What makes a great Jedi? It’s a question many Star Wars stories have pondered over the years, some better than others. One of the best can be found in the deceptively simple Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith, a PC-only standalone expansion to Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II.
The game also does basically everything Disney won’t let modern Star Wars have, such as dismemberment for opponents and Mara Jade as the lead protagonist. Yeah, remember Mara Jade? Former Emperor’s Hand turned smuggler? Before the likes of Ahsoka, Mara was a big deal, yet her inclusion here isn’t out of fan service. Mysteries of the Sith has far more ambitious goals for Mara’s first steps towards becoming a Jedi.
Mysteries of the Sith kicks off with fairly traditional Star Wars fare, with a New Republic base under attack. As luck would have it, Kyle Katarn, the heroic Jedi of the main game, is there to teach Mara in the ways of the light side of the Force. You hop into Kyle’s shoes, powerful in the Force, slicing up Imperial Remnant Stormtroopers and having a quite literal blast as you fend off the enemy. While assaulting the Imperials’ attack vessels, Kyle finds a lead on a mysterious Sith temple and flies off in search of it.
Kyle’s presence isn’t just a rewarding taste of the power you earn for yourself at the end of Jedi Knight, but also a clear contrast to the duration of the main campaign as Mara. While you will fight criminals and Imperial Remnant a’plenty, Mara’s missions aren’t all about action. These intertwining side stories of rival crime bosses and stolen holocrons test Mara as she struggles to gain a handle on the light side of the Force.
For years, Mara served as the Emperor’s personal assassin and spy, only to now have to act against those instincts. The temptation is there for her and the player to just go guns blazing and take out whoever’s in their way. It’s not like they can stop you when you can wield the Force. So it’s telling that one of her first light side powers is Persuade, making her practically invisible to enemies while she can maintain an illusion.
While not on the level of Deus Ex, several scenarios grant you the option to slip past opponents with Persuade, in addition to a city district in one level you can explore freely. Imperials guard every checkpoint, but they don’t come looking for you until you cause trouble or local criminals manage to chase you out into the open. With civilians caught in the fray, you have to be that much more careful with your blasters and lightsaber. You can also save yourself trouble by ripping blasters out of your enemy’s hands with Pull, as well as yanking valuable items from hard-to-reach spots. Mysteries of the Sith expects you to think like a Jedi.
Nowhere does this intent become clearer than in the game’s many environments. Mysteries of the Sith verges on a classic LucasArts adventure game with how many times it throws in everything from item puzzles to navigational hazards — and even a disguise sequence. Mysteries of the Sith trusts you to naturally hit the interact key on everything, Mara frequently having thoughts to share to nudge you in the right direction.
It’s made clear that brute force won’t get you everywhere, and it’ll earn you more opponents to deal with when relied upon. When lethal force is demanded, it’s cathartic and harrowing in equal measure, especially a pitched battle with a rancor where only the sharpest reflexes will prevail. Though the ancient stone guardians of the Sith temple on Dromund Kaas aren’t pushovers by any measure either.
This all culminates in a fateful duel with Kyle in the Sith temple, his mind corrupted by the planet’s dark energies. He unleashes the deadliest enemies in the game at you, a pitched gauntlet where he goads Mara to either embrace the dark side as he has or face her end. Yet in its final moments, where one would expect a grandiose boss fight for the ages, your confrontation with Kyle is a test of wit.
With nowhere left to hide, Kyle leads you into a darkened abyss, only the platforms beneath your feet and the bridge between keeping you from falling. He holds out his hand to Mara, promising that if she walks across and joins him, they can both survive this. However, players who trust him discover that the bridge itself was an illusion, falling to their deaths. Ignore his commands, and you find safe ground by leaping into the void. Reality snaps back into focus as Mara and Kyle meet, blades drawn.
The duel can seem to be endless, Kyle never wavering as your resources are depleted. Dromund Kaas’ magic breaks your blasters, leaving you only your saber and the Force as your allies. Kyle goads you again, relishing in the battle. It’s that dark malice that betrays his weakness — he only keeps fighting because you do. Throughout the campaign, Mara’s only been pushed into combat when there’s no other choice, against foes who would have no compunction over blasting her. Kyle’s her friend and her mentor.
It’s then you realize the only way to end this is to disengage your blade. His first few strikes land, but right before he cuts through Mara’s neck — Kyle comes back to his senses. He can’t kill Mara. On some level, he knew that; it’s why he summons a gauntlet to do his job for him, all the while retreating from you. It isn’t hunger for power that drives him, but rather fear of how far he’s fallen and what that means. Mara takes his hand, understanding that now he needs her to be his guide back to the light. Because being a Jedi isn’t something you just do or a switch you magically flip on — it’s a choice the Jedi make every day of their lives.
Maybe it’s not as impressive-looking or offers dozens of branching decisions like its more modern contemporaries, but Mysteries of the Sith gets what being a Jedi is about. They’re like the samurai of old, understanding the values of patience, intelligence, and mercy. For all the fantastic combat the game has to offer, there is more to its core design than wielding a lightsaber. The blade alone doesn’t make you a Jedi — it’s how and when you choose to wield it.
For a ‘90s game, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith is expansive, boasting a wealth of systems that wouldn’t be seen in most mainstream games for almost a decade. It harnesses the brilliant design of its predecessor to great effect, crafting memorable moments both in homage and unique to its own story. While it’s far from well-remembered, a dedicated group of fans even released a total remaster for Mysteries of the Sith earlier this month. The mod does wonders for upgrading the visuals and optimizing for modern hardware, pulling off poly counts and visual effects nearly impossible at the time of the game’s original release.
I won’t call the game perfect, no sir. It’s definitely aged, demanding a full key rebind to make it intuitive to play. There are a few sections that make you feel grateful there are unlimited manual saves. The decision to tie bonus upgrade points for your powers to finding secret areas is a good idea with middling execution. Mysteries of the Sith’s presentation also reveals how tight its budget was, forgoing Jedi Knight’s FMV live-action cutscenes for awkwardly animated in-engine (yet still prerendered) cinematics. That said, for a dollar when on sale, it’s not a hard bargain.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith didn’t need to aim high to sell well. As an expansion pack to one of the best-selling games in Lucas Arts’ library, it could’ve easily just thrown Kyle Katarn blasting away against some new Imperial menace — which Jedi Outcast did, but that’s a story for another day. Instead, Mysteries of the Sith reaches for a meaningful message and interesting gameplay design that defies genre conventions. It understands not only what makes a great Star Wars adventure, but what it means to be a Jedi.