It seems that every time I fire up Jedi Academy I end up writing a blog post about something that the game does right. Well, this time is no different. See, I'm playing through the game yet again - don't judge me, it's an awesome game - and as I'm going through I'm noticing all the ways that the game is done right. Not that the game doesn't have its flaws, but it really is a very awesome game for a lot of reasons and some of those reasons are very applicable to table top RPGs.
The Mentor/PC Dynamic
Now, I've talked about this before - in relation to Jedi Academy in fact - at least twice, but it still is an amazing example of how to use a mentor in your game. See, in the game your character is the student of big time Jedi and all around bad-ass Kyle Katarn. Katarn is a big enough bad ass that he's starred in his own series of games (Dark Forces, Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight, and Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast) so he is kind of a big deal. He's seen it all and done it all, so of course hes going to be over powering and ridiculous right? Right. Only through the vast majority of the game Kyle isn't in the way of the PC. He is there helping, sure. He flies the plane and provides air cover. He goes off to meet contacts. He does other parts of the mission, but throughout it all he isn't there to over-shadow what the PC does, and even when they meet back up he keeps the attention on the PC rather than showing off what he himself did.
Big NPCs, Focus on the PC
Aside from Kyle Katarn you know who else features prominently in this game? That's right, Luke Skywalker. So now we have at least two super bad asses that are in the game regularly. The kind of guys that do a lot of the big moving and shaking. Corran Horn is also referenced several times - even if he never appears - so we know he is around too. Despite all this though the focus is kept on the PCs.Much like with the mentor, while the NPCs are doing things - sometimes important things - the focus on the interactions is on the PCs. When Luke talks to you he is talking about what you did, thanking you for a job well done, and explaining how it fits into the grand scheme of things. The focus always stays on the PC and things that matter to the PC which keeps the story focused on them. I honestly can't tell you what Luke and Horn are off doing while my character is on missions. I can assume they're having their own story and likely facing bigger challenges, but when I play the game my character (Jaden Korr) is the star of the show and it feels like that because the focus is always on that character and the heroics they are accomplishing.
A Touch Of History...
Throughout the game you get to visit a lot of key moments from the Star Wars universe. After all, the plot of the game focuses around someone going around and stealing Force energy from those locales. Two of the coolest places? You get to go back to Echo Base on Hoth and you get to go to Darth Vader's private residence/castle. Both of these levels are pretty awesome in their own right, but what is awesome about them is that even while the game gives the touch of history and lets you explore areas that you've seen or read about on the movies and in books, they are there for a reaosn that fits into the game's story, Jaden Korr's story. This means that even though I'm traipsing around Echo Base Im not doing it just for a "look, it's Echo Base!" I'm there for a reason, and that reason is its own mission that just happens to take place there.
Big Events, A Personal Story
The last thing I'll mention - at least this time - is that while the story in Jedi Academy focuses on big events (the Imperial Remnant, Dark Jedi, revenge from previous games, etc) there is also a personal story in there. Jaden faces physical, mental, and spiritual challenges. The story may be light at times, and I doubt it is going to change anyone's life, but it is still a solid story and it delivers well because it addresses the personal story at the same time it is doing the event based story. Also, the choice for going Dark Side is actually incredibly tempting, which is kind of unique in a Star Wars game, especially with how blatant it is that you are making that choice. It's also satisfying whether you go Light or Dark side.
Choices Have Consequences
You know what, screw it, one more. You don't get to make a lot of choices in Jedi Academy really. The game is fairly linear. What you do get to do though is make one choice: do you go Dark Side or stay Light Side? That choice though has consequences. The last mission in the game changes based on what side you are. The last boss changes as well. If you go Light Side you fight against the big bad, and then the real big bad, and you call it a day. If you go Dark Side, you fight the big bad and then Kyle Katarn comes to try and stop you. Yeah, yeah, spoiler warning but the game has got to be 10 years old at this point. Also, that fight with Kyle? it's awesome and terrifying. He is every bit as capable as you'd expect someone who starred in their own series of games to be. It's a great fight and leads to a solid ending. It's also just a fun occurence to happen as your choice has a lot of direct and immediate consequences beyond just which cut scene you get at the end.