Friday, May 8, 2009

Knights of the Old Republic

Knights of the Old Republic (hereafter, KotOR) is a computer/console role playing game set some 4,000 years prior to the Star Wars movies. It's plot deals with the trials and tribulations of a Jedi Knight caught in the midst of a war between the Galactic Republic (the 'Old' Republic) and the Sith Empire. Though the game came out in 2003, It pretty much flew right under my radar—as I didn't own an XBox or a PC (I'm a Mac guy). My friend Sharon did have an Xbox, and did buy the game, but she never played it. Somehow, both game and console wound up at my house for a few days (this was in 2005 or so). I decided to play one day and within a few hours, I was completely hooked.

Somehow, I had managed to avoid learning anything at all about KotOR prior to playing it, and so when it reached the big plot twist, I was blown away (even if I had begun to suspect things while playing). But more than this twist or even the plot as a whole, I was enthralled by the depth of the game—and of the characters in it. I found myself relating to them (well, most of them anyway) on a very emotional level (and no, not just Bastilla). What I want to do is go through the different characters and describe what it was that drew me to them (or didn't, as the case may be).


You begin the game with Carth as your partner, so you really get a chance to know him right off the bat. Of course, due to his traumatic past, he isn't the easiest guy to get to know. Still, his suspicious and evasive behavior was balanced with a wry sense of humor (I especially giggled at his comments on the woman who was in love with her droid...). This made him interesting rather than annoying. I actually /wanted/ to learn just what the hell is problem was. At times, I remember feeling a 'rivalry' with Carth—afterall, I'm the hero of the story, and this guy (at least in the beginning of the game) seemed to be showing me up a little bit. I doubt if the rivalry thing was intended by the game designers, but in retrospect, it made me appreciate Carth even more. He felt like an 'equal' and eventually a 'buddy', rather than just some henchman.


I liked this spunky, twi'lek street urchin right off the bat. She was a teenager with attitude but a good heart. Though excitable and angsty at times, I found her to be useful and fun. Helping her deal with her loser brother was one of the first 'side quests' I delved into—and one of the first instances in the game where I got the feeling that I was actually making a difference in the character's life and outlook. It was one of the instances where I realized the gameplay in this RPG was more than just experience-points and combat—and that is something that appeals to me.


Though he was one of the 'shallower' characters in the party, story-wise, I can't deny that I have a soft-spot for Wookiees. They're just cool. And low-key though he may be, Zaalbar was no exception. First off, he made a nice foil and partner for Mission (I enjoyed the banter between those two as we roamed the sewers of Taris). Secondly, he had the whole backstory of essentially being a Wookiee 'Prince in exile'. That was a neat twist. His whole redemption sub-plot was fun, as was the recovery of 'Bacca's Blade'—a legendary Wookiee weapon. Though his story pretty much stopped at that point, I again had the feeling that Zaalbar was a 'friend' more than a follower—an equal with his own destiny as a great leader to his people.


This is one of those characters you either like or don't. I liked. I liked the fact that she was haughty and even snippy—I liked it because as you got to know her character, you found out that it wasn't her real self. It was a reaction to the stress of all the responsibilities laid upon her at such a young age—and the fact that she's keeping a dark secret through most of the game—and the fact that she has unresolved issues in her past that cause her to strive for a Jedi ideal that, in retrospect, may not be 'ideal'. But most of all, I liked the fact that she was in conflict with my character a lot of the time. Conflict, as we all know from watching movies, is a sure sign of brewing romance. The quips that my character and Bastilla exchanged were hillarious—it reminded me of the kind of banter that first drew me to  Star Wars in the first place. 

What REALLY sold me on Bastilla was a small event early on in the game. One of the wonderful little touches the developers gave to KotOR was that if you had different party-members accompanying you, they would occasionally have a little scene between them. It was usually nothing more than a few lines of banter—but it was great for broadening and establishing character. And so it was that I was running around Taris with Bastilla and Mission. And Mission suddenly starts to ask questions of Bastilla—like what she does with her powers ("do you ever use them to like.. trip up some jerk who's annoying you?"). Bastilla is, of course, affronted by this suggestion and the two get to bickering about Mission being immature. And then, in the midst of this, Mission 'accidently' trips for no reason at all. Bastilla of course denys using her powers to 'trip up the jerk who was annoying her'. I laughed out loud at this little scene when I first saw it. I still giggle about it now. And to me? It spoke volumes about Bastilla. No matter how seriously she took herself or how haughty she was, she still had emotions, and a sense of humor. And from that point on in the game, I took it upon myself to try to bring out those aspects of her personality—the emotion and the levity. And to my surprise, the dialogue actually ALLOWED me to. As it turns out, Revan (your character) could be quite the humorous smart-ass. In the end, it was the emotional bond that the Revan and Bastilla formed that saved the day in my game. It turned out to be a great love story, and I don't feel too geeky in saying that I enjoyed it.


