The Dark Souls of Podcasts
Being a Star Wars fan every day of the year wasn’t always so easy. In the early 90’s we only had three films to watch, all on VHS, and once the credits rolled on Return of the Jedi your time in that universe was done. Thankfully, the mid to late 90s were somewhat of a renaissance for Star Wars games. With PC and console hardware evolving into loftier and more capable machines for dedicated video game playing, the dreams of wielding a lightsaber and becoming a true Jedi were inching ever closer. By the time the special editions of the Star Wars films were released, my dedication was fueled by a passion for a universe I only occasionally lived in. The fun I had in a galaxy far, far away still lives inside me and I have some of the following games to thank for it.
Released in 1995 and running on DOS, Dark Forces probably doesn’t seem like a Star Wars game to remember. The graphics look like a Doom clone, the music is a washed out midi file, and the gameplay is more about collecting different colored keys than saving the universe. But for all the negatives Dark Forces was seen by many as something fresh and new. The gameplay was an upgrade from the Doom clones at the time and few games had accomplished the feeling of being a weaker character on the Star Wars battlefield. You were picking upstandard weapons, such as Stormtrooper blasters and thermal detonators while taking on waves of Imperial forces.
Dark Forces opened the door for characters like Kyle Katarn, who would be immensely important and popular in many Star Wars games to come. And even Dark Forces 2, the sequel, improved on the formula. Called Jedi Knight – Dark Forces 2, you picked up right where Kyle left off and continued onward to become a Jedi. You wielded a lightsaber and earned points to level up and strengthen your Jedi powers. You suddenly went from a Rebel trooper to a powerful Jedi.
Dark Forces, and eventually the Jedi Knight series, were arguably the most influential Star Wars games produced. They took the left over fervor for the original series’ universe and made young fans believe again.
Whereas other Star Wars games were focused on recreating the movies or making the player a special piece in the larger puzzle, only the Battlefront games took that away from you. You were no longer Luke Skywalker, or some other all important character such as Kyle, whose fate was to save the universe and become a great Jedi. Instead you were put in the role as a grunt, with the only role to live and die for your cause.
Battlefront took it’s design from the popular Battlefield games. You were choosing sides in the battle for the universe either as an Imperial or a Rebel. Each side had a handful of classes to choose from and once in the battle your objective was to either wipe out the enemy forces or capture all their spawn points. You could recreate the battle of Hoth, imposing your will on the Rebel scum in your massive AT-AT walker. Or you could protect the Republic from the Separatist battledroid army as a Clonetrooper on Kamino. Battlefront put you on planets and in locations you had never been before and gave you a unique perspective on the battles of Star Wars.
I never felt truly influential in Star Wars lore until I played Knights of the Old Republic. Up until Kotor I wasn’t much of an RPG player, but I changed my tune once a Star Wars RPG rolled around. The story followed the player created character as they found themselves neck deep in the fight between the Sith empire and the Republic. You are discovered to have immense force powers and spend the game, along side your companions, growing and changing as a Jedi. You choose the path you took and what powers to wield throughout the game and could even swap between the dark or light side of the force. Your choices had a direct impact on the characters who fought alongside you and on the game itself.
You could have relationships, you could customize your look and your weapons, and you choose your own dialogue. You were creating your own Jedi, your own piece of the universe, and changed the story how you saw fit. The eventual sequel, though not as loved due to story limitations, evolved the gameplay. Your choices were no longer just noticed, they directly changed your companions, turning once good characters evil and evil characters worse with a few dialogue choices. This series, now living on somewhat within the MMO The Old Republic, introduced so many nuances into Star Wars for me. I left this game feeling connected and educated on a place that, though it didn’t exist, was especially real for me. I could escape at a time when I needed it most and it made my growing up just a little bit easier.
Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi:
This was the first Star Wars game I ever saw or played. My brother owned a Super Nintendo long before I did and alongside games like Super Street Fighter 2 and Final Fantasy 4 was Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. It was the first game where I could use a lightsaber or use the force. I stepped into the shoes of Luke Skywalker for the first time and traveled to planets I had only seen in the movies. I fought monsters and enemies I never knew existed (and probably were just made up for the game) and lived through the events of Return of the Jedi, one of my favorite movies.
Notoriously hard, the Super Star Wars games probably weren’t a great first introduction for me. But I still tried. I would constantly die on the very first level of the game. A “mode 7” level, essentially early 3D on the SNES, it required you to time jumps in a speeder over deadly caverns. I would try for hours and always fail, until one day I figured out the trick to it all and advanced. Beyond that, the game required platforming, had hidden items, dead ends, and cheap deaths. Each accomplishment in the game felt like something truly earned.
Star Wars has been a big part of my life, almost more so in video games than not. It was a world I could go to when things weren’t always the happiest for me. It provided not just an escape but a place of sanctuary and reprieve from the pains of youth. With Star Wars readying for renewed life with new films, new characters, new actors, and possibly new games, I hope to see another 1990’s for Star Wars games. With a vast, open, and creative universe to work in, and with new and more powerful technology to develop on, we could see more chances for younger kids to find their own stories to sink their teeth into.