The quality of the Star Wars Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series is akin to a ride on a roller coaster. It starts out flat, goes extremely high, dips extremely low, extremely fast, and then goes high again. So it should be no surprise that the final game in the series, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, is a great dip from its predecessor Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast.
Similar to the Jedi Knight expansion, Mysteries of the Sith, series protagonist Kyle Katarn is not the primary playable character in Jedi Academy. In fact, he is not playable at all. Jedi Academy instead tasks players with creating their own Jedi student. The character creation isn’t super robust but does offer both male and female models, along with a selection of classic alien races, clothes, and colors to choose from. Having your own character is neat but the really cool part of the character creation is being able to design your own lightsaber. I was able to choose my style of hilt and blade color, which really invested me in my character.
To work within the story that Jedi Academy tells, the character you create is named Jaden. On the shuttle to the Academy to begin training as a Jedi, you’ll be befriended by another new student Rosh. Rosh is kind of a dick and his behavior often puts you at risk. You’d think that Luke Skywalker would have had a better vetting process after the last asshole he brought in to the Academy ended up turning to the darkside and causing havoc for everyone involved. Speaking of Dessan, the main villain in the previous game, his right hand in that game, Tavion, has returned with some Jedi artifacts that suck Force powers out of old relics. She has this crazy idea to resurrect a long dead Sith and end the Jedi once and for all.
Longtime series protagonist Kyle Katarn, newly restored in the Jedi order, is given the duties of training both you and Rosh. This training involves a Force obstacle course and then a series of missions to complete. These missions are chosen from a galactic map and offer short excursions to a variety of locales. Each of the missions has a different feel to them. Some are standard first person fare of kill all the enemies. Others have you rescuing prisoners from a dangerous rancor pit, racing a speeder bike through temple ruins, setting explosives at a Remnant facility, and many more. The idea behind these missions is often quite good but their execution often leaves much to be desired. Most of the missions are super short, with little variety, and even less challenge. Well, at least for the first half of the game.
The game has a very obvious difficulty jump about halfway through. As in most games, as you become more powerful you’ll face more powerful foes. Jedi Academy throws dark Force users at you in the back half with alarming frequency. And the reality is, that they just aren’t that fun to fight. You’d think that fighting force users and having lightsaber battles would be the highlight of the game but when the game starts throwing two and three of them against you at a time and they can kill you easier than you can kill them, it can become a frustrating slog from encounter to encounter. Frustrating is not a word I like to associate with Star Wars.
I appreciate trying something new, and the less linear approach to the game’s structure was good in theory, but in practice it really hurts the narrative of the game. Much of the story progression happens off screen and is relayed to the player in briefs and debriefs. Those static mission briefing screens are not equal to a well scripted cutscene and they also fail to develop the characters very much. Aside from Kyle and Luke, characters that players will know from outside this game, none of the characters’ motivations are well cast. Why is Tavion trying to resurrect a dead Sith lord and destroy the Jedi? Why is Rosh such a dick? And why does Jaden keep referring to him as a friend, especially after all the bad shit the guy has done to her? These are all mysteries the game doesn’t really explore or have time to explore because of the way the story is spooned out.
The fact that developer Raven was only given a year of development time on Jedi Academy really shows. Everything in the game just feels thrown together and not crafted to the same level that Jedi Outcast was. It doesn’t reach the levels of disappointment that I had with Mysteries of the Sith but Jedi Academy is still a big let-down.