Why Jagged Alliance Will Never Get A Proper Remake

jagged alliance remake

No other game has taken my fancy as Jagged Alliance 1 and 2. When I was in middle school, I used to pretend to be asleep and wait for my parents to go to bed. Once I heard the signal – my parents’ snoring, I would grab my laptop that I had hidden under my bed and delve back into the world of Jagged Alliance 1 and 2. And while I realize that it gets harder and harder for magic to capture me as I get older, I still get excited when, every few years, someone announces they are making a remake of the series.  These usually end up disappointing no matter how hard the studio tries to recapture the feel of the original series.

There are a lot of things about Jagged Alliance that drew people in – the deep turn-based tactics, the non-linear gameplay, the mercenary setting, the tons of real life guns represented in the game. These are all great aspects, but what really drew me to the games and made me come back to it over and over again was the characters. In Jagged Alliance, you hire mercenaries from a sizeable roster to carry out missions. Each mercenary has a short back story, is fully voice acted, and they may interact with the other mercenaries. The closest game that I have played that has something similar to this is Valkyria Chronicles. But in that game, it is only the handful of main characters that we really get a feel for. Contrast it with Jagged Alliance, where certain situations, actions, and characters could potentially trigger snippets of dialogue from every character in the game, Valkyria Chronicles feels a little shallow outside of its cutscenes.

Jagged Alliance’s characters remain some of my favorites in videogames to this day, despite having less back story built around them, because of their, well, character. Their barks were so on point in showing you what the character was about, even though most of them are based on 80s Expendables-like tough guys and general cultural stereotypes.

You had Ivan Dolvich, a former Soviet soldier who doesn’t speak English (until the sequel and even then  it is patchy) who exclaims “Gun. All gun. Like finger on hand.” when he makes an impressive shot.

Fox Guzzman, a seductive nurse from America, says “Wait a sec. I don`t trust it any more than I do a man`s zipper.” when she spots a trap.

Helmut, the Austrian mercenary and one of the best characters in the game, when asked to make an impossible shot: “Who do I look like? Siegfried and Roy?”

You have Fidel Dahan, an explosives expert who loves to kill, who will leave you if he doesn’t get enough bloodshed, and will refuse orders once he starts shooting at enemies.

In Jagged Alliance 1, you can get a native guy named Elio who will describe parts of the island to you as you enter the sectors. One of the sectors has a warehouse and he quips, “There is building called warehouse..hehe it is funny name. I wear pants, I no wear house.

There are a few characters who will become addicted versions of themselves if they hold on to medical kits for too long, with stat changes, portrait changes, and lines – effectively becoming a different character until they kick their habit.

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Jagged Alliance Remake Problems

There have been multiple tries to update the series, and they have all failed to capture the feel of the first games’ characters. The most recent attempt, Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, tried but their budget didn’t extend enough to really give it a competent effort. Contrast this to the originals, were they got friends to record lines where needed. It shows how much care was put into the product that is reflected in the end game. Not to say that the developers of the other games didn’t care, but the characters are a non-critical part of this game. However, that special attention given to them in the original series is what made the game memorable even after ten or more years. After all, part of the game’s fantasy is living an 80s / early 90s action movie, quips and all.

And that’s why it will never get a real remake. I am not much for nostalgia, but with the reinterpretation of X-COM, Jagged Alliance is the only other game I would care about a proper remake. This is because the first in series does not hold up at all, and the second kind of does, but even with the fan made patch, starts looking like crap due to the low resolution and has performance issues. Most of these issues would probably negligible for a lot of players, but my tolerance for this in games has become quite low as I have less free time and more things to do. While the new iterations of the series do look better than the originals, the feel has been hit or miss and the characters I came to love as a teenager are hollow.

It’s hard to decide to put so much focus on an aesthetic which, unlike graphics, does not display immediate perceived value. It doesn’t sound like a great feature, and it doesn’t really add anything to screenshots or preview videos. Voice acting is an added cost, and the studios which have attempted to remake Jagged Alliance have been small and more sensitive to costs than a larger studio would. Additionally, even with successes like XCOM, Darkest Dungeon, and Xenonauts, the turn-based genre is still rather niche when compared to the game landscape as a whole.

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While the remakes have more or less been competent games, none have fully captured the die-hard Jagged Alliance community. This has been for a number of reasons, but even the fans who have enjoyed the remakes say that they are missing something from the original. The characters are a huge part of that.

When looking at the series, the most important features seem to be the deep turn-based combat and the large roster of characters. Removing the thing that makes those characters memorable removes what makes a Jagged Alliance game a Jagged Alliance game. Compare it to X-COM, where you also have a large roster to choose from. In X-COM, these characters are mainly blank, their stats being their only differentiating factor. Players then project stories onto them, often renaming the characters to people they know or to celebrities. This brings forth its own kind of fondness for your characters but it doesn’t compare to Jagged Alliance, where certain team members won’t join you if you have their ex-girlfriend on your team.

In the current slight resurgence of turn-based tactics games, I am still holding out for a new Jagged Alliance which will offer an updated version of everything I loved about the original series, especially the characters. It is not enough, for me, to have a turn based military shooter. If I can’t get excited about the large roster of characters, it won’t be the Jagged Alliance that I know and would get excited for. Even if the combat is amazing.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Really true, really true. This is the only game where I actually enjoy getting lose over and over again. I’d gladly exchange skyrim with JA anytime. But I still believe the real Jagged Alliance 3 will be coming one day.

  2. I swear I do a Google search about once a month for “Jagged Alliance remake”, and always come up sorely disappointed. My heart leapt when I saw a game called “JA2 Classic HD”, only to sink again when I realised it was just a release of the 1.13 mod. But I will keep hoping, keep dreaming, and keep naming my XCOM characters “Lynx”, “Magic” and “Raven”.

  3. JA2 was the best game ever. I loved starting out outgunned and not being able to pick up the enemy’s weapons. When you finally got a rifle – hurrah! I would try to play through a level using just two characters. I also liked to save scum. When I tried to replay it, I couldn’t make out the characters. They look so small. Perhaps it’s time for +1.5 glasses, sigh.

    Here’s what I wish the new Xcom had…
    1. Mercenaries. This one factor would totally change the game.
    2. Tons more guns to choose from
    3. More personality in the characters – unique voices and personalities
    4. Larger playing fields. As it stands, it feels too linear.
    5. Basically make a JA2 pud for it and use the original voices.

    • Yea, JA is in need of a proper update with the mercenaries and their personalities. I agree completely!

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