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In part one of my KOTOR retrospective, I synapsed a detailing of Bioware’s excellent world building and reverence to the source material of STAR WARS. Their determination to capture the feel of the franchise and not just the look and sound. They do that by accomplishing various technical, artistic and design challenges of course and come out successful. But that’s not the thing that sets them apart from other pieces of STAR WARS media that have come out in the last 20 years. What makes KOTOR so special, is that BIOWARE makes it one of their games. And not one that say, is beholden to what Lucas’ idea of what a STAR WARS RPG should be like (We tried that with STAR WARS: GALAXIES, we failed). It’s a game that first and foremost recognizes what was missing at the heart of RPG’s at that particular point in time, as opposed to stubbornly trying to trace Lucas’ footprints just to ensure that devotees don’t get too pissed off. (Take that, Episode 7).

It gives STAR WARS fans everything they’ve ever wanted since 1983 (or 1977, depending on whether you like ROTJ or not). A grand scale, an imposing threat, a sense of menace, extremely cool and heroic characters that fundamentally seem approachable if you ever met them in a bar.  But all of that is in service to an extremely focused RPG that for a change focuses on being an RPG first and foremost. It lets you have jurisdiction over your character’s abilities (as well as your party’s) and his force powers (light or dark) and depending on whether you play as an altruistic member of the republic or an evil asshole, lets your actions have major consequences on the storyline both minor and major (get to that in a bit) that feel incredibly organic and almost always lead to interesting outcomes.

In short, you feel responsible for the stuff that’s going on. It’s hard not to sort of be amazed and feel liberated and adventurous at coming across a mysterious dead body whilst roaming around on Dantooine and then having to then being sucked into solving a two way murder trial.

It would be tedious as hell but it never is, thanks to the sheer quality of the writing and world building. Every piece of dialogue seems meaningful and serves to flesh out its characters the further you go on. It’s probably the first time people who live in the STAR WARS universe seem to have points of views and personalities. We get to see the beloved Sci-fi setting on the ground level aside from the usual larger-than-life operatic one (although there’s plenty of that too). Ordinary people trying to make a living and getting by from day-to-day gives the game a sense of depth, relatability and humanity that perhaps even the original films couldn’t afford to have the time for.

And you also meet a strange woman who seems, shall we say intimately involved with a droid (cough).

It’s that very nature of risky, bold experimentation that sets KOTOR apart from not only STAR WARS fiction but also other RPG’s as well. It doesn’t spare any expense in providing STAR WARS fans with the excessive sense of detail and fan service they demand and yet at the same time, isn’t afraid of getting slightly off beat when it wants to. Yes, the main narrative thrust is the central focus but the detours it takes along the way are just as delightful and surprising and varied as they come. Giving the player a genuine sense of adventure and exploration in a world that feels alive. Something that seems almost like a lost art these days, where most RPG’s feature samey-looking objectives and fetch quests.

Put it simply, KOTOR keeps on mixing it up. All throughout its 40-50 hour campaign (and numerous amounts of side content), Bioware has taken exceptional pains to ensure that you’re never doing the same thing twice, every location you visit is strikingly different from the last and in some cases, places seem to have different rules as well. For example, you having to pay 500 credits to have the ability to dock your ship first before exploring Manaan might be a minor inconvenience but it goes a long way in establishing the rules of the universe. (Not to mention, ensuring that the player makes most of his time count when over there and sticks around and explores everything/ talks to everyone over there). Each location also has a major ‘story arc’ going on that you will undoubtedly become involved in (and whose side quests often directly tie into the said arc). From warring factions to large scale murder trials to solving the political plights of the sand people (yes, really) to going underwater in Manaan to discover what exactly happened to a bunch of missing scientists (Wait till you see where that one goes) to finally exploring ancient Jedi tombs is Korriban, KOTOR has nearly every base covered in what hypothetically, a gamer might ever want to do in STAR WARS.

This includes absolutely wonderful characterizations that your squad-mates exhibit ,which evolve over time in response to the decisions you make. From the headstrong, idealistic Bastilla Shan, who is quite simple one of the best female characters ever put to pixels (and a rebuke to the current SJW nonsense in criticizing female video game stereotypes) to the boastful Canderous Ordo ,the terminally insecure Twi’lek Mission, the hypersentive and tortured Juhani and yes, to the fan favorite homicidal droid HK-47. They’re all wonderful and wonderfully written and talking to them each time is a delight. Making it the best group of squadmates you could ever want to go space-faring with.

Put it simply, the variety is simply astounding.

The Storytelling though, is even better.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard a lot about KOTOR’s storytelling in many ‘Top 10 lists’ and ‘Top 10 retrospectives’ that populate the internet in such a magnanimous capacity. Rest assured, there’s a reason for it. A good valid, reason why it pops up on every list ever. Because, it simply is that good. It’s not only just a great STAR WARS story but a great piece of storytelling. Period. If I had to draw a Venn diagram between ‘Great storytelling’, ‘Great RPG’ and ‘Great Star Wars media’, KOTOR would fall at a point smack in the middle of the intersection of the three circles. Its full-on the best story ever told in STAR WARS. Surpassing even THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, in my opinion. It juggles a lot of characters and strikes the same balance of optimism and pathos, except even more efficiently.

And it has an even better plot twist.

No, I mean an amazing plot twist that actually makes sense.

Okay, scratch that. It has the best plot twist ever.

Yup. I said EVER.

