I’ve been writing a few articles for NowLoading lately. This is an article from there that I thought I’d post here too about what is in essence the best video game ever made in human history so far.
Link to the original: https://creators.co/@adamichooseyou/4015557
Whenever I’m running down a list of my favourite games, Knights of the Old Republic is a constant feature. It has been since I first played it back in 2003 (even though I was only about 11). I played it and replayed it obsessively and I still revisit it every so often. I’m definitely not alone in my love of the game (unlike my relationship with the second game which I must be one of the only people to love as much as the first). During my most recently playthrough of the game I wanted to look at why the game succeeds so triumphantly. I’m very on trend talking about a game that’s over a decade old, I know. It holds up so well, though, this can either be seen as a love letter from me to one of my favourite childhood games or as a PSA to anyone who has yet to play it (which everyone should have). I can’t really decide whether it’s totally ridiculous to put a spoiler warning for a game over a decade old but just in case: spoilers may follow.
The first thing I love about the game is the story. It seems to be a trend for people to tear into video game stories, though this isn’t a view I share, KOTOR’s story is an early example of why I love storytelling in games. KOTOR tackles many of the usual tropes employed by games which allow for customisation of protagonists, toying with some of the conceits usually found in games. The game achieves this through its main plot twist regarding the identity of the player’s character. When I first played the game, this absolutely blew my mind. It is one of the most memorable moments I’ve had with video games. Once the twist is revealed, many previous events make far more sense to the player outside of what was previously assumed to be video-game logic of the protagonist as special because of unnamed or half-baked reasons. Its really refreshing to see a game play with these mechanics and tropes, especially one so old. This ties in well with the rest of the game’s storytelling, which is strong. As an early Bioware game, its sure to be semi-familiar to people today accustomed to dialogue wheels and overarching save-the-world stories. The story is compelling from the outset, providing the player with an interesting scenario and a great Star Wars villain in Darth Malak. KOTOR is allowed much freedom in how it approaches its world thanks to its time frame being so behind the Star Wars people are accustomed to. This allows for a really interesting set-up and universe to be created for the player to experience.
Despite being attached to the Star Wars franchise (which I love because of this game and not the reverse), the game doesn’t lean too much into pure fanservice. Yes, the main character is obviously a jedi and yes, you travel around in a ship that might as well be the Millennium Falcon, but the ties to the wider universe actually add something to the lore. The planets featured in the game provide backstory and additional character to locations familiar from the films. being set so far in the past allows the game to operate within its own framework for how the universe operates and it does a thoroughly interesting job of worldbuilding. Travelling to such different feeling planets with thier own personalities is always a joy; especially the Sith-controlled Korriban which provides insight to the ever-present Sith which players may not know much about. Another highlight from the game is the events which happen in between planets, highlighting the game’s great pacing. At one point, the protagonists’ party is abducted and taken to a Sith ship. One member stays behind and is missing from the players’ party for a time until its revealed they have been corrupted by Malak and fight the player. The way the game does this is really interesting (within the campy light/dark side friction always present in Star Wars properties). I love a game that doesn’t hold party members and gameplay as sacred above telling a story and KOTOR shows why.
The party members are another feature of the game which impress. Playing KOTOR shows how Bioware began to develop the interaction between player and their companions. Each member of the diverse party is interesting in their own right, players are sure to want to interact with them to learn more about them through the game. The highlights for me are Bastila, a calm and cutting Jedi; HK-47, a hilarious battle droid with a surprisingly developed backstory; and Mission, a young Twi’lek who witnesses the destruction of her home close to the opening of the game. Juhani is another of my favourites, a Cathar Jedi who is initially an adversary for the player who believes herself corrupted by the dark side after injuring her master (like I mentioned, campy dark/light side conflicts). Talking to Juhani reveals her lifetime obsession with the Jedi and her difficult life leading up to her joining the Order. Its a really interesting story I found myself engaged with. A female protagonist is able to engage with in a typical Bioware-style romance with Juhani. This made Juhani the only officially gay character in the entire Star Wars universe, a title she held for a long time. This is even more impressive as taking place before same-sex representations and options for characters were present in games more widely. Playing the game as a young person, seeing this represented was really meaningful and I really appreciate the game for including this. Each party member is an interesting addition to the player’s entourage and make for memorable Star Wars characters in their own right.
The gameplay of KOTOR revolves around combat, exploration and combat. I’ve outlined how fun exploring KOTOR’s world is and the other two elements are equally enjoyable. Featuring some of the best dialogue options found in games – “Sorry sister, looks like your order’s up!” is a line engraved into my memory forever – the game makes a case for keeping protagonists without voice acting, as the range of responses is large. Interactions with characters are always interesting thanks to these dialogue options, fun exchanges and the game’s light/dark morality system. This system makes the protagonist feel like they have a personality and a real presence in the world which is impacted by the players’ decisions. Characters and interactions with them are memorable and well-written (the delivery of lines is occasionally hilarious – search for Davik saying “sorry – ain’t gonna happen!” and this will become apparent). Combat plays in a turn-based system which is easy to use and challenging. The customisation options offer many ways to approach combat, including force powers which are always fun to use.
KOTOR succeeds in building an intricate world which is filled with interesting characters and great locations to explore. The story is stellar and memorable, one which I’m sure to continue to revisit. I believe KOTOR has made a real impact in how I approach games and thinking about them, and what I expect from games. The characters and story in particular coloured my expectations as both are so engaging and memorable. It really is one of the games I’d recommend anyone play, especially if someone may have missed the opportunity to play it when it first came out. Its a real case for the strength or role-playing games, a great example of why RPGs are my go-to genre.