Knights of the Old Columbus—uh, Republic, or KOTOR, was the third-to-last game I played before my last playthrough of Shadow of the Colossus, and since I don’t currently have anything to say about the in-between Portal games outside of what I said on that “FAVORITE VIDEO GAMES” list, I’d like to write about KOTOR, mostly by recycling thoughts from that deleted KOTOR post I mentioned here (oh, the irony of that post!), before my next playthrough of it, whenever that would be.
This first of the Knights of the Old Republic duology is currently the most highly reviewed Star Wars game ever made. When I was a kid, it was one of the many RPGs my siblings got into but I just couldn’t. Having now played through it twice in my adult years because I asked Catholic Skywalker to review it for Gaming with Faith, I can safely say it’s more my type of RPG than most.
And somehow, even though I completed as many sidequests as I could this time, I ended up finishing it a few hours shorter than my first playthrough…
In the game’s own 4,000-years-before-the-Prequels place in Star Wars history that may or may not still be canon, the Jedi are the same guardians of peace in the galaxy we know them as, but the Sith are a whole freaking empire, which means more than two Siths worth of red lightsabers! It’s up to us to side either with the Sith or the Republic in the end.
Even when The Force Unleashed and Jedi Academy give us singular choices between the Light and the Dark, they’re still straight-up action games built around us revelling in nonstop slaughter. KOTOR, however, gives us a world—nay, star system—to interact with in various ways and protagonists we can customize not only in appearance and abilities but also in moral character, where the choice between the Light and the Dark is an ongoing process.
Our alignment is represented by a Light Side/Dark Side meter. It starts out in the middle grey as we begin each game. Mercy and self-giving earn us Light Side Points; murder and vengeance earn us Dark Side points. Unfortunately, this system can be lax in some ways, and as a Catholic Light Side guy, that’s a bit disappointing.
While there are plenty of confrontations where we have no choice but to fight and kill in self defense, and while we are given occasional chances to either execute or spare enemies, the times where we have to battle our ways through entire hostile villages—which thankfully don’t include children—without being allowed to spare anyone, even though they attack us first, feel less justified. On the other hand, the game leaves it up to us how to feel about such battles, whether to embrace them or feel bad that we have to go through with them.
Still, there are other times where we have to deceive opponents as means towards ends, and we can also get away with pillaging people’s belongings without either earning Dark Side points or getting scolded at, which is a common mechanic in video games (see also: “What the heck do I see in video games?”).
But what really bothers me about this first KOTOR’s Light Side storyline is how it treats its own running theme of redemption from the Dark. While a couple of these redemptions are honest, the biggest of them is committed through a violation of the subject’s free will on the Jedi Council’s part (though not our part), yet the story wants us to believe it was the right thing to do, and it casts a huge shadow over the game.
Calling it the best Star Wars game that does exist doesn’t deem it the best Star Wars game that could exist. Nonetheless, in terms of fundamental game design, KOTOR is just what I want in a video game.
What really sells it for me is the character interactions, whether it’s regarding a sidequest character or one of our party members, most of whom we obtain on the first couple of planets. We can learn about their varied pasts; former jedi padawan Jolee Bindo especially fascinates as he turns out to have good reasons to cross-examine the Jedi Order more than anyone, and he’s not even as important as Republic pilot Carth or young jedi Bastila. Not to mention, we can customize lightsabers, my lifelong favorite fictional weapons!
Despite the game’s philosophical problems, there’s still enough good in it for me to enjoy it as escapism. It may get that Star Wars has a spiritual component more than it gets the actual good-vs-evil spirit of classic Star Wars, but it’s still a pretty good game in its own right, and it’s worth multiple playthroughs. Or at least these two playthroughs.