That’s right. I promised to keep this article spoiler free (and fully intend to) so I won’t even post a link. But suffice to say, in my entire lifetime of voraciously consuming pop culture, I have never seen one that is so jaw dropping, so brilliantly revealed, so logically coherent, so subtly foreshadowed throughout the journey (as repeated playthroughs will reveal) and most importantly so well attuned and aware of the fact that you’re playing a video game, not watching a film. It only works the way it does, because of it. The particular impact it has is precisely because you’re playing a game that deals in player choice and urgency, both of which it affects directly and in absolutely major ways moving forward.

What I wrote above probably won’t make sense for those of you who have not played it ( i.e all 4 of you) so all I’ll say is that it is major, irreversible and has an incredible sense of irony and fatalism. Putting a sharp light on your progress throughout the game so far and the choices you’ve made (and will make) Rest assured, It’s makes ‘Keyser Soze’ in The Usual Suspects look lame by comparison.  Trust me on this, you should go into it cold. Don’t Youtube it or Google spoilers. Let the bullet train hit you on maximum velocity.

For those that know what I’m talking about (i.e. most everybody), think of this:  would it have been so powerful in a medium that doesn’t require player interaction? Even if you’re someone who over scrutinizes it, wouldn’t you agree that it’s one of the only moments that the role playing portion of RPG’s is highlighted in an incredibly creative and major way?

And what’s even better than the plot twist is Bioware’s sheer commitment on building upon it. Unlike say, BIOSHOCK which ran out of steam (and of ideas) after its big reveal, KOTOR actually gets even better after the aforementioned drastic revelations. Not only it basically changes the whole dynamic of the game but also challenges the context of every choice you’ve made in the game so far as well as the relationship you have with the other characters/party members of your team. Bioware’s writing gets even sharper here, instead of withering away and from that point on towards the end of the game, you are forced to make crucial choices that feel impactful in a way that few other games ever have.

It all builds up into this incredible crescendo. And the final assault on the Star Forge is easily one of the best final levels in any game ever made.

The final levels are usually the weaker points of most games, as the designers run out of ideas or are just exhausted. Not here, though. You get to participate in a very challenging all out Jedi Battle Royale that spans multiple floors, has excellent story beats and culminates in not only an intense and taxing final boss, but concludes either triumphantly in one of the best, most jubilant endings ever (when you finish the game as a good guy, I mean) or a sinister, ominous, dark one (when you beat it as an asshole). You will probably beat it initially as the former and when the credits roll and the classic STAR WARS theme kicks in, it feels sweeter than any sugar rush ever put together in the history of mankind. Let Jeremy Soule’s score give you some ideas (since I can’t spoil):

I know my write-ups on KOTOR sound like gushing fanboyism and unofficial Bioware PR but I just can’t help it. It simply has a hold on me that other games don’t and in my opinion, is one of the most remarkable put together games ever made. With a perfect narrative mixing with great gameplay with precision that seems almost mathematical in nature. It not only pioneered many of the trends of modern WRPG’s ,including basically being the roadmap for Bioware’s other classic works such as Mass Effect 1 & 2 and Dragon Age: Origins (all of which are still inferior to it) but introduced  classic Role playing to a new generation of people. Replaying it earlier all but confirmed my belief that even despite the visuals showing age, great games are truly timeless. It is still as gripping and propulsive as ever and is by far, the best game Bioware has ever made. It may not look like much these days but it doesn’t need to. Everything else is still 10/10 perfection.

It also boasts the distinction of being ‘Universally loved’ on the internet. Which is amazing, considering that the internet hates everything. 9.2 user score on metacritic and countless gushing tributes on youtube aside, finding even a single negative comment about it is borderline impossible (seriously, try it). Even though most fanboys have a reputation of being close-minded, fickle, bullies with hair-trigger tempers, it still managed to please them to the very ends. Which is a feat that only a few games have managed. More than a decade since its release, there hasn’t been a KOTOR backlash or absurd thinkpiece clutter from a clickbait hungry press. Everyone agrees it’s awesome. Even these guys.


But it’s biggest achievement in my opinion is reigniting the fire amongst an increasingly jaded and exhausted STAR WARS fanbase. As I mentioned in part 1, it gave all of them, ranging from casual fans to obsessed devotees hope, that despite however they felt about the prequels, their favourite franchise hadn’t abandoned them. People knew how to do STAR WARS correctly, even if its’ own creator had lost touch amongst a sea of yes-men and conformity.

In 2004, it took the combined talent, passion, hard work and sheer love of STAR WARS of Bioware’s team (headed by their then untouchable brain trust of Casey Hudson, both the ‘Doctors’, James Ohlen and writer Drew Karpyshyn as well as the extremely talented team of designers and programmers) to collectively remind people why STAR WARS is and always will be important and when its’ firing on all cylinders, no other pop culture enterprise can come even close to touching it.

And for that they deserve all the heroism medals from the rebel alliance.

(**If you’ve held off until now, I urge you to go pick it up on Steam or get the ipad version. You won’t be disappointed one bit.  And when you’re done, consider donating to the talented folks at APEIRON, who are hard at work in creating a next gen fan funded remaster at : http://www.apeirongame.com/ and make the dream a reality. If nothing else, maybe it’ll inspire Bioware to make a true sequel sometime soon. The obsidian developed KOTOR 2 was a massive step down in my opinion)

RIP Carrie Fisher. May you be one with the force.






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