Games You Should Have Played: The Jak Trilogy

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Last week, something extraordinary happened as Son released yet another HD remastered compilation package of their classic franchises onto the PS3. I have talked about my opinion briefly on the subject of Sony digging through their back catalogue, and I for one lean more toward the positive. For people who missed out on these games, it’s a great opportunity to catch up on classic hits with polished visuals and a discounted price. For me, it is an excuse to talk about Jak and Daxter, my absolute favorite trilogy of the last console generation, and undoubtedly today’s subject of Games You Should Have Played.

Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy

“I have spent my life searching for the answers that my father and my father’s fathers failed to find. Who were the Precursors? Why did they create the vast monoliths that litter our planet? How did they harness Eco, the life energy of the world? What was their purpose? And why did they vanish? I have asked the plants, but they do not remember. The plants have asked the rocks, but the rocks do not recall. Even the rocks do not recall. Every bone in my body tells me that the answers rest on the shoulders… of a young boy… oblivious to his destiny, uninterested in the search for truth, and rejecting of my guidance! And why would he want to listen to old Samos the sage, anyway? I’m only the master of Green Eco, one of the wisest men on the planet! So it seems the answers begin not with careful research or sensible thinking. Nay! As with many of fate’s mysteries, it begins with but a small act… of disobedience.”

The opening monologue of Samos the Sage in 2001’s Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy perfectly captures the sense of mystery, magic, peril, humor, wit, and adventure that this series captivates in the three games that span this collection. As we begin, we meet Jak, a strong silent type (by that I mean literally, he does not speak), about 15-years-old, on what seems to be a simple quest to return his chatterbox of a friend Daxter (who was transformed by Dark Eco into an Ottsel, an otter-weasel hybrid) back to his human self. However, our heroes quickly discover that the wizard Gol, who was supposedly researching Dark Eco, was corrupted by the substance himself and now wants to create an army to spread Dark Eco across the world.

Jak and Daxter Power cell
“Fetch! No, not you Daxter, the useful one with the pointy ears.”

 

So how does our dynamic duo go about stopping this wizard overlord and his sister from world domination? Why, the same way Mario, Banjo, and DK did on the N64: by collecting lots and lots of [insert valuable artifact here]. In this case, Power Cells, the most powerful source of energy on the planet. Samos’ daughter Keira, who happens to be a mechanic, uses the Power Cells you collect to power up her inventions as well as littered pieces of Precursor technology.

So the game plays very much like a classic 3D open world platformer. Jak roams the very fantasy-like countryside, traversing beaches, swamps, snow, lava, caves, and precursor temples, all while fending off Lurkers, performing classic platforming acrobatics, and going on lots and lots of fetch quests. Oh yeah, and some nifty hovercraft sections as well.

Throughout the land, power-ups come in the form of different colored Eco. Green Eco provides health, Red Eco grants super strength, Yellow Eco allows you to shoot projectiles, and Blue Eco gives you a speed boost and activates electromagnetic doors and platforms. I can’t believe that even after ten years, jumping off a Blue Ego launch pad is still one the greatest thrills in any game.

jak jump pads
“Weeeeee!”

 

Be warned, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy requires a lot of precision in the jumping department. If your platforming skills are not up to snuff, this game may and probably will frustrate you. While simply beating the game isn’t dreadfully difficult, finding all 101 Power Cells can be a tall order. Apart from that and the somewhat generic setup, the game features some beautiful environments, memorable boss fights, and a story that clips along at a decent pace with endearing characters and excellent voice acting (especially for the time).

For those who do get 100%, there is a bonus ending that leads directly into the next game. A game that, I kid you not, has one of the most drastic tonal shifts of any sequel ever.

A game that takes you from this…

jak-and-daxter hover craft
“You little Rascals!”

to this…

Jak II

Jak 2
“Enemy target is in vehicle! Shoot on site!”

 

In 2003’s Jak II, we find Jak, Daxter, Samos, and Keira all transported from their lush seaside home to a bleak, futuristic dystopia known as Haven City. A ruthless dictator known as Baron Praxis has quarantined the city to protect the people from a Dark Eco-powered insectoid race called Metal Heads. Jak, labeled an outlaw, is arrested by the Crimson Guard and sequentially becomes the Baron’s experimental guinea pig. Two whole years of pumping his body with Dark Eco in prison and Jak finally snaps. Upon being rescued by Daxter, our once silent protagonists says his first words:

“I am gonna kill Praxis!”

