As an ardent Star Wars fan, I must shamefully admit that I played the critically acclaimed Knights of the Old Republic game only a couple of years ago. Though, it wasn’t really my fault as I have been trying and failing to make the game run on my computer for almost 6 years. I originally got the game when I was 10 only to discover that, for some reason, it refused to work on my PC. It didn’t launch and if it did, it crashed as soon as I reached the main menu. I tried to fix it, but at that age I really wasn’t very knowledgeable about these matters and soon gave up. My second brush with it was around two years later when a friend told me that he had gotten the game to work on his computer. He said that some of the files on my CD must have been corrupt and so, he gave me his CD to install the game from. I remember sitting excitedly in front of my monitor waiting for the installation to finish so that I could get on to playing the game, but once again, I was disappointed. This time, an error popped up on my screen every time I double-clicked on the launcher. I scoured the net for solutions, but none of them seemed to work for me. This attempt to run the game ended the same way as the last – in my surrender. Finally, I got my hands on it again two years ago and this time I was determined about fixing it. I spent hours digging through forums and watching YouTube videos on the subject. Eventually, I think the game sensed my frustration and acquiesced. I literally leapt up in joy when the game worked. However, there were still a few kinks to solve – the game refused to save, cut-scenes refused to play and the aspect ratio was stuck at 800×600. These required an hour more of work, but when it was done, I felt so relieved. I reclined in my chair and prepared myself for a great Star Wars experience. However, I never anticipated it to be that good.
The game opens with a blast, literally, and it’s a rollercoaster ride from beginning to end. I loved how even though you play a Republic recruit who wields blasters or ordinary swords as opposed to an all-powerful Jedi or Sith (well, that’s until you reach Dantooine where you receive your Jedi training), you can still have so much fun. I’m not a very big fan of RPGs and their combat systems because they’re, frankly, very clunky, leading to the combat feeling unsatisfying. KotOR’s turn-based combat system is an exception to the rule and I enjoyed every battle whereas I might have dreaded one in another RPG.
Over the course of the game, a number of characters join you in your quest and I have to stress upon this – every single one of them is awesome. In most games, books and movies, there’s always that one guy who, I feel, just ruins every scene he’s in and eventually, you’re just wishing he dies a painful death. Well, such a character doesn’t exist in this game. A lot of people might refute my previous statement and say that Carth Onasi, your first companion is one such character, but, his problems and concerns are genuine, so to judge him so harshly would be a misdeed. There are so many characters here that rival characters from the movies – HK-47 is now my in my top three droids list alongside R2-D2 and C3PO because of his habit of referring to all humans as “meatbags”, his macabre humour and of course, his alacrity, especially when it comes to killing people; the phlegmatic Bastila Shan is a headstrong and determined Jedi Knight and reminds me so much of Leia; Canderous Ordo is a warmongering Mandalorian, but shows just the right amount of vulnerability to still be relatable ; Malak is a menacing villain and his backstory is so vast and fascinating; and finally, there’s the big daddy of all the characters, Revan (more on him later). The voice acting in the game is really good with convincing performances from all the actors and everyone knows how essential that is in an RPG.
The story is just as grand in scale as the Star Wars saga on screen and that’s what this game is – it’s a Star Wars movie in a game. It manages to capture all the best parts of the movies without any of the baggage, consequently producing one of the most pure Star Wars experiences ever. There’s a certain flow to the story making it move purposefully and spontaneously, keeping you invested all the way. The fact that the game is set around 3000 years before the events of The Phantom Menace intrigued me all the more as I wanted to see just how different the Jedi, Sith and Republic were from their movie counterparts. The story is set up in the first few levels with consummate tact. The galaxy feels lived-in and real and conversations with NPCs just bolster that notion. The Mandalorian Wars had resulted in the Republic’s victory, but it had been severely wounded in the process – people were still reeling from the horrors of the war and many locations showed signs of the recently-concluded conflict. However, it’s Revan and Malak’s story that is most interesting – they had been instrumental in the Republic’s victory in the war and were celebrated throughout the galaxy as its saviours. At the end of the war, the two Jedis made off with a third of the Republic fleet to the unknown regions of the galaxy only to return as Sith Lords who were hell-bent on the destruction of the very thing they fought so hard to protect – the Republic. No one knows what happened to them when they disappeared and this mystery is one of the things that hooked me. You spend the rest of the game retracing the duo’s steps to try and uncovering what exactly is their master plan, learning more and more about them, your companions, their feelings, agendas, their worlds and the more you learn about everyone, the more you start to treat them as real people. What people recall most fondly from the game is the “No, I am your father” style of twist that reveals that the character you’ve been playing all along is actually former Jedi and Sith Lord, Darth Revan. The gravity of the twist is ineffable, but just know that it had an impact as great as the twist in the movies.
