This month, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic makes its debut on the Nintendo Switch, something that I’m actually rather excited about. The idea that even more people will have the chance to enjoy the game makes me happier than I thought it would, and it’s inspired me to return to the games myself. I already own both games on PC, so I won’t be picking up the Switch version, but I’ll be playing them all the same this month. I’m also starting this journey off with the sequel instead of the original, as the KotOR II will always be the superior game in my mind.
I was a huge Star Wars fan back in the early 2000’s, so I latched onto both of these games rather hard once I found out they existed. In keeping with an unintentional tradition of mine, I wound up playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords first; I didn’t know about these games at the time actually only picked it up by chance. I was in a Best Buy, I think. I was just there to browse and not actually buy anything when I happened to notice the box for KotOR II in the PC section. I wasn’t all that into PC gaming, but I was into Star Wars, and I found this box to be absolutely fascinating.
It appeared to have everything a Star Wars fan could want: a story set in a time before the movies, when the Jedi were supposedly at their height, new Sith lords to face and the chance to make my own way in the Star Wars universe! I had to have it! Of course, I had no idea what was actually in store once I installed the game and booted it up.
See, I was expecting a standard Star Wars story of good guys saving the galaxy from the evil, domineering Sith. It’s more or less how the movies all played out and it is indeed how the first KotOR plays out if one chooses the Light Side path. KotOR II doesn’t offer this kind of story though, and it makes that clear rather quickly. Rather than the black and white image of the Force (and by extension the Jedi and Sith), we get a grey morass.
“Good” actions don’t always produce good results, and “bad” actions don’t always leave lasting negative impacts. If anything, they both produce the same result; it’s just brought about through different means and motivations, and it’s shown in a slightly different light. KotOR II takes great pains to show the player that their choices do matter, but not in the way that they’ve always been in other games. It has a point to make about the Force and perhaps even binary choice systems as a whole. No matter how many times I play it, I can’t help but find it fascinating. (Here’s a video all about it in case you’re interested).
For me, the ideas and personal philosophies of each character are what keep bringing me back to the game time and again, but I must say that I also really enjoy the locations the game lets you visit. Unlike in KotOR 1 where there is at least some light/importance to a couple of the places you visit, KotOR II focuses almost entirely on the dark corners of the galaxy. Every location is either some out of the way backwater filled with strife, a once-prosperous place now a shadow of its former self, or a straight-up ruin containing nothing but emptiness and death.
The galaxy wasn’t a terribly pretty place in KotOR 1 but in KotOR II it seems downright inhospitable. It suits the much more quiet and private quest that frames the game. Heck, you could even say that there is no major quest. The player character isn’t explicitly out to change the galaxy or stop some great evil. They’re simply doing what they can to survive while navigating the machinations of forces both seen and unseen. This is actually a major point in the plot: breaking free of the larger forces that act and influence everyone. There are layers to everything going on and everyone involved, enough that you can still discover things about them even years later.
There certainly are gameplay reasons to like the sequel more than the original too, but I honestly never focused on them all that much. The game was and is fun enough to play, doesn’t really get frustrating due to difficulty spikes or mechanical issues, and does a good job making combat seem interesting. It’s a competently-made game to be sure. It’s just that the story, themes and characters overshadow it.
So yeah, I’m finally back to the KotOR games and am pretty psyched about it. I’ll probably play both since the original has its strengths too, but Knights of the Old Republic II is something that’s just plain special as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t think it’ll ever be topped.
Are you a KotOR fan? Will you be picking it up on the Switch? Which game do you like most?
Image from GoG.com store page