Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Jak and Daxter remains a gamer favorite

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Last fall, video game developer Naughty Dog denied rumors that a “Jak and Daxter 4” was on the horizon. The news was a disappointment for fans of the classic video game series, which was released from 2001 to 2004. The original three titles were some of the highest rated entries of second-generation gaming and introduced us to the elfin Jak and the “ottsel” Daxter.

A revisit of “Jak and Daxter” would be a landmark event in gaming, a chance to enjoy another adventure with the indelible heroes’ two platforms later on the PlayStation 4. The series has enjoyed successful spinoffs – namely “Jak X: Combat Racing” for the PS2 and “Daxter” for the PSP, which were released in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

Naughty Dog partially reopened the original story in 2009 with the PSP and PS2 game “Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier” to moderate success.

In fact, not one of these spinoffs was greeted with the same acclaim as the original trilogy. “Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy” kicked it all off in 2001 as a game directed at younger audiences. It has a lighthearted storyline set far in the past on a remote island. We quickly learn that Jak is a mute, so Daxter’s sharp wit sustains the storyline.

“The Precursor Legacy” enjoyed great success and glowing reviews. Its villains are comical and their schemes are without much gravity, which allowed for an “E” rating and welcomed audiences of all ages. The basic plot has just two other main characters: Keira, Jak’s love interest, and her father, Samos the Sage.

The story leaps centuries in 2003’s “Jak II” after Jak and co. are launched through a time warp. They crash-land in dystopian Haven City, ruled with an iron fist by Baron Praxis and his Krimzon Guard. The shift plops the heroes into an advanced, industrialized metropolis far removed from the little island of the series’ debut.

As it jumps centuries, “Jak II” also grows several shades darker. The sequel boasts crisper visuals and more colorful characters, like the neurotic genius Vin and the morbidly obese hustler Krew. The story, with its political back-channeling and nefarious underground gangs, matures significantly over the original.

One of the great joys of the sequel is Jak’s character development as he handles his new alter ego, “Dark Jak,” created when Jak is held in a torture chamber and injected with “dark eco” by the Baron. The uncontrollable monster nearly murders Daxter in the first scene; it’s clear from the start that the sequel has bigger stakes than the debut.

“Jak III,” released in 2004 completes the trio as a climactic finale that matures from the second chapter and carries a sense of weight and finality not found in most games. It turns out that after Jak’s victory at the end of “Jak II,” the metal heads still have charge over Haven City. The city blames Jak and casts him out into the wilderness.

Jak and Daxter find themselves stranded in the Wasteland, an inhospitable desert across the sea from Haven City. They’re scooped up by King Damas of Spargus, a brutal seaside enclave built by brooding outcasts and hardened exiles. Here Jak and Daxter meet the series’ best characters, like Seem the Monk and Damas, a harsh ruler with a fascinating past.

With the series’ most complex storyline, “Jak III” balances a fleshed-out plot in both Haven City and Spargus. Each story builds with brilliant pacing as Spargus slowly welcomes Jak into the fold while he tries to reconnect with a crumbling Haven City. We also meet Light Jak, a third facet of the protagonist’s personality introduced to offset Dark Jak.

Throughout the final journey, Jak delves further into the world’s history and into his own past, facing a collision of Krimzon Guards, metal heads and Darkmakers, intergalactic warriors that conquer entire plants. As the story reveals its last secrets, “Jak III” ties together the whole trilogy as one cohesive story. The final chapter resurrects old friends and foes for the fight and gives Jak an ending only a hero deserves. The final scene – a mad dash through a raging sandstorm as the Darkmakers strike at Spargus – will have your pulse thumping.

Naughty Dog has always produced not just games, but stories. From “Jak and Daxter” to “Uncharted” to “The Last of Us,” the company’s games have enjoyed excellent voice acting, harrowing missions and multilayered characters.

Given the advancement in graphics since 2004, any fan would love to see Naughty Dog reopen the original “Jak” trilogy. It would be a treat for nostalgic adults and a first foray for younger audiences into some of the best entries of second-generation gaming.

Alex Frail can be reached at [email protected]

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