Like I said, HUGE tonal shift in this game from its predecessor. What follows is Jak joining various resistance fighters, and even the mob, to fend off the Crimson Guard, liberate the city, and ultimately get his revenge. Yet as he further explores the city, meets new people, and the Metal Head threat grows ever further out of hand, the plot only thickens from there, and plot twists after plot twists begin popping up like wildfire.

The gameplay itself also changes up quite a bit. Whereas the first game was more of a classic open world platformer, Jak II plays more like a sandbox game in the same vein as Grand Theft Auto. Platforming is toned down and replaced with an emphasis on gunplay. Eco powerups are now absent, yet they still seem spiritually represented in the form of the different colored ammo you collect for each of your morph gun mods. Red ammo represents shot gun rounds, Yellow ammo is sniper rifle rounds, Blue ammo is automatic rounds, and so on. Physical combat doesn’t change much, though there is one new technique in the form of Dark Jak. All those experiments in prison have resulted in Jak’s ability to harness Dark Eco inside his body and transform into a monstrous super powered version of himself.

Dark Jak
All because Daxter spent an entire time skip screwing around his own spinoff game for the PSP.

 

Jak II is not any less challenging than its predecessor. While the platforming isn’t nearly as demanding this time, the games’ challenging vehicle sections and intense fire fights more than make up for it. Story wise, this is where the series goes from being a fun little adventure to blowing into this huge sci-fi drama of epic proportions. In another year, the craziness that is our hero and his ottsel buddy’s life will only get crazier.

Jak 3

Jak 3 cover
Now you know where Naughty Dog’s inspiration for Uncharted 3’s box art came from.

 

In 2004’s Jak 3, things somehow manage to get worse. Instead of just being imprisoned this time, both Jak and Daxter are banished from Haven City for their supposed “crimes” in the previous game and dumped in a wasteland in the middle of nowhere. An inch from death, the duo are found by Damas, ruler of a clan of outlanders and brought to Spargus City, a land of outlaws where, you guessed it, the people must fight, gladiator style, in exchange for their salvation. Quickly proving himself worthy to Damas, Jak moves up the ranks in Spargus City and quickly becomes their raining champion. In one of his field missions driving across the desert, he comes upon a hidden Precursor Temple deep in the Wasteland, where he learns from a Monk of a foretold planetary destruction. Meanwhile, his friends back in Haven City are begging him to come back and help them in the losing war against the Metal Heads and K.G. Deathbots. Meanwhile, this is the game where Samos’ opening monologue two games ago will finally be answered, and the secret of the precursors are revealed.

Unlike the last installment, this game does not try to reinvent its style. It plays almost exactly like Jak II, but with bigger worlds, a ton more gun mods, some of the funnest desert rovers I have ever driven in my [gaming]life, and while Dark Jak makes a return, we also see the birth of a new form: Light Jak.

Light Jak
Angel wings. Awesome.

 

If anything can be said about Jak 3, it certainly pulled out all the stops. The series’ signature difficulty was back in full force. The final boss in particular is one for the history books. It is also easily one of the best looking games from the PS2, with production values that remind us all how Naughty Dog is in a whole other league when it comes to creating a true cinematic experience.

Like Crash Bandicoot before it, Naughty Dog followed the trilogy with a cart racer, Jax X Combat Racing. Afterwards, Jak and Daxter became the final series that Naughty Dog Co-founders Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin worked on before both departing the company they helped build for 15 year. While anyone can see there is an obvious stylistic shift between this series and Uncharted, (Naughty Dog’s first post-Jason and Andy franchise), I still believe many of Uncharted’s strongest facets can be said to have originated from this series.

Case in point, everyone’s favorite wisecracking fortune hunter might as well be the reincarnation of Daxter, whom, upon reflection, was not nearly as annoying as everyone likes to pretend he was.

Drake and Daxter
Tell me I’m not the only one who noticed this.

 

So, to clarify, I, Roger Gus Townson Jr., LOVE this series. All three iterations are beautifully crafted, masterfully performed, platforming/racing/shooting action adventure bliss, whose heart and sense of character easily override any, if all of their few minor flaws. The Jak and Daxter Collection is currently available for the PS3. $40.00, that’s three games for a 1/3 off the price of one.

Don’t miss out. It if sells well enough, they might actually make a Jak 4. So, from the words of Daxter himself, “Get some!”

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