At first glance, this Mandalorian mercenary doesn't seem to have much depth to him, but if you're willing to sit through his war stories (which are moderately interesting—even if only as a window into the Mandalorian Wars) you will eventually get to the turmoil beneath the surface. And again, here we find a more complex character than he seems at first glance. If you follow the light path like I did (which is supposedly the 'canon' story), you find that Canderous is conflicted about his role in the wars—and about his future. He has guilt for what he's done and a desire to do better. So while it is easy to just write him off as a thug, I found some value in figuring him out.


Of all the characters, T3 had the least personality. I mean, he was a cute and peppy little guy, but he didn't really have a personality. 


Its strange. I actually feel a little guilty about not liking this character. But...well, I don't. I think a lot of it has to do with the accent. It is this pseudo-russian mess that sounds just plain hokey. The character's dialogue only feeds my dislike—she is self-doubting to the point of being annoying. And she seems to have mood swings for no reason at all. I think this is more a matter of game mechanics than anything else—i.e., it sounds as though they recorded her with 'nice' and 'snarky' responses, but then accidently put some of the 'snarky' responses in where they weren't appropriate. The end result is that when I talk to this character, she comes off as a bitch. And to make matters worse, you have to wade through an awful lot of moody dialogue with her to get to the root of her personal issues. All in all, I really WANTED to like her (I wanted to like all the characters) but... I just couldn't.


Hands down, this assassin droid is the funniest character in the game. Never before in a video game have I laughed so much at the dialogue of another character. And the ironic twist on this is that HK is truly, unashamedly 'evil' in his outlook. Oh, he won't kill if you won't allow him to, but you know he resents you for it. His manner of speech is unique and also incredibly funny—before every line, he will begin with a word that describes the overall intention of his next statement: "Objection: I am not a problem..."; "Explanation: I'ts just that..."; "Expletive: Damn it, master, I'm an assassination droid...not a dictionary!". You get to know HK through repairing his damaged memory, gradually delving further and further into his past and discovering how he (directly or indirectly) caused the gruesome deaths of all his previous masters. He is by far the most unique character in this entire group and one of the most unique in the entire Star Wars setting. Plus, I love the whole idea of a 'bad guy' who's grudgingly on your side.

Jolee Bindo

The final main character of the KotOR series turned out to be my second favorite of the entire group (right after HK and before Bastilla). You pick up this cantankerous old man deep in the forests of Kashyyyk, where he has spent the last few years in self-imposed exile from the Jedi Order—and the rest of the galaxy. He's gruff and refreshingly blunt in his dealings with everyone in the group. It takes a bit to break through his crusty exterior and learn what his story is. Along the way, you discover that Jolee was more than a bit of a Rebel as a Jedi, following his heart as often as his head. His story about a fellow Knight with a 'great destiny' was hilarious: said Knight's bought into his whole 'destiny', thinking he was invulnerable because of it. The bad warlord he was destined to defeat promptly killed the Jedi and dumped his body down a shaft. On the way down, the body hit something importand and blew up the bad guy's ship. Moral of the story? Don't just trust in 'destiny'. 

Of course, Jolee wasn't all giggles. He had a very tragic past, as you eventually discover (if you put the time into doing so). He married—against the will of the Jedi order. And he trained his wife to be a Jedi, also gainst the will of the order. Unfortunately, his wife turned to the dark side, and due to his love for her, Jolee couldn't bring himself to kill her when he had the chance. Thus, he bears the guilt of all the people she subsequently killed during the first Sith War. For me, there was an eerie kind of parallel in the tale he was telling. As Reven grew closer to Bastilla, it seemed as though Jolee was telling him that it was both good and bad. He imparted a great nugget of wisdom on Revan that I found truly poignant: 

"Love doesn't lead to the dark side. Passion can lead to rage and fear, and can be controlled, but passion is not the same thing as love. Controlling your passions while being in love—THAT's what they should teach you to beware of. But love itself will SAVE you, not condemn you."

This kind of philosophical musing just added another layer of depth to an already surprisingly 'deep' story. It also played right into what I had always thought for a long time—that the Jedi Code, if taken at face value, is really kind of a bad thing. I went into this in a previous post you can check out here.

As you can tell from my gushing above, I really enjoyed KotOR—In fact, as far as an original plot and characters go, I would place it right after the Original Trilogy and definitely before the prequels. It's too bad the sequel to the game ended on such a down note. But...I'll save that for another post.

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