Star Wars: Jedi Survivor
How Jedi Survivor Avoids Typical Game Sequel Pitfalls
Trevor | May 20, 2023
Jedi Survivor borrows DNA from the Souls series and Metroidvanias to create a novel Star Wars experience, and it does it all without the use of a reset button.
In classic T@P fashion, while everyone else ventures out into Hyrule again, we’re just getting around to Star Wars: Jedi Survivor. There are a lot of things you can come to T@P for, but timely updates on the latest release is not one of them.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was an exceptional Star Wars game in its own right, but Survivor has managed to build on its foundation in an extraordinary way — and it does it all without relying on typical strategies to kick off a sequel.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one — Samus arrives on a new planet with all her gear from the previous adventure, only to fall down a pit and lose it all. Her armor falls off, her missiles scatter, all her beam cannon attachments somehow get scattered to the winds, and you have to go collect them all again.
The “abilitease,” as it’s often called, is a fairly common technique to set the power dial back to zero for the start of a new adventure, while still providing a glimpse of what’s to come. This happens in almost every sequel in a long running series. God of War, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta. Every new Kingdom Hearts game, other characters get to grow and evolve, but when it comes to Sora, SE says:
My favorite recent example of this comes from River City Girls 2, where the girls get expelled and go play video games for a month until they forget all their skills.
When Jedi Survivor begins, Cal Kestis retains all his abilities and saber forms from Fallen Order. I spent a good portion of the tutorial level waiting for the “abilitease” to end... only to find it never happens. In fact, by the end of the tutorial, you have acquired one of the three new saber stances to use, too.
Instead of smashing the reset button, Jedi Survivor builds up the Cal we last left in Fallen Order. Both narratively and mechanically, this felt great. From the onset you’ve got the power to shove Stormtroopers off cliffs, flip around with the staff saber, and even swap around saber colors without having to find appropriately colored crystals. Narratively, Jedi Survivor picks up after a time skip from the first game. While the original crew has moved on to new roles in the galaxy, Cal has been fighting the Empire all along. It would be rather strange if in all the years we didn’t see them, Cal and BD-1 hadn’t picked up a few tricks — or, even stranger, lost the ones they had.
For newcomers I imagine the amount of abilities at the onset may prove intimidating, but this creates a mechanical throughline often absent from direct sequels.
The downside to this, I foresee, is I don’t see a way to repeat this again. By the end of Jedi Survivor, every button on the PS5 controller is in use. This thing is getting pushed to the absolute brink. Unless humans evolve another hand and a we make a new controller with extra buttons between now and the third game, there’s nowhere to go next.
Backtracking with Purpose
Here’s a common Metroidvania trope — during your travels, you see a dozen florby-borp doors and you can’t get into them. Then once Samus finally recovers the bimblebop beam, you can florby-borp your way into the Ziggy Stardust chamber. Whatever. You get the idea.
However, there’s always a bunch of florby-borp doors out in the middle of nowhere, too. They either sit off in the far reaches of space, or you ran by them hours ago in some area you have no reason to return to, ever.
Originally, I was disappointed with the Galaxy Map in Jedi Survivor. You spend the majority of time on the same four planets, one of which (Coruscant) is mostly just a tutorial.
As I got further into the game though, it became clear this is the result of a new design directive. While there’s only a few planets to visit, the narrative has Cal and company chasing a mystery spanning only this quadrant of space. Each time you’re required to chase your quarry back to a previous planet, you’ll leave the current one with a new device that opens up paths on the next one. The main two planets, Koboh and Jedah, end up feeling three times the size of any planet from Fallen Order as a result.
The neat trick here is it creates a situation where the player is naturally incentivized to explore various off-shoots they couldn’t before while en-route to the next story objective. There’s no need to haul yourself out to the boonies, because Cal’s going to have to head there eventually anyway. Why not check it out then?
My praise goes a step further, because what’s behind these off-shoots is often more than a simple chest. There’s a plethora of optional boss fights throughout Jedi Survivor, many of which offer more of a challenge than some of your main story encounters. While most of the rewards are things like new coats and hair styles, you’ll often find stims or health and force meter upgrades too. I never reached the end of an optional offshoot and felt the prize at the end wasn't worth it.
Survival Alone Is Insufficient
In one of the more unexpected surprises, Jedi Survivor even applies its Metroidvania approach to its post-game content. After the credits roll, the world keeps moving on. Conversations with travelers from afar continue, Bounty Hunters remain out for your blood, and the Empire’s presence looms. There’s plenty to do out there, even after you’ve seen the final events through.
The real surprise, however, is the force echoes which appear across every planet (for the uninitiated, force echoes are brief visions of past events in a given area — a common tool in the toolbox labeled THE FORCE). These new visions provide additional context on the motivations and history of everyone you met. If you take the time to go back to pivotal locations and locales after the credits, there is almost certainly a vision there about one of your companions.
I’ve no doubt there are plenty of players who will be content to move on to something new after the credits roll, but for the rest, there’s additional conversations and visions to track down. One last reason to travel the galaxy before saying goodbye (or jumping into NG+).
WIth Jedi Survivor, Respawn is approaching a perfect iteration of a long-standing gaming formula. I’m eager to see where the team goes from here, and even more eager to see if they can possibly find a way to build up Cal again without taking anything away. It’s a task I previously would’ve thought impossible, but I also didn’t think I’d see a twist on a well trod formula either.