apply any sort of voice filter to your character (or the Rodian, as it turns out).  For the others it isn't really an issue, but it's jarring hearing a normal-sounding voice come out of either one of those.

On a semi-related note, while it's not a good game by any means, I always loved the story of The Force Unleashed.  Starkiller being treated like a surrogate son (and ultimately cast aside in favor of the real thing), Vader essentially recreating his own childhood for his apprentice, PROXY being programmed to kill you but also be your best friend... it had a lot to like.  It's a damn shame it was rendered non-canon after the Disney purchase.
Roads?  Where we're going we don't need roads.

Silver Sorrow

I believe I tried playing as a Kel-Dor back then, and when I heard Jaden's regular voice it was so off-putting that I just gave up on that idea. I guess they were still trying to fit these games on a CD, so maybe a unique voice set was impractical...then again, the game isn't THAT huge. Maybe it was just another corner cut. They definitely could have expanded the gender and race options, too. (Rodians? Seriously? A Chiss would have been far more interesting.)

I remember one mod that took the female voice and pitched it lower so that she didn't sound like a bubbly teenager anymore. That was perfect for a Zabrak.

I tried the Force Unleashed when it first came out, but I don't remember exactly why I never finished it...I think it had something to do with wonky controls. So I didn't get the full experience, really. But there's a lot of the old EU that was pretty interesting, rendered irrelevant by the Mouse House.

...albeit, some of it righfully so. Remember Splinter of the Mind's Eye? Luke and Leia's burgeoning romance? Yikes.

(Side note. Alan Dean Foster: whatta guy. Wrote a novelization of just about every single movie in existence. Or so it seemed.)
It is the scent of garlic that lingers on my chocolate fingers