Today’s a big Star Wars celebration day as the pun runs wild across the internet! In gaming, Star Wars’ history has also been as vocal with an incredibly eclectic reach from arcade games in the early 80s to RPGs and space sims. It’s an entertainment mega juggernaut and it shows no signs of stopping.
I’ve enjoyed a lot of Star Wars games over the years whether it’s Super Star Wars on the SNES, the vector-graphics of Atari’s Star Wars with Ben Kenobi telling you to “use the force”, and the Knights of the Old Republic RPG series by BioWare and Obsidian.
It even took off as a series of excellent space sims such as TIE Fighter and X-Wing, a solid first-person shooter with Dark Forces and Jedi Knight, and a tactically gritty Star Wars: Rebellion. If anything else, Star Wars’ gaming history is a textbook example of how best to exploit such a huge property across so many genres. The universe George Lucas created literally lends itself over to nearly anything. There’s even a a fan out there busy making a Lucasarts 90’s style point ‘n click adventure game called Han Solo Adventures.
On the other hand, not all of these efforts were wild successes with a certain genre missing the slice above. And if you guessed “fighting games”, you’ve just completed the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.
The question: why a fighting game? In the late 90s, fighting games were the rage on consoles and the arcades (where they still eked an existence, that is) thanks to games such as Mortal Kombat 4, the Saturn port of X-Men vs. Street Fighter, and the PlayStation port of Soul Edge in 1997. So Lucasarts probably thought jumping into this crowded genre would be a good — and lucrative — idea. Who wouldn’t want to pit Darth Vader against Luke Skywalker in a martial arts like setup with lightsabers?
The story behind Teras Kasi revolves around a new character, Arden Lyn, who is the master of a martial arts form called Teras Kasi. After the destruction of the first Death Star, the Emperor apparently calls on her to mete out punishment on the Rebellion. And that’s pretty much the motivational filler for what follows next in the game.
Despite the setup, nothing’s keeping you from pitting fellow rebels or Imperial lackeys against one another. Want to see Princess Leia in her slave girl outfit lay down the law on Chewbacca? Not even the canon police can stop you from making it happen.
The roster was filled with big names from the Star Wars universe along with a few that no one had ever heard of such as Hoar (a sand person fighter…and yes, that really is his name) and Thok (a Gamorrean guard…if you know what a Gamorrean is). Boba Fett, Luke Skywalker, and Chewbacca were also available from the start. Secret characters included Darth Vader and Princess Leia in her metal bikini alternate costume. The stages were also based on famous scenes from the films such as the Emperor’s Throne Room or the Carbonite Freezing Chamber in Cloud City.
You could also switch between fists and feet and a character’s signature weapon such as a lightsaber for Luke which doesn’t result in instant death for whoever it hits…sorry. There was also a “special” meter that slowly filled allowing you to do neat tricks on combat — some of which were incredibly overpowered such as Arden Lyn’s near instant-death special of an exploding energy field around her.
As interesting as the concept sounds and even with the introduction of a new character to the expanded SW universe at the time, as a fighting game, Teras Kasi could feel clunky and unbalanced especially when compared to its fast-moving 3D peers such as Sega’s Virtua Fighter, Namco’s Soul Edge, or Tecmo’s Dead or Alive. It also didn’t help that the AI could sometimes be pretty dull and that spamming certain moves with certain characters (such as Hoar’s staff attacks) could usually result in humiliating victory. Even the character endings were a little wonky. If you finish the game with Princess Leia, for instance, she just flies off. For someone like Darth Vader, apparently he becomes the “New Emperor” and blows up a planet to celebrate.
Issues such as one character being able to repeat one move over and over again to defeat everyone in their way, stiff animations (characters don’t walk across the floor so much as slightly glide across it while walking), and a generally unexciting moveset also didn’t help move it beyond being a curious Star Wars addition to their gaming lineup. Teras Kasi was roasted by critics and players alike and it quickly disappeared into the bargain bins of history.
Today it occasionally pops up on “worst gaming” lists, particularly when it comes to fighters, but it didn’t end Star Wars’ brawling ambitions. Darth Vader, Yoda, and expanded universe character, Starkiller from Lucasarts’ Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, appeared in Namco’s Soul Calibur IV released in 2008 (Force Unleashed also came out in the same year) riding the wave of Star Wars animation and hype that continued to light fan fires since the end of the prequel trilogy in 2005.
Though quite a few may consider Teras Kasi the “Christmas Special” of fighting games that no one wants to talk about, it did demonstrate an interesting sense of bold experimentation from the studio who brought audiences Maniac Mansion and The Eidolon. Though for players like myself, I kind of wished they could’ve chosen to try their hand at an RPG at the time — or farm the license out to another studio to help make one such as Interplay’s Black Isle who was already busy with the Fallout series among other projects — a call that would only be answered a few years later in 2003 with BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic.