I was huge into Star Wars in my pre-teen years. Then, like everything involving puberty, it just started to rot after a few bad experiences got thrown at me. I’m talking about the prequels. I’m no apologist. My tremendous collection of Star Wars stuff got boxed up and put in my parents’ basement next to my Pokemon stuff. But unlike my Pokemon stuff that got pulled out after my relationship with it recovered, my Star Wars stuff can fester. Or my nephews can have them.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron on the N64 was a big factor in my love for the franchise. While the entire Star Wars franchise would soon descend into an obsession with space magic, Rogue Squadron presented a depiction of the war between Imperials and Rebels with a focus on the hardware. So, if you had a love for X-Wings and Snowspeeders, it was like porn. Or, at least a mix of Star Wars: X-Wing and the first level of Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire.
So, when the Gamecube launched, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader was pretty high on my list of most-wanted games. Except… I didn’t get it at launch. I rented it, but I wouldn’t actually own it until it was gifted to me later. Still, it was a rather landmark game for me that left an impact, but I’ll be honest, this is the first time in quite a while that I’ve returned to it.
LET’S BLOW THIS THING AND GO HOME
Inspired by the Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron comics, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron skirted around the events of the movie to present a story taking place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. However, it was fortunate enough to have been developed before the prequels started poisoning the entire water supply. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader is so much about the original trilogy.
You basically have the Battle of Yavin, the Battle of Hoth, the Battle of Endor, and just a bunch of filler. Seriously, some of it plugs the gaps in between movies, but then there are some that are essentially insignificant. For every “steal the transport used to land rebels on Endor” there’s a “here’s a level on Bespin for no reason.”
YOU’VE SWITCHED OFF YOUR TARGETING COMPUTER
Don’t let that sound like a complaint. Much of the reason why the original Rogue Squadron seemed to tell its own story is due to technical constraints. The were Battle of Hoth and Battle of Yavin missions, but they didn’t really fit the vision of the movies. Rogue Squadron II is a lavish production. You know when a new generation of consoles rolls around and they show off all these benchmark videos that reality diverges heavily from? Rogue Squadron II was like that, but it was all true.
Rogue Squadron II was deeply impressive for multiple reasons. Not only did it seem to match the visual fidelity of the movies, but it also recreated the chaotic warfare. It was able to really make you feel like you were part of some enormous battles. There’s so much going on in every moment that it can be difficult to deconstruct it all. A Star Destroyer is just a nest of laser spewing turrets, and taking on all of them isn’t wise; it’s better just to focus on your targets and throw in a little weaving.
It’s an entirely different feel than the first game. It still loves its Star Wars military hardware, adding the B-Wing while cutting out the lesser-known V-Wing. I guess they figured that you’d be more interested in driving a cloud car.
THAT WASN’T PART OF THE DEAL
Okay, I can’t hide my cynicism. The first Rogue Squadron was happy doing its own thing, but the sequel is just way up the original trilogy’s ass. Even the secret missions are just other scenes from the movie and alternate versions of them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if that’s what you want from a Star Wars game, but it just feels icky to me.
That aside, the game works well. There’s so much detail in it that they added a view that highlights all enemy targets. It might be tempting to just use that view, but relying on it too much negatively impacts your medal performance.
The quest for better medals is where all the replay value is. Rogue Squadron II, as a series of missions, is rather short. Or, at least, it was for me, but I’m pretty sure I still have the skills I had from obsessively playing it as a young teen. However, you’re incentivized to get the best medal you can be reducing how often you die, increasing your accuracy, and completing the mission in a certain amount of time. On top of that, each mission includes an upgrade for certain facets of your ships, and they’re worth seeking out.
THINKING ABOUT THE PREQUELS IS BECOMING EMOTIONALLY PAINFUL
There are certain aspects of the game that aren’t quite so forgivable. For example, a lot of the game is escort missions. For some reason, the Rebels didn’t think to outfit their massive transports with any defenses, so it’s your job to minimize how many lasers they soak up. Losing too many (or sometimes just one) of your defenseless charges results in instant failure. Moreover, they’re absurdly whiny. “ROGUE LEADER, WE NEED SOME COVER!” they scream into the radio over and over.
I’m fairly certain I was able to tolerate this problem on this playthrough because of my familiarity with the game. Even at release, Rogue Squadron II was teased for its overreliance on escort missions, and the design has only aged further since. I thought these missions were tolerable on this playthrough, but I recognize that for people accustomed to modern conveniences they’re likely going to frustrate.
THE QUEST FOR MORE MONEY
It’s kind of hard for me to rate or recommend Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader today. It was an extremely exciting game for the time, but that was largely because it convincingly replicated the original Star Wars trilogy. It had all the splendor and imagination of those special effect laced battles. But behind that, is it a good game?
Good, but not great. As a lapsed fan of the franchise, my appreciation for it has dulled. With the veneer pulled off, it’s still an enjoyable experience, but it’s one without punch. Still, even decades after its release, there isn’t a lot out there like it. The genre never quite took flight, so while you can still find decent space combat out there, you won’t find many with the same flash and energy as can be found in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. When you consider it that way, it’s definitely worth a look.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo Gamecube with a disc copy of the game. It was the author’s original Gamecube and their original copy of the game. They probably didn’t pay for it because they were a teenager and didn’t have their own income.