Throwback Thursday: Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith
A long time ago, in an age before games were monetized in 88 different ways before they even hit gamers, the way developers (and publishers) stretched the life of their game was to release a little something called an expansion pack. Expansion packs often required the original game to be installed on one’s computer but were often substantive stand-alone experiences that either continued the story of the base game or provided a side adventure in the same world. Today they call these experiences sequels.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith is the expansion to the highly successful Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. It takes place five years after the events of Dark Forces II. It starts off with Kyle Katarn, now a fully fledged Jedi Knight, training his apprentice, Mara Jade. Jade is one of the most beloved characters in the pre-Disney Star Wars extended universe (that is now referred to as Legends). Created by legendary Star Wars novelist, Timothy Zahn, Jade has a checkered past that saw her serving the emperor directly before his death, then working for a smuggling cartel before finally joining the New Republic and developing her strong force talent.
The New Republic base that Katarn and Jade are at is attacked by Remnant forces and Kyle, controlled by the player, heads off to take them on, ordering Mara, for whatever reason, to stay behind. These first few levels are all played from Kyle’s perspective as he attempts to take out a pair of asteroids outfitted by the Remnant to be orbital attack bases.
In the series’ first game, Dark Forces, level design was often confusing and required doing awkward and illogical things to navigate and progress. Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II however, improved on this a lot and the game was far less frustrating for it. Mysteries of the Sith is a regression in every way. Back are the awkward and illogical progressions in levels and, additionally, much of the game is super dark, requiring you to use Force Sight extensively just to navigate through them.
After Kyle takes out the asteroid bases he heads out to check out a mystery temple related to the Sith. With Kyle heading off on his own, Mara becomes the playable character for the rest of the game, and she is immediately tasked by New Republic command with heading to work a deal with a Hutt for some supplies. Things obviously don’t go as planned and Mara is forced to fight her way through the Hutt’s palace. I honestly don’t remember much of the narrative of Mysteries of the Sith because all of it, except for the last level, is non-essential.
This is a huge downer for me, especially coming off the strong, if very cheesy, main game. Mysteries of the Sith attempts to tell its story with in-engine cutscenes, which on many levels makes sense, but the lack of live action and the abundance of goofy animation with outright bad dialog is a problem the expansion can’t really get past. It also doesn’t help that Mysteries of the Sith presents a terrible portrayal of Mara Jade. She starts out as a petulant child instead of the strong independent woman she is, and never really gets much better through the course of the game.
Doubling down on its regressions, Mysteries of the Sith also nixes one of the more unique things in its parent game: the lightsaber boss battles. Aside from a frustrating final battle, Mara doesn’t really get to wield her saber against equal foes. Granted the game isn’t focused on a band of Dark Jedi, as Dark Forces II was, but without these encounters, Mara hardly feels like a Jedi. In a game called Jedi Knight that seems like a misstep.
None of it really feels like Star Wars. It’s more like someone was trying to emulate Star Wars but did a half assed job. Sure, there are stormtroopers to kill, spaceports to visit, and lightsabers to wield but just having those things in the game doesn’t just miraculously make it Star Wars. It is all a big disappointment.
Also disappointing is that this expansion is called Mysteries of the Sith. Aside from the final level, which is both the best and most frustrating thing in the game, there is nary any Sith-related activity in the game. And I’m not sure there were any mysteries, either, at least in the game’s narrative.
I did, however, come across a huge mystery as I played Mysteries of the Sith. Getting Mysteries of the Sith to play was an ordeal that required me to abandon my Steam-purchased version in favor of getting it from GOG. The GOG version was not a perfect running version and came with plenty of its own quirks, but at least it was playable. Most of the issues I experienced, I could at least understand. However one still has me scratching my head. Randomly, the game would play some music but not from the game’s soundtrack. What I would get was random tracks from Jessica Simpson’s 2004 Christmas album, “ReJoyce: The Christmas Album”. Who needs John Williams phenomenal and iconic score when you could have “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”?
It is funny how nostalgia clouds things because, coming into Mysteries of the Sith, I was pretty excited to experience it again. I remember very clearly enjoying it quite a bit when I first played it nearly 20 years ago. But even if I throw away the technical issues I encountered trying to get it to run, Mysteries of the Sith is a bad game. So I’m trying at a loss to explain how and why I perceived it with such strong favor for all these years. Maybe it was because I associated it with its parent title, which after replaying I still really enjoy. Or, maybe, I just fondly remember the multiplayer, which I did not return to here (or with Jedi Knight). Regardless, I can’t recommend returning to Mysteries of the Sith for old fans: it just isn’t good.