With the new “Star Wars” movie coming out this year, it’s important to remember that the franchise went beyond cinema. Along with the films came toys, books, music and games that expanded an entire universe, with loads of memorable characters, legends and backgrounds.
Personally, my favorite part of “Star Wars” didn’t come from any of the films – it came from the 2003 release of the critically acclaimed role-playing game “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” (KOTOR) for Xbox.
I still find myself captivated by the immersion of “KOTOR’s” story. After all, there’s no lengthy exposition - you’re instantly thrust into battle, as your ship, the Endar Spire, is attacked by the Sith lord Darth Malak. After a set of several missions, side-quests and story development, you eventually train to become a Jedi and proceed on your journey to stop Malak’s galaxy domination.
However, you don’t have to stay on the light-side. While your quest against Malak remains constant, your methods of dealing with your missions are up to you. Throughout the game, your character has a meter that determines whether they are on the light or dark-side of morality. The more evil and angry your choices are, the further on the Dark Side you will be and vice versa. You are constantly forced to decide what side you stand on - and your decisions will affect your relationships with fellow characters, and with the fate of the entire galaxy.
While it initially takes a while for the story to get going, I still find the game’s first full level, the planet Taris, which you flee to after escaping the crashing Spire, to be quite exciting. You’re a nobody carrying around a blaster or vibroblade, just like everyone else. You have to intelligently pick your fights, making your eventual transition into a Force-controlling, lightsaber-wielding badass that much more awesome.
As for story and gameplay, “KOTOR” still excels. The turn-based, combat is almost entirely derived from the standard Dungeons and Dragons system, with several ways of customizing how you want your character to fight. Moreover, the characters of “KOTOR” are well-cast, with Carth Onasi (Raphael Sbarge), Bastila Shan (Jennifer Hale) and Canderous Orlo (John Cygan) brought to life by their voice actors. The side characters are not so well-developed and their lines are hilariously cheesy, but enjoying their unintentional hilarity is part of the game’s charm.
The game isn’t without flaws. Its morality system is a little too black-and-white, with decisions basically varying from giving a poor person a lot of money to unnecessarily killing a drunk guy on the street for insulting you.
Moreover, while the game’s “light-side” vs. “dark-side” morality might be temporarily engaging within its universe, the actual result of the game and it’s ending choice is still ultimately dependent on one decision you make near the end of the story. This is kind of frustrating, since this makes every previous choice essentially worthless.
However, for less-polished, cornier version of “Mass Effect,” “KOTOR” is pretty kickass.
As the release “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” edges closer, I highly recommend playing through the game again.