RPG Club Plays KOTOR: Week 4 (The End)
Here is where our intrepid heroes finish their quest, reflecting on their journey. Next month, we’re looking at one of the Kingdom Hearts games.
TOM (SPOILER TAG)
As someone who thought Jolee and the other Jedi were the best elements of Knights of the Old Republic, the ending let them down. Maybe not the Sith ending, but the Light Side one, which I got.
Look, I understand, these are videogames. They have to have an end point. But it’s kind of a bad thing if the most interesting things happen after the end credits have faded to black.
Here’s the situation. There will be spoilers. This should be obvious.
So I’m a reformed Dark Lord of the Sith. I’m pretty much pure Light Side, but there’s a catch: my character is in a Bioware-style relationship with Bastila, a Jedi who briefly became a Sith and killed a ton of Republic soldiers before we turned her back. Relationships, of course, are expressly forbidden by the Jedi, as per Jolee’s entire life story. They lead to the Dark Side.
Even worse, I travel with a Mandalorian and a homicidal assassin droid. Basically, I’m the most problematic dude in the galaxy: definitely a good guy, but someone who’s not following the Jedi path.
And in the end, I save the galaxy, get a medal, and some Republic bigwig tells me that no one will ever question my goodness. To which I say, what? I’m sure Master Vandar, the new Jedi King (I assume they use a king) is super stoked about a former lord of the Sith traveling around in a relationship with another former Sith who’s pretty much a Galactic superweapon. I’m sure no one in the galaxy would ever have a problem with this.
Look, I really like Knights of the Old Republic. It’s up there in Bioware’s gameography as one of the better ones. But it’s possibly their least complicated story, and I crave the complexities it creates upon conclusion. I want to see what Bioware would have made of them. They spend the whole game straddling the line between good and evil, creating choices that the Jedi Code doesn’t prepare you for, and then they leave the biggest one hanging overhead like a stormcloud.
(END SPOILER TAG)
I have a tendency to always choose the most righteous path when it comes to moral decisions in video games. If I accidentally do something that is a little less than perfectly good, I’ll reload the game, a shock of guilt settling into my stomach at having harmed a carefully crafted, but ultimately insentient, pile of polygons.
While I’m still not completely cured of this particular brand of perfectionism, Knights of the Old Republic has relieved it somewhat. No more am I almost compulsively inclined to choose the option that will best make the obnoxious halo hanging over my head glow ever brighter. I suspect I might have the Jedi to thank for that.
Arriving on Dantooine, I was excited to join the ranks of the Jedi fighting for the Republic. My scoundrel was pretty wimpy and sorely needed a light sabre and fancy Force powers to effectively defend the “good guys”. Setting me loose on the galaxy, the Jedi Council was eager to take every opportunity to remind me to continuously reflect on the ways in which my fledgling powers affected my moral compass. Constant vigilance, they insisted, was the key to ensuring I was not tempted by the opposing side of the Force.
Travelling through the galaxy, I would be approached by admirers who told me they wanted to be like me in following an unwavering life of honor. Bastila never hesitated to pause me in the middle of a quest to reflect on her struggles with the temptations of the evilest of evils – love and family. This was usually followed by a deluge of reminders that I had to be squeaky clean at all times on this adventure. It turned out that being a beacon of sparkling goodness was exhausting, and in fact, pretty unrealistic.
In a small act of rebellion, I began to push what was deemed ideal light side behavior. Eventually meeting Jolee reminded me that you can live the life you want without obsessing over your potential slip to the dark side. Things are not so black and white, and sometimes finding a place in the spaces between does not make you a bad person.
Every time I play Knights of the Old Republic, I always like to save the planet Korriban for the end. Like most of the locations players visit in KOTOR, Korriban holds a piece of the map required to find the Star Forge and save the galaxy from the Sith. But unlike everywhere else, Korriban lies deep inside Sith space. What’s more, it houses a Sith academy, where the game’s lore takes the most shape.
But let me back up a bit. KOTOR spends a lot of time talking about the Light Side and the Dark Side, mostly through the actions of NPCs. The Sith, and more commonly their supporters, wantonly destroy while Republic forces have nuance. They may kill, but there’s motive underlying the actions of Republic agents beyond a simple lust for power and a “because I can” attitude the Sith display at every turn. It’s not until you finally reach the academy on Korriban that the pattern finally breaks.
