Spoiler Alert! This post discusses key plot points of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
In the middle act of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Greez—a squat, four-armed pilot who functions as the game’s primary comedic relief—sits down with Cal Kestis, the player character, and has a serious conversation. In the moments leading up to that talk, Cal has learned that Cere—the third member of their crew and someone who has become Cal’s mentor throughout the game’s events to that point—has lied to him by omission, concealing the dark events of her past. In the shadow of that betrayal, Greez comforts Cal, confiding to the young Jedi-to-be that Cal and Cere are more than just clients paying for the services of his ship, they’re also the only family he has. Like every plot beat and cut scene in Fallen Order, this scene is well-scripted and features truly excellent voice acting. But despite how well-executed this scene is, Greez’s sentiment seemed to come out of nowhere and that surprise lessened the moment’s impact.
For the half-dozen hours I had spent playing the game prior to that conversation, I had come to really like Greez. But I had no idea that he felt so strongly about Cal and Cere. Despite a tightly crafted script, excellent animations and fantastic voice acting, Greez had fallen victim to the same fate that has plagued secondary characters in action/adventure games for generations: The player doesn’t get to spend enough time with him to really know him. It’s easy to suggest that an added line of dialogue, a quick aside with some punchy backstory or Greez-lore could have smoothed this over, could have provided a deeper connection to a genuinely endearing character. I don’t think that’s true.
Across the dozen-plus hours of the game’s runtime, Greez—one of the game’s central characters—has roughly 33 minutes of screen time. Sure, Cal can exchange brief snippets of canned dialogue with Greez at various points, but for huge swaths of the game experience, Greez is off-screen as Cal struggles through a gauntlet of battles and environmental puzzles that he must conquer on his own. Because he is so often relegated to the sidelines, far from the player’s experience with the game, Greez is, quite literally, out of sight and out of mind. The player simply doesn’t spend enough time with him. Considering the game’s roughly 16-hour runtime and Greez’s brief screen time, the player will spend less than 5% of their playthrough with the jokester pilot. To put that into perspective, if Han Solo—the most narratively apt parallel for Greez—had appeared in A New Hope for a proportionate amount of time, he would featured in only six minutes of that film.
Writers are taught to show character development rather than tell us about it but for a secondary character like Greez—or even, to a lesser degree, Cere and Merrin—in a solo action/adventure game like Fallen Order, that’s a nearly impossible task. By the time he confided in Cal, I knew a few things about Greez but only those that he had told me in his limited cutscenes. The particularly frustrating part about this shallowness of relationship is that Greez and his fellow cast members are undoubtedly well-drawn characters—the player simply doesn’t get to spend enough time with them to appreciate their depth. It’s like being in your thirties and meeting someone that you immediately realize you could have been great friends with, if only you had met when you were younger, when you had time to goof off and hang out all day.
A quick aside is required to address the player character’s relationship with Jaro Tapal, the Jedi master who trained Cal when he was a young padawan and who appears exclusively in flashback/dream sequences. Despite spending a relatively small amount of time with Jaro over the course of the game, Jaro’s narrative is extremely satisfying and emotionally compelling. His appearances may be limited to the alternate timeline of the flashbacks (plus a few brief current-timeline dream sequences) but he plays an extremely active role in those passages of the game, during which his presence is constantly felt. As Cal features a younger character model in those sequences, they essentially function as a separate sub-game from the primary Fallen Order experience. Jaro’s character arc is given plenty of care in that limited time, culminating in a meaningful conclusion that feels real and earned given the active role that he plays in every moment of Cal’s flashbacks.
The one caveat to this narrative gap is that Cal isn’t entirely alone during all his questing and fighting. From an early part of the game, Cal is accompanied by BD-1, a tiny droid that rides on his shoulder like a pirate’s parrot and who provides constant assistance and, in his own way, conversation. BD-1 speaks in the beeps and boops familiar to longtime Star Wars fans but, as with R2-D2 and BB-8 before him, that implied communication only increases the charm of his character. And BD-1 is more than just a companion gimmick; he provides Cal’s health packs and his growing abilities allow Cal to explore new areas and interact with new objects. When, late in the game, BD-1’s history and prior sacrifices are made clear, it’s a genuinely emotional moment in large part because he has been such an important part of the player’s journey and because his bond with Cal—and the player—is clear despite the absence of textual dialogue.
Given the long and largely negative reception of companion characters over the years, those frustrating NPCs who shadow your every step and either get themselves annoyingly killed or are inexplicably invulnerable to harm, it seems unlikely that a character such as Greez could make use of BD-1’s tactic of omnipresence. The structure of a game like Fallen Order necessarily limits the amount of time that the player can spend with secondary characters and, therefore, how attached to them the player becomes. Final Fantasy XV was nowhere near as well-written as Fallen Order and yet its dramatic conclusion elicited a much more significant emotional response from me because its ending is about friendship and its gameplay loop—going on a road trip through a large world for 50+ hours with the player character and his three best friends—inherently forged those friendships and made them meaningful to me.
If these criticisms are viewed as a complaint, though, they should not be viewed as a complaint against Fallen Order but rather against the ability of action/adventure games to tell ensemble narratives. Fallen Order has a compelling story to tell—it’s arguably the best Star Wars story in years—and it does as good a job in telling its tale as its chosen medium allows. Because of that success, I hope that Fallen Order fares well enough to justify a sequel; I would love to see more story-focused, tightly-constructed, single-player games and if any development studio has the potential to overcome the narrative nitpicking I’ve outlined above, it’s the talented team at Respawn Entertainment who developed Fallen Order. Of course, if anyone from Respawn happens to be a reader, I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest that such a sequel should star Merrin who, during her brief time in my crew, was revealed to be one of the more interesting characters in recent gaming memory. Just as with Greez, I’m left wishing only that my time with her had been longer and more closely tied to the gameplay experience.