I No Longer Fear Change AKA A Thank You Letter for Naughty Dog

If you’re familiar with the Jak and Daxter series from the PS2 era, then you’ll no doubt be aware of the drastic departure in tone the series made beginning with Jak 2.  The first game, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, was a lighthearted collectathon not unlike Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64.  And then Jak 2 came along, and the series became a lot more mature, with a more serious storyline, gritty tone, guns, swear words, and…guns.  And if you’re a big Jak and Daxter fan like me, most likely you are of one of two mindsets.  You either preferred the more kid-friendly tone of the first game and bemoaned the fact that the series had to change, or you welcomed that change with open arms.  While I like every game in the series to varying degrees (besides that one that wasn’t made by Naughty Dog that we dare not speak of), I have always felt great disappointment over the fact that we never got another game quite like my beloved Precursor Legacy.  Oh yes, I stubbornly held onto this opinion for a good 15 years or so, until my most recent playthrough of Jak 2 and 3.  You could say I had an epiphany of sorts.

Despite buying the Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank collections on the PS3 years ago, I didn’t get around to playing them until we moved into a rental a few months ago, since the vast majority of my consoles remain securely packed in boxes.  With the PS3 being one of the few consoles at my disposal and my gaming library drastically smaller as a result, I thought I might as well replay Jak 2 and 3, as I hadn’t played them nearly as many times as the original.  Looking back, I don’t think I had touched those games for about a decade, so I was kind of able to look at them with a mixture of fresh eyes and the familiarity of reuniting with an old friend.  And yet, my history with the series wasn’t always a friendly one.

You see, when Jak 2 was first released, I saw Jak on the cover, holding a gun, of all things, and my first thought was, “What the heck have they done to you, Jak?”  My second thought: “I guess nothing will ever recapture the magic of the first game.  I’ll save my money for something else, thank you very much.”  The only reason I became interested in Jak 3 was because of some concept art of a Precursor robot that got everyone thinking that Gol and Maia were going to return.  Thrilled at the prospect of these familiar villains making a comeback, I bought that game as soon as it was released.  Well, it turns out Gol and Maia did not come back, but darn it, Naughty Dog had caught my attention, and I couldn’t help but admit that Jak 3 was pretty fun despite doing unspeakable things to my precious Jak and Daxter series.  Namely the aforementioned addition of guns and swearing and also guns.  And a lot of naughty comments courtesy of Daxter.

To this day, I still can’t believe certain characters just stand there and listen to Daxter yammer on about weird things that add nothing to the conversation.  But I digress.

So one day I was at Wal-Mart and Jak 2 caught my eye in a section of the electronics department where they had amassed a bunch of unsold games, and I couldn’t help but give in and buy the darn thing, my love for the first game’s style no less strong, but my curiosity no doubt kindled.  The model viewers you could unlock in Jak 3 really helped, if I’m being honest.  After completing the third game in the series, I had looked through the Jak 2 model viewer and saw so many characters I knew nothing about, and I think that played a big role in me deciding to play Jak 2 so that I could find out who all these people were and to fill in the hole that remained in my knowledge of the Jak and Daxter story.

Okay, so I loved Jak 2.  Far more than I ever expected.  The characters were memorable and well-developed, the story was really interesting, and the plot twists would have probably been great if I hadn’t already spoiled some things thanks to playing Jak 3 first!  And to think, I wouldn’t have even given the game a chance if it hadn’t been the false belief that the villains from the first game were returning in Jak 3!  Even so, though I begrudgingly had to admit that the huge change in tone that the Jak and Daxter series had endured wasn’t quite as unwelcome as I had feared, I still insisted that the first game was the best, and it would have still been better if Naughty Dog hadn’t messed around with the formula in such a drastic fashion.  The Duck had spoken, and she was not changing her mind.  (Cue crossed arms and a smug frown.)

Fast forward to December of 2019 and January of 2020, and as I sat there, replaying Jak 2 and Jak 3 on my PS3, I kind of had a revelation.  People don’t like change.  That’s…actually not the revelation, but bear with me.  People like what they know.  We like the familiar.  Gamers hear that their favorite game series might go through some changes, and we say, “But we liked the other games.  Why are you changing something we already love?  This particular game was great.  Instead of doing something new, make another one like that, please.”

Basically, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

As if it’s not already more than obvious…I’m the same way.  If I like something, I’d really rather you don’t touch it.  Thank you.  It’s fine.  Leave it alone.  I could admit that Jak 2 and 3 were good games, but I still wouldn’t forgive Naughty Dog for messing around with what I was familiar with.  And it was not until I had been playing the series for roughly 15 years that I could finally open my eyes and release the stranglehold I had maintained for so long around my precious Precursor Legacy.

Brace yourself, but change…can be good.  Experimentation…can be good.  I don’t know about you guys, but I think I tend to feel as if…when something gets changed, we lose what we already have.  And we don’t.  I still own the first Jak and Daxter on the PS2, PS3, and PS4!  It still exists.  I can play it anytime I want.  Naughty Dog did not take that away from me.  The only thing they failed to do was give me another Jak and Daxter 1.  Instead of settling for another rehash of what we’ve already seen, they did something different.  They thought outside the box.  Frankly, even I have to concede that the Precursor Legacy, a game I so adore, hasn’t aged as well as I’d like to admit.  So would I really have been happier if Naughty Dog had been content to stick with the status quo and churn out more of the same, old thing?

If they hadn’t been ambitious enough to do something entirely new with the franchise, we would have never gotten Jak 2, and what a sad world that would be.  I love that game.  As much as the first game?  Well, not quite.  I mean…okay, maybe…maybe if I’m being objective about the whole thing and not letting my nostalgia goggles cloud my vision, Jak 2 is probably a better game than the first, which was a wonderfully fun game, but which today feels rather outdated and very cliché.  (Ahem, and just between you and me, one of my favorite characters of all time is in Jak 2.  And if I hadn’t given the game a chance, I would have never had the pleasure of meeting said character.  That, my friends, is as good a reason as any to try new things because, otherwise, you don’t know what you’re missing.  But I digress.)

Frankly, the big reason Jak 3 is my least favorite of the trilogy is because it was too similar to Jak 2.  Wait, am I saying that I wish Naughty Dog had taken more chances with the third game?  Am I now declaring for the whole world to hear that I wanted more change this time around?

The answer is yes.  Yes, I am.  But I digress.

Change is good.  If no one was brave enough to push the envelope and change the familiar, the gaming world as we know it wouldn’t have evolved into the amazing thing that it is today.  For years, I kept arguing that Nintendo needed to stop making these silly weird controllers and innovations that no one asked for and just give us a normal console for once.  Fortunately, Nintendo neither heard me nor cared about what I had to say, and they made another weird console…that lovely handheld/console hybrid we all know as the Switch, which is just…one of the coolest pieces of hardware I’ve ever laid eyes on.

I don’t know about you guys, but what I learned was that change does not erase the past.  It just forges the way into a future we could have never imagined was possible.  We never needed another Precursor Legacy.  We had the first one, and we loved it, and the fact that there’s only one is what makes it special.  Although I didn’t see it at the time, Naughty Dog, I gotta hand it to you guys, you knew what you were doing.  You guys were right.  Just…keep doing what you’re doing and never listen to me again, okay?

By Flickr user: Niranjan (cc)