You see, to find the map, players need to get inside the Sith academy and have a look around. What better way then posing as a fallen Jedi come to seek the power of the Dark Side? But posing as a student means falling under the tutelage of the Sith Masters, men and women eager to separate the galaxy’s misconceptions about their order from the truth they preach. Here, finally, Bioware gets a chance dispel the nonsense people think they know about Star Wars’ bad guys.
The Sith’s struggle for domination is not just about power, it’s about action and the freedom to seek out passions. The original group broke away from the Jedi because they felt the Order’s rules were too restrictive and too demanding to impose on students – i.e. people who have emotions and impulses. Instead, they chose to revel in those impulses, becoming the other extreme in opposition to the Jedi.
As Bioware subtly acknowledges on Korriban, the battle has never been about good and evil, though Star Wars may devolve into such at times. As Tom pointed out earlier, even a player character bathed in the Light commits many acts that would leave the Jedi masters with their eyebrows raised. Rather, it’s about action, restraint, and how to use power, a far better story than the simple “collect x to defeat baddie y” story KOTOR appears to be.
(For those curious, Bioware eventually figured out how to tell a better version of that story in Star Wars: The Old Republic. They even tie things off for the player character from KOTOR.)
I tried. I really did.
Plenty of people told me that this game is amazing, and that given the games I’ve enjoyed (Mass Effect) and the movies I like (Star Wars), I would love KOTOR.
Yeah, no such luck.
First, a disclaimer. The biggest problem I had with Knights of the Old Repulic isn’t actually its fault: the PC version (through Steam) is buggy as all hell. Sometimes the graphics don’t work (meaning baddies literally disappear into grass), cutscenes glitch out and crash the game, and if I don’t turn off one monitor the game won’t register my mouse. Hell, in order to start the game I had to go into the game files and manually delete all the intro cutscenes that precede the main menu.
The simple result is that I didn’t enjoy playing. For example, I found a stowaway on board. Super. I wanted to take her back home, then go to another more useful planet. Space travel is cool and a big feature of this game, right? So how come there are SO MANY DAMN CUTSCENES? Look, here’s a ship leaving the planet. Here it’s going into hyperspace. Here’s the ship by a nebula. Here’s the ship landing. Is that really necessary? Or even better, does it have to be separate cutscenes? I’ve found that cutscenes fail one out of five times. This means if the travel from one planet to the next is five cutscenes, statistics say it is guaranteed to crash my freaking game. If the space travel isn’t fun in a Star Wars game, what is the point? So after trying twice and the game crashing twice, I gave up. I guess Sasha’s new home is on a starship that is constantly going into battle with a bunch of strangers who don’t seem to like each other and cannot communicate with her. Good luck, hon: this is your life now. Don’t worry, there are plenty of tribbles (Grezka) on the ship to entertain or feed her – she’ll be fine.
Sigh. Okay, tech rant over. Let’s move on to the game.
I have no nostalgia for this style of game. Back when games were just solo D&D, where you had to build a character sheet and rely on dice rolls for your characters. I had the same issue with Baldur’s Gate II in December: the game mechanic is spreadsheeting. Did you pick the right feats to go with your attributes? Do you have the right equipment to maximize your damage? It’s all just number-crunching, and I don’t find that fun.
That just leaves the storytelling – and to be fair, it’s almost good enough for me to soldier on through buggy software and boring gameplay. I got this far, right? I know 15 hours isn’t significant with this sort of game, but for me it is. The story is cool, the characters are interesting, and the worlds are awesome to see first-hand (even if they’re using graphics over 10 years old). I do care about the characters and the plot, but I can’t keep pushing myself through.
So that’s it, then. Without RPG club pushing me to keep playing, I’m going to uninstall the awkward mess. I’ll read up on the rest of the game, maybe skip through a couple of “Let’s Play”s, and call that my education. I can see how the evangelists speak of this game in hushed tones, but this game is a relic from an older age. As a new-ish gamer who started on Halo, this style game just isn’t fun. And it’s certainly not educational, or opening my mind to a different worldview: so if it doesn’t do anything that I think a game should do, what’s the point? I’ll just find it in book form and call it good.