Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
Star Wars: Jedi Academy is a classic game that managed to capture the hearts and imaginations of essentially every child who experienced it. Even today with a triple-A Star Wars game like “Fallen Order”, there’s a not-insignificant amount of people shouting, “Just do Jedi Academy again!” Lo and behold the shouts didn’t fall on deaf ears, because here’s Jedi Academy again.
So why does everyone, me included, love this game so much? Why do they grip it so tightly to their chests like it’s the pinnacle of the Star Wars franchise? Frankly, a more efficient way to answer that question is to find what isn’t the reason for that love. I assure you, dear reader, that it’s not because of the story. I don’t hold this against the game necessarily because I understand that times were different, and the story was more of an easily digestible propellant to get you into cool locations fighting interesting enemies. However, purely from a storytelling standpoint, it’s not great.
The story of Jedi Academy is exactly what you think it’s going to be before even turning on the game. There’s the young protagonist learning about the force, his one friend who’s very obviously going to turn on you later, some generic Sith to fight, and plenty of familiar faces from throughout the franchise along the way. It’s predictable, bare-bones, and there’s plenty of cheese to go around. To be honest, though, that doesn’t bother me so much. I recognize the story isn’t told very well nor is it the slightest bit unique, but playing it after all these years reminded me of a simpler time for video games. The cutscenes aren’t ten minutes long, there aren’t too many of them, and you can skip them.
Additionally, it’s so interesting to me that this game ties so heavily into the old Legends canon. As in, close enough that the Jedi Academy in the title refers to Luke’s from the post Return of the Jedi time period. I spent so much time as a teenager reading dozens of books from this era, and to see its reanimated corpse dancing in front of me once again scratched such a specific nostalgic itch that I didn’t even realize I had. As bare-bones as the story and characters are, it still felt like a warm blanket.
That’s not what draws people to this game, though. People flock to it because it’s the most well-rounded representation of Star Wars that we’ve gotten in video games to date. Most often the lightsaber combat is the sticking point, but Jedi Academy has so much more to offer than that. The game’s structure presents the player a handful of missions to choose from, in any order, before being thrown into a story mission; rinse and repeat. Each mission takes you to a unique location, sometimes recognizable and sometimes completely new, and almost always presents the player with a new gimmick. There are levels focused on landspeeders, attempting to escape an unkillable enemy, or stages that remove your lightsaber from the equation altogether. There’s enough variety that if you were somehow able to tire of the lightsaber combat, there’s still more than enough content to enjoy.
The thing is, you won’t ever tire of the combat. There’s just too much variety within how you’re able to approach the combat itself that boredom never has time to enter the equation. If you want to play up close and personal, there are a thousand ways to do so. There are three different saber fighting styles with just the single saber. Throw in the fact that you can also wield two sabers or a double saber later in the game and that leaves you with a wealth of variety in close quarters alone. Bored with that? Whip out of your guns and try focusing on ranged combat. Tired of both? Run a defensive-force based gunslinger, or just throw your lightsaber in the garbage and level Force Lightning all the way up and blast away. Any combination of these ideas is a perfectly viable way to play, and that’s what makes Jedi Academy so wonderful.
The game is certainly dated in some ways. As mentioned earlier, most levels have a gimmick of some kind to differentiate it from the others, but oftentimes those gimmicks lack polish. The landspeeder level stands out as particularly awkward. You have a few options of taking out enemies while on the speeder, but none of them work particularly well and it always feels like dumb luck when you get it to work. The maneuverability of the speeder also isn’t entirely in tune with the level-design which leads to a fair amount of frustration. Ultimately, while these gimmicks are sometimes frustrating and show the game’s age, they’re still quite fun and rarely stick around long enough to become truly detestable.
It’s also important to note that this is the new console version of the game (PS4 specifically). While it was released on the Xbox back in 2003, I think it’s safe to assume that most people were familiar with the PC version. As much fun as I had playing this up on the big screen in my living room, it does quickly become clear the game was built with PC in mind. The sheer amount of Force powers and weapons you can switch between lends itself very well to the scroll wheel or F keys, but not so much to a controller. Your force powers and weapons are now switchable with the D-Pad, which is cumbersome at first when you have four or five force powers but becomes unwieldy by the time you get all of them. There is, luckily, the option to map your favorites to the button combinations of your choice. However, this solution has limits and so you’ll probably just map your favorites and primarily use those. Frankly, though, my trash brain had real trouble remembering how to quickly select the power I wanted which led to more than a little frustration in high-intensity confrontations. I feel that, at least without a lot of practice, this is going to limit your playthrough to a more focused playstyle rather than the wilder and more unpredictable one I enjoy so much on PC. It’s important to note, however, that if you’re someone who primarily plays on console, you may not have any of these troubles. If you’re more familiar with PC, the learning curve is not going to be insignificant.
Jedi Academy is one of my favorite games that’s not without flaws, but somehow even those flaws are charming. Underneath its aging kinks there waits a game that’s utterly compelling that is infinitely re-playable. The combat has no match in Star Wars games to this day, and it offers countless possibilities to suit yourself with. It manages to capture so many different facets of Star Wars and does so with a genuine love for every bit of it.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy PS4
Underneath its aging kinks there waits a game that’s utterly compelling that is infinitely re-playable. The combat has no match in Star Wars games to this day, and it offers countless possibilities to suit yourself with. It manages to capture so many different facets of Star Wars and does so with a genuine love for every bit of it.