2002 saw the release of Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, the third game in the Jedi Knight series, and the return of popular EU character Kyle Katarn (Jeff Bennett). With the success and popularity of the game it was only a matter of time before another game in the series was released, but most people were surprised when a sequel came out the following year. Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy would be the final entry in the series, but one that gave players more freedom than ever before.
After the release of the previous game in the series, developer Raven Software were approached by LucasArts and were given just a year to create a follow-up; as such, many of the assets developed for Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast would make a return, with the game looking and playing very similarly. As such, the developers would have to find other ways to add new elements to the game in order for it to stand apart.
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One of the biggest ways that it did this was by making this the first game in the series where players would not take control of series’ lead Kyle Katarn. With the ending of the previous game not seeing Katarn leaving the Jedi Order or denouncing the Force as in previous games, the developers were unsure if allowing players to start the game as an already powerful and capable Force user would make for an enjoyable experience. Whilst this option would allow for players to be able to jump straight into things, it would also mean that there would be little opportunity to develop or improve your character along that way. As such, players would take control of a completely new character to the series.
As the game begins, players are put in control of Jaden Kor (Philip Tanzini/Jennifer Hale), a new student at Luke Skywalker’s (Bob Bergen) Jedi Academy on Yavin 4 (the same temple the Rebels used as their base in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope). Players are able to select Jaden’s race, gender, and appearance, and are able to customise their costume, their saber hilts, and saber colour. Whilst no longer being the main playable character, Katarn would be included in the game, acting as Jaden’s Master, teaching them the ways of the Force and training them to become a Jedi, alongside fellow student Rosh Penin (Jason Marsden).
As the game unfolds, Jaden and Rosh are sent on missions by Katarn, missions that the player can tackle in any order they wish. Each block of the story is divided out so that at least four of the five missions on offer must be completed before the story progresses. Each mission allows the player to travel to a new location to complete a specific task, such as rescue missions, and completing the missions allows the player to upgrade their abilities and Force powers as they see fit, further allowing character customisation.
Over the course of the story a mysterious Dark Side cult, known as the Disciples of Ragnos, begins to make its presence known, and after they attack the Jedi Temple, Jaden is put in direct pursuit of them. As the game progresses the player will come into more contact with the cult, allowing you to engage in lightsaber combat with them. The story will see Jaden have to battle with their own darker impulses, and the player will reach a point where they can choose which path they want their character to take: remain a Jedi, or fall to the Dark Side.
Despite the fast production time, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy was well received by fans, and it was praised for allowing the player to use a lightsaber from the beginning of the game, rather than having to earn it, as well as the customisation options, which were not present in previous entries. The newly added multi-player segments of the game were also praised. Some elements of the game did receive some criticism, however, and the heavy reliance on assets from the previous game, and the re-use of levels made certain missions less enjoyable than others. Despite this, the game did well with critics and fans.
Despite the success of the game, and the fact that it ends without a full resolution if you take the Dark Side path, this would become the final entry in the Star Wars Jedi Knight series, and one of the final appearances of Kyle Katarn in video games before his eventual removal from canon.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy was released in the UK on 19th September 2003.