Star Wars games: “Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy” (PC)

Raven Software’s Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy introduces a new protagonist and non-linear approach to level design, but does it still deliver the same thrills and kills as Jedi Outcast did?

Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (PC)
(USA 2003, developer: Raven Software, publishers: LucasArts (defunct)/Activision (defunct)/Disney, platforms: PC, Xbox)

Jaden Korr, a new student at Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy, has to prevent the Disciples of Ragnos, a group of dark Jedi, to drain all the Force power from significant places across the galaxy and use it for their own evil purposes.

Welcome to the high Jedi drama school
Introducing a new protagonist in a long-running series of games is always a tricky thing to do, but it works surprisingly well. Kyle Katarn still plays a big role as the tutor of Jaden, but it’s obvious that the game wants to take a different direction when it comes to character creation. This is meant literally, because at the beginning of the game one can decide how Jaden looks like. It doesn’t stop with the clothes, though, as one can also have a female Jaden who can be an alien as well. Unfortunately all this customization doesn’t help make him/her a memorable character. Together with fellow student Rosh Penin who is very aggressive in his training, one can’t shake the feeling that this is nothing more than a high school soap opera in which the rest of the cast is just as forgettable as the plot and villains.

The reason why the story isn’t as engaging as it could be is the mission structure of the game. Unlike the linear levels of previous titles, one can visit different places in the Star Wars universe in any order. While these are disconnected and tell their own individual stories, the overarching plot is always taken up with brief updates on what Luke Skywalker and Kyle Katarn’s investigations bring up after completing a certain number of assignments.

Choose your own adventures
Despite the narrative problems, the mission structure is the best thing that could have happened to the franchise which grew a bit stale. Gameplay doesn’t simply revolve around finding keycards and ultimately an exit while blasting/lightsabering through hordes of enemies. Each level has its own setting and objectives, e.g. rescuing prisoners and guiding them to an exit while evading a Rancor, racing on speeder bikes while being chased by others or even confronting bounty hunter Boba Fett and at the same time setting explosives in various parts of the level. There’s also a cool mission in which one has to mark certain buildings with homing beacons which signal Rebel fighters to attack them later.

Variety is key in level design, and even if these RPG-like quests don’t have the same narrative impact as Mass Effect would deliver later, one eagerly anticipates each new challenge. Only the lack of a map and helpful clues take away some of the enjoyment to explore all kinds of Star Wars environments.

Choose your own lightsaber and Force powers
As if changing the appearance of the main protagonist wasn’t enough, it’s also possible to create one’s own lightsaber and later decide if one wants to keep a single one or confront all enemies with two at the same time or even a Darth-Maul-style staff. This doesn’t only influence the way how flashy the fighting style looks, but also how the weapons of choice are handled. The different battle stances of Jedi Outcast make a return as well, making for a definitive lightsaber duel experience.

The level-up system of Force powers is also back again, with points collected after each successful mission which have to be attributed to offensive and defensive abilities. Deciding on dark and light powers has an impact on Luke Skywalker’s evaluation of Jaden as well. Together with this, certain moral decisions in key moments of the plot have to be made which result in different endings, making the whole Jedi training philosophy much more relevant to the story and gameplay.

Identikit looks and sounds
With only one year between this game and Jedi Outcast, there aren’t many surprises when it comes to graphics, as it doesn’t look much different. With a great score and mostly satisfying voice acting, there isn’t anything to complain about in this department, either.

A different, but very good Star Wars experience
Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is a clear departure from the linear experience of previous titles, and while the plot and character development are as forgettable as the main protagonist, the levels are great fun, offering some great set-pieces. Bringing back the level-up system and also introducing new lightsabers makes for different play styles the former game didn’t offer. While it’s not a big improvement in terms of technology, it’s very close to the first Jedi Knight in terms of sheer entertainment value.

Score: 8.5/10

Buy the digital version on
GOG
Steam

Buy the retail version for PC on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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5 Responses to Star Wars games: “Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy” (PC)

  1. this does look like a lot of fun. I don’t have any experience with the previous versions, of course, so I bet I’d be very happy with this one. I love the choose your own adventure theme to this, being able to ‘build’ upon the charachters makes you feel a bit more involved, too, which I think I’d really like. I’d probably choose Darth Maul’s staff every time because, let’s face it, his weapons are pretty kickass ๐Ÿ˜€ All in all looks this like a whole bunch of fun, and maybe even more so for a beginner like myself. Great review! Keep the Star Wars comin’…. even if I am slightly behind in reading ๐Ÿ˜€

    • nufafitc says:

      Thanks for the comment and good to see you back with your own writing ;). I was a bit behind myself and hopefully can keep up the usual pace. Star Wars-themed articles will be on hold right now, but rest assured something similar is in the making :). And yes, even if I’m not a big fan of Episode I, Darth Maul’s fighting style was pretty cool, so it was too bad one didn’t get to see more of him. If I find the time, I’ll definitely try to review the “Knights of the Old Republic” games, as these RPGs seem to be the highlights of creating your own characters and adventures.

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