My hubris reached new heights upon learning my character’s real identity – the one and only Darth Revan, one of the most powerful people in the galaxy – and thus, I felt entitled to treat all my enemies as insignificant cockroaches. Who are they to challenge the great Dark Lord of the Sith? Unknowingly, I had become my character and an insult hurled at him might as well have been hurled at me. This immersion made me do something that I never do (save for the Mass Effect series) – I finished every single side-quest, listened intently to every line of dialogue without skipping it halfway through and made sure that my character was developing into a poster-child of the Light Side. In a nutshell, I was trying to ensure a 100% completion rate. I guess my fastidiousness helped immensely in this matter because without it, my (Jedi) knight in shining armour might just have fallen to the Dark Side as a result of my haste in getting things done.
The game didn’t disappear into my vast abyss of a memory when I finished it though. It was so successful in depicting its characters that I started reading up on them. I went and read Revan, a book on the character of the same name. I learned so much about his early life, his adventures during the Mandalorian Wars, how he was twisted to the Dark Side and his life after the Jedi Civil War. Revan evolved from a guy who I really liked in that game to one of my all-time favourite Star Wars characters. KotOR was responsible for setting this wheel in motion, and if I hadn’t played it, I might not have stumbled upon his character ever. In KotOR, we really don’t see that much range in his character, but the book solves that. I discovered just how complex his character and how many shades and degrees he has.
I discovered that it was he who had turned Malak to the Dark Side, who otherwise might never have become a Sith. I discovered that they didn’t become Siths of their own will – Revan had realized that the Light Side was limiting his abilities and so he opened up his mind to the Dark Side and urged his best friend, Malak to do so as well. However, he wasn’t a Sith; he was still very much a Jedi, just one who uses the Dark Side as well as the Light. They started tracing the origins of the Sith and went about scavenging various worlds for signs of Dark Side influence. On one such planet, they encountered Lord Vitiate, the Sith Emperor, who twisted and warped their minds. He sent them back to destroy the Republic as the Sith Lords, Darths Revan and Malak, the scourges of the galaxy. The way I played KotOR, Revan becomes the hero of the galaxy at the end of the game, but the celebrations are ephemeral as Revan insists on disseminating his bohemian teachings of embracing the Dark Side as well as the Light. The council doesn’t eject him, but he’s not exactly on their good side.
Revan then leaves when his wife, Bastila, is expecting their first child, to search for Lord Vitiate. He embarks on a journey of epic proportions that is unparalleled by any other in the Star Wars universe except that in the movie saga. I don’t want to delve too much into this part of his life, but there were some standout moments for me such as when he escapes from two years’ imprisonment and is bruised and battered, but still defeats one of his captors, Darth Nyriss after donning his iconic mask and saying one of the most badass lines ever, “I am Revan reborn. And before me you are nothing.” He absorbs her intense burst of Force Lightning and unleashes it back on her, but not before enhancing it with his own strength so as to reduce her to a pile of ash. Then there’s the time he fought Lord Vitiate, when he channelled both the Light and Dark Sides of the Force and allowed the Force in its purest form to course through him to send the supposedly immortal and invincible Emperor flying. Revan really has done everything and though his story doesn’t have the happiest ending, you can’t help but revere the legend. He’s become my favourite Star Wars character, not counting a handful from the movies, and KotOR is what started it all.
KotOR is Star Wars purified, it’s lightning in a bottle and I salute Bioware for making such a gem of a game.