[Just about every spoiler for Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2 follows. But seriously, it’s been over 10 years, go play it. Everything in this retrospective is respectfully under this writer’s opinion, feel free to argue/agree on any point that is brought up].
Four thousand years before
the rise of the Galactic
Empire, the Republic verges
on collapse. DARTH MALAK,
last surviving apprentice of
the DARK LORD REVAN, has
unleashed an invincible
Sith armada upon an
Crushing all resistance,
Malak’s war of conquest
has left the Jedi Order
scattered and vulnerable
as countless Knights fall in
battle, and many more
swear allegiance to the new
In the skies above the Outer
Rim world of Taris, a Jedi
battle fleet engages the
forces of Darth Malak in a
desperate effort to halt the
Sith’s galactic domination…
[Force Persuade] You will buy Knights of the Old Republic on Steam.
2003 was a tough time for Star Wars fans. The first two episodes were out, public and professional consensus was at an all time negative and while Star Wars games were releasing in large quantities, the general acceptance was that the quality had suffered immensely. I mean sure, there was Jedi Oudcast or Galactic Battlegrounds, but they were rare wins in a sea of titles such as:
But there wasn’t anything really memorable, nothing that truly made the player feel like a Jedi, something that any Star Wars fan yearns for in the 21st century media binge. Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones didn’t help, being long regarded as two of the worst Star Wars instalments in the franchise. It didn’t help that George Lucas ruled over the franchise with a stranglehold, surrounded by a bunch of yes-men who didn’t object to ridiculous additions to the franchise such as Jar Jar Binks, the worst romantic dialogue ever heard and, well, Jar Jar Binks.
Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) was different. It wanted to make players think. It didn’t want to hand the player a lightsaber, it wanted the player to earn it. The prequels were all flash, the original films had a certain aura to the weapon, a graceful and almost mythical style to them.
“Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.”
Bioware’s KOTOR was a game that I believe managed to regain that sense of wonderment, the awe of discovering and exploring world’s that the main films used, the actual feel of being a Jedi, and the black and white moral choices that came with the light and the dark side. While the sense of right and wrong, the extreme black and white moral scenarios that came with the Jedi Order was received to some criticism in Star Wars media, Bioware managed to use the moral scale to their advantage, delivering a fascinating story loaded with morally difficult moments.
Slums infested with a deadly disease, would you hand over the antidote free of charge or sell it to the highest bidder? Such quests were direct influences on the extreme good/bad moral choice system that Star Wars popularized, but it was the more morally ambiguous quests that immortalized KOTOR. Hunting down a missing droid belonging to a grieving widow reveals the droid ran away due to the unhealthy attachment the widow had on it. Underneath the dark sexual implications was a truly tragic story of a widow who is unable to move on. Destroying the droid and helping the widow move on seemed the best option, but true sadists could destroy the droid and lure the widow out into the dangerous fields to get devoured by ravenous beasts. Possibly KOTOR’s best moment comes from a sidequest involving two feuding families and their son and daughter who have fallen in love. It’s entirely possible to end the feud peacefully, but the real kicker is having the two families turn on each other violently, ending in both families’ demise, with your character gleefully standing in the sidelines.
The plot twist that came towards the end of KOTOR is something that goes down as one of gaming’s greatest moments. Having your player character be Darth Revan the entire time seems to people today to be a bit of a cheap twist, but the implications it raised in the Star Wars mythos were huge. In that particular universe, light was light and dark was dark. Instead, it raised an interesting moral debate. Darth Revan was widely known as one of the most dangerous and evil Sith masters in the universe. The twist showed that on the light side perspective, no one was beyond redemption, that good could be found within anybody. To the Sith it proved to them that the Jedi Council were not the beacons of pure hope that people believed them to be; having kidnapped and brainwashed Revan it proved to the Sith that the Jedi were far more devious and corrupt than previously believed. Moreso than having an overall effect on the Star Wars mythos, it directly tied into the gameplay and dialogue system. Was a person, when given a pure clean slate, able to change their perspective, their very being of their former self? Or was being evil or good ingrained into a person?
In the movies, it’s clear who the audience is meant to support. The Jedi are the good guys, there are no morally ambiguous moments, the original six films follow a simple plot of good guys vs bad guys. In KOTOR, what happens when your character is the bad guy? KOTOR gave us a glimpse into the working mind of the Sith. It showed that maybe it wasn’t as black and white as the films led us to believe. The blurring of black and white is where Obsidian Entertainment’s sequel excels in, as KOTOR 2 – The Sith Lords is hands down one of the greatest sequels ever, and Obsidian’s masterpiece.
