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Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and something borrowed, nothing new
A little bit of this, a little bit of that
True story: I could not for the life of me keep the name of this game logged in my brain. In just writing the title of this post, I had to revise it twice. (Is there a colon? And where does it go?) Even as a game, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is hard to keep in your mind, for a few reasons. Mostly, I think, because it takes the game marketing trend of “It’s like X, but has elements from Z” to heart in a big way, forgetting to iterate or differentiate along the way.
To that point, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is like Dark Souls mixed with a Metroidvania mixed with a splash of Zelda and specifically the mudslide sequences from the Uncharted series. I am not the first to note this, but it really bears repeating that Fallen Order really, truly loves a slippery slide, to the point where I wondered if the developers’ favorite Mario levels were those penguin ones from Super Mario 64 and whether this game was not, in fact, the actualization of a long-held dream to bring those sequences into the 4K generation. So maybe throw 64 in that genre mix for good measure.
For what it’s worth, Fallen Order does a lot of the things it borrows competently. The worlds you visit have that nice lock and key design that makes you want to retread them, if only to get a new poncho or paint job for your little droid, BD-1. The combat is at times difficult, lifting the now infamous corpse-run dynamic of Dark Souls in a way that isn’t necessarily narratively justified, but hey, it’s a videogame, so stop thinking so hard, eh? And when the audio wasn’t desyncing entirely, requiring you to reboot the game several times to match the dialogue to the uncanny flapping lips,1 the cutscenes give off that Uncharted vibe, hyping you up for the next off-ship sequence on the next cool Star Wars world. (Looking at you, Ice Planet. Nice snow effects.) The game occasionally has dungeons that say, “Hey! You like that old style of Zelda game, don’t you?” And you do! It’s not bad, the game. Moment to moment, you’re having moderate fun. It’s just that you never get the sense of any of this adding up.
Time is a currency, and even leisure is not immune to the capitalistic drive to spend well. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is fine. It has a lot of things that I, specifically, like. It just never takes things to that next level where everything begins to sing, where your mind stops its ceaseless churning about whether this is something interesting and shifts into being, simply, interested. Fallen Order reminds me of some of my own short story drafts written in the early pandemic. They had all the hallmarks of a story I would write. Videogame tropes. Humor, or attempts at humor. Rambling sentences that ultimately land on a punchline (see: humor, or attempts at humor). But some essential element was always missing. Some central heart. It made sense. I was composing them from an artistically fraught place: I had a preconceived notion of how they would fit into a collection, thus dooming them to a kind of concept story that lacked any of the experimentation or, I’ll admit, throw-shit-at-the-walledness of my better work. Which is all to say, I feel for Fallen Order. It was clearly conceived as a checklist of inspirations, and by golly it tried to do them all.
Still, a game like this makes you appreciate its constituent parts all the more. Dark Souls for actual tension and strange commitment to narrativizing the death/life loop. Metroidvanias for more intricate and interconnected worlds. Zelda for omg Zelda so good. And Uncharted for just being a movie sometimes. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order cribs too much in an attempt at being the things it loves, but a successful mashup this is not.
Writing about glitches isn’t remotely interesting or edgy, but my god did this game have presentational issues.