This review was originally posted on Steam, with the rating RECOMMENDED.
Simply put, Jedi Academy remains the most FUN video game I have ever played. There may not be a lot else to it, but it’s an excellent, fast-paced lightsaber combat simulator.
Jedi Academy follows the adventures of a young Jedi named Jaden Korr, whose external traits are up to you, who travels to Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy after having managed to build a lightsaber on her or his own. This last bit already shows how the game is set up to be more fun: there’s no part like in Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight or Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast (all in the same series in spite of the weird numbering) where you don’t have a lightsaber yet. Of course, you do get better with it and it gets more fun in this game as well.
Jaden arrives at the Academy and is assigned as a student to Kyle Katarn, the player character of the previous games. As the same time, the Academy gets into conflict with a Sith cult called the Disciples of Ragnos, allied with the Imperial Remnant, giving Jaden plenty of Stormtroopers to slaughter and artificially imbued amateur Dark Jedi to duel with. Most of the levels aren’t directly part of this main plot, but are instead various missions Jaden is given as part of her or his training, although they often involve the Disciples of Ragnos (or the Remnant) making generic mischief. There are three tiers of such missions, based around Jaden’s overall level as a Jedi, with the actual plot happening before and after you complete each tier. Each non-plot mission gives you one point to increase Jaden’s Light or Dark Side Force powers, with the neutral powers increasing between tiers.
So the plot isn’t very deep or interesting. It’s merely perfectly adequate: there’s nothing wrong with it to distract from enjoying the action. There is one element that’s done cleverly enough to deserve praise, concerning Jaden’s possible motivation when he or she has to choose whether to pursue the Light Side or Dark Side ending (a choice up to the player), but I don’t suppose I should put spoilers here.
Okay, so that’s the plot. Now to the important part. Jedi Academy has basically the same gameplay as Jedi outcast before it, but it’s a bit better and focused more on lightsaber combat. There are still a bunch of missile weapons available, but I don’t think I’m even exaggerating when I say that 99% of the time, not counting one level, you won’t need anything else than a lightsaber. (The one percent includes things like using a sniper rifle on someone at a distance before they do it to you.) And as for what you do with a lightsaber, this game was the perfect answer for seeing the jaw-dropping Jedi moves in the prequel trilogy and wanting to do something like that myself. I have played it through again and again for the thrill of incredibly fast, Force-power enhanced lightsaber combat.
There are five different styles of lightsaber combat: you can use a single saber in three different stances, or two sabers or a double-bladed lightsaber, though you have to wait to get all the options. I admit all the fun I have been having is largely based on using a single saber with the Fast style. This style didn’t really work in Outcast – you kept getting hit even though it was supposed to be defensive – but now, possibly because lightsaber blades no longer hurt on contact but only as part of an attack or something, it works much better. It involves making fast attacks all the time while moving around, leading to the fast-paced combat that I love. The Medium style that you start out with is basically just an inferior version of Fast style. The Strong style is weird and kind of lame. You basically turn your lightsaber into a log: it moves really slowly but hits with so much force it bashes through defences and knocks opponents down. It’s recommended for lightsaber combat, and it’s indeed effective in it, but I really don’t see the point of making lightsaber duels (relatively) slow and clumsy when they could be fast and intense with the Fast style. I admit that getting the timing just right on a single devastating hit can be satisfying, but I don’t want to keep doing that. Finally, two sabers or a double-bladed saber are cool ideas, but I’m not so into them because you’d need to learn to control all kinds of special move combinations quickly, whereas the Fast (or Medium) style allows you to control the direction of your saber and your character’s movement intuitively at the same time. I do love fighting opponents who use different styles.
Jedi Knight had a team of Dark Jedi so that you could have lightsaber duels as boss fights. Jedi Outcast realised that wasn’t enough and added more Force users in the form of the Reborn, artificially imbued with the Dark Side and hence explaining why there were so many of them. Jedi Academy takes this a little further still, introducing weaker imbued Dark Jedi from the first level, and the Reborn later as even more fun opponents. This is great: a lightsaber isn’t just for slaughtering minor minions, it’s for fencing with another lightsaber, and the game is full of this and it just keeps getting better as you advance.
Force powers add a nice spice to this all, especially Force Jump, which helps make Jaden incredibly mobile. They can also be abused amusingly at higher levels, such as tossing ordinary enemies to their deaths with Pull or Grip. At least as important as their addition to your character’s repertoire of abilities is that they make Force-using enemies more deadly, versatile and interesting.
There IS one difference between the Jedi duels here and those in the movies, or other modern action movies with superhuman characters. It’s no problem in the game, I just want to mention it because people are saying movie fights are getting more like video games without noticing this. Someone like a Jedi in a movie fights and moves with incredible precision, all the while being inhumanly quick. Obviously you don’t get that here unless the player is a Jedi too; you’ll do plenty of uncontrolled swinging around. You just get the speed and the ability for incredible feats. But that’s perfectly fine, it still feels like you’re in the movies.
The level design is very good too. Not only are the levels designed to make use of your character’s abilities for regular combat, there are plenty of twists on them that give a chance to do something different – in some cases so different that it’s just as well it’s only one level, because it might be fun to ride on speederbikes or lose your lightsaber and go third-person shooter for a while, but only for a while. I also like the three levels, all of them different from each other, that can be downright scary because they have an element of avoiding (almost or literally) unkillable giant monsters.
The music is a minor problem in this game. It uses the same old-time Star Wars movie music as the previous games, and while that works at first, it sort of seems to get old eventually. By the last boss fights, it feels downright lazy and inappropriate that you have this dramatic scene that starts with this random doodi-doo music continuing in the background, and then generic combat music during the battle. Instead, Duel of the Fates would have been perfect for intense lightsaber duels. In fact, I’ve played music like that in the background while playing them, and it was even more awesome.
In sum, this game has really fun gameplay reminiscent of the kind of action we’ve seen Jedi engage in starting with the prequel trilogy (though stopping with the sequel trilogy). The plot is merely adequate, but who cares.
For the record, this game could be called Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast 2: Jedi Academy.