Knights of the Old Republic II is a bit of a complicated one. Released with Obsidian’s now trademark broken and bugged up launch, the release of fan-made mods and the much touted Restored Content helps elevate the game into near perfection. There’s no better time to play than now, with fully restored voice content, a brand new planet, dozens of new and completed sidequests and just about every bug polished out of existence. With the upcoming release of The Force Awakens, it seems just about perfect to jump into one of Star Wars’ most complicated, dark and epic adventures.
The first KOTOR is by all means, still a traditional Star Wars adventure. There’s a clear good ending, a clear bad ending, and clear light/dark paths. While delving slightly into a morally grey territory, it’s nothing compared to what KOTOR 2 did. There were no happy endings, even the light path was fraught with death and despair, the companions that journeyed with you were haunted by troubled pasts (a war-torn general, a bounty hunter, a blind Force-sensitive Sith disciple to name a few), and there was an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, despite the general power of your character. Quiet moments weren’t peaceful, they were tainted with dread and despair. The Force wasn’t a saviour , it was a weapon. Your character wasn’t the hero of the galaxy or the scourge of it, you were an exile shunned by the Jedi Order due to atrocities committed during the Mandalorian Wars. Two Sith Lords pursued you across worlds with an seemingly unstoppable force.
“If you seek to aid everyone that suffers in the galaxy, you will only weaken yourself… and weaken them. It is the internal struggles, when fought and won on their own, that yield the strongest rewards. You stole that struggle from them, cheapened it. If you care for others, then dispense with pity and sacrifice and recognize the value in letting them fight their own battles. And when they triumph, they will be even stronger for the victory.”
?Kreia (disapproving of a light path taken)
It helps that one of the most intriguing and complicated characters in the Star Wars mythos was by your side the entire time. Kreia (also known as Darth Traya) could be the only truly neutral character in the game, having been cast out of both the Jedi Order and the Sith. Kreia’s obsession over the Force and her determination to rid the galaxy of it forms the bulk of KOTOR 2’s best moments.
“I use it as I would use a poison, and in the hopes of understanding it, I will learn the way to kill it. But perhaps these are the excuses of an old woman who has grown to rely on a thing she despises.”
If the Force was an allegory for democracy, Kreia would field for Communism. Her beliefs that the Force should be scourged from life, that the Jedi and Sith would break down due to their loss and a world free and equal and peaceful. Like in the end of Fight Club, she sees a chance to start from scratch.
“It is such a quiet thing, to fall. But far more terrible is to admit it.”
KOTOR 2 is still of course, a video game at heart, so having Kreia be the final boss fight isn’t totally ridiculous, even if her overbuffed powers and floating lightsabers are a little. Far be the final boss fight to be a battle of wills through dialogue.
Kreia’s fascinating and morally ambiguous path during KOTOR 2 resonates throughout the entire expanded universe, and was a perfect example of what the films got wrong. Her story (and that of the exile’s) is one that stuck with me well, well after completion. KOTOR left me with feelings of awe, of inspiration and wonder. KOTOR 2 left me depressed, sad, and utterly engrossed. Both games have stuck with me throughout all these years, but it’s the second game that has truly become a unique piece of media. I doubt there will ever be anything like this again.
I always like to compare KOTOR to what a Star Wars game is, if we were to follow the traditional rules that the films created. I’d like to compare KOTOR 2 to what Star Wars would be like in real life. It would not be black and white, it would be a morally confusing jumble where sometimes the right thing isn’t necessarily the right thing, and that maybe bad things happen for a reason. We are not always guided by the light path, we do not always adhere to moral principles. KOTOR 2 was a game that understood that. It was a Star Wars game for the 21st century.
As both Bioware and Obsidian move on to bigger projects, and with the sort-of-successful MMORPG The Old Republic still around, it looks like there will never be a KOTOR 3. A full remake of 1 and 2 has always been on my wishlist, but for now they run quite well on PC. To ignore them would be to ignore two of the best things the Star Wars Expanded Universe ever put out. It’s important because they subvert the traditional mechanisms that the films so adherently stick to. The first was groundbreaking. The second was revolutionary.
“Perhaps you were expecting some surprise, for me to reveal a secret that had eluded you, something that would change your perspective of events, shatter you to your core. There is no great revelation, no great secret. There is only you.”