RPG Club Plays KOTOR: Week 3

As we head into our final stretch, most of our writers look into the company they have kept over the course of this all-important quest. Next week: THE END of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

council

Jessica:

I’ve just made it off the dusty barren lands of Tatooine. A dragon slain (well . . . maybe I didn’t do it directly), newly upgraded light saber in hand, and with Force Lightning now at my disposal, I set off on the Ebon Hawk for my next adventure. I’m looking to the battles ahead not with my usual trepidation (I’m not great at this game, you guys), but with the confidence of a more practiced Jedi.

Overall, things are looking up for me in my ongoing fight against the Sith. There is one thing, though, that I find lacking. I need a friend. I’m surrounded by an impressive assemblage of the galaxy’s best, brightest, and in some cases, most feared. These are nuanced characters with detailed back stories and yet I’m having a problem “clicking” with any of them. Perhaps I need to allow more time for them to open up, although I would have thought 19 hours would have been sufficient. Connecting with well-developed characters is an important part of most RPGs. While I’m having fun, I admit I’m a little disappointed with Knights of the Old Republic in this regard.

All hope is not lost just quite yet, however. I recently acquired the assistance of HK-47, a battle droid that loves to banter. Unfortunately, his bloodlust scares me a little bit (What if he TURNS?). No, maybe he’s a miss. I actually see the greatest promise so far in Mission Vao.

As a teenage girl, Mission is a rarity in Western games. Abandoned by her older brother, her only family, at a young age, she knows how to take care of herself.  She’s an accomplished hacker and she slings dual blaster pistols with enviable skill. She’s a little whiny, and quick to scold anyone who brings up her age in relation to her abilities. Yet she’s also loyal and has a sense of humor. She even helps me make fun of Carth and Bastila. These things considered, I’m most interested to see where her story leads. I’m a little disappointed that it didn’t open up like I had hoped after rescuing her brother on Tatooine.

After putting quite a few hours into the game and still knowing so little about the characters, it’s hard for me to maintain interest in them, which in turn degrades my experience. I know there’s something there, but this being my first play through, I don’t really know what that is.  Here’s hoping I’ll find what I’m looking for as I make the jump to Kashyyyk, the Wookiee homeworld.

companions

Tom:

Over the holidays, I got suckered into watching The Phantom Menace. What I settled on (the short version of Red Letter Media) was that there were three good characters, and only one of them survived the movie: Qui-gon, Obi Wan, and Darth Maul.

Going back to Knights of the Old Republic, though, I realized how much a mistake that was. Because KOTOR offers a collection of fascinating, complicated Jedi. Instead of Qui-Gon Jinn, nominally a firebrand but more a guy who almost completely follows the letter of the Jedi code, we have Bastila, an emotional, impulsive WMD of a jedi. We have Juhani, who I’m leaving to Mike. And we have Jolee, perhaps my favorite Expanded Universe character this side of the Solo twins.

Jolee interests me because he’s not a Jedi. He exists in the zone KOTOR tries hardest to mine but ultimately is forced to ignore: the space between the Light and Dark sides. He’s the atheist of the Star Wars universe. At heart, he’s a good person, but one who rejects the Council’s authority. He thinks they’re pompous assholes, and he’s right: faux-Yoda is a bit of a jerk.

There’s another interesting element, though: he’s one of Bioware’s rare characters where you can’t solve his personal arc. Jolee’s a man who’s suffered a lot of trauma, and he’s lived his life dealing with it in his own way, as a hermit on Kashyyyk. When he joins the party, he is a complete person.

His role, then, is different than the others in your party. They exist to be shaped by you, while Jolee exists to shape you. His life had a markedly similar arc to my character’s, so his dialog changed me more than it changed him.

Some might consider this bad writing—every character must have an arc!—but I love Jolee as a static fixture in a complicated world. And his position is complicated. His story revolves around learning why he left the Jedi Order. He’s a character who exists to place emphasis on other people, to make you think about your decisions in different light.

In short: he brings a bit of introspection into a game (and a genre) that has increasingly become about what changes you can make on the world. You practically save the lives of all the rest of your party members (or ruin them, if you’re Team Jerkside). But not Jolee. His quest is discerning the guilt or innocence of one of his friends. He’s detached from the whole thing. It’s just another quest. He’ll go along with whatever you suggest. His conversations don’t lead to a satisfying ending, where he realizes the error of his ways and he begins his life anew. At best, you make him think about some new things, and he makes you do the same. You interact not as Jedi Master and pupil, but as equals. And that makes him special in a game about space wizards.

space ray

Mike B:

Having escaped the city-planet Taris, brought the Jedi Bastila back to the enclave on Dantooine, and undergone training to become a Magic Space Wizard, it’s finally time to meet a particularly special Jedi in the Star Wars universe – Juhani.

As an LGBT person, I never know quite how to feel about Juhani. On the one hand, she’s the first canonical lesbian written into the Star Wars universe and one of the first out LGBT characters in modern videogames. What’s more, KOTOR never makes a big deal out of Juhani’s homosexual orientation despite her past relationships being a significant factor in her life. Instead, it’s the fact she has sexual flings with anyone at all that causes trouble, since the Jedi teachings warn against intimacy as a seductive path towards evil.

But on the other hand, her lesbian status is relegated to a minor storyline easily missed if one doesn’t know to look for it (or if you’re playing a male character and thus cannot romance Juhani). Yeah, you can talk to another Jedi in the enclave who all but admits that they hooked up as padawans, but she’s easy to miss in the crowd of useless NPCs. That same Jedi will even seek passionate revenge later if you killed Juhani in your initial encounter, but only if you’re enough of a jerk to kill her former lover. If you have to kill an LGBT person to have their story brought to your attention, well, that certainly speaks poorly of how we’re treated in videogames, doesn’t it?

Yet, isn’t all that character subtlety the ideal situation, with sexuality as subsection adding to the overall complexity of a person without reducing them to a single defining trait?

I suppose my confusion rests in the portrayal of LGBT people in video games generally leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s still A Big Deal(TM) when developers include same-sex storylines, mostly because so few exist in big budget titles like Knights of the Old Republic. Despite Bioware’s admirable record for inclusion, their gay and lesbian storylines tend to fall into player-driven romance options, as they did in Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Thus, they simply don’t exist for the players who don’t pursue those options.

That definitely sucks. With LGBT representation in such short supply for videogames, hiding Juhani away feels cheap.

map

Caitlin

One month is not enough. Perhaps due to a skewed set of priorities, I have hardly played this game at all this past week. I’m only just breaking into double digits for hours played, and I know I’m missing so much.

I’m just about to leave Dantooine (no thanks to the damn game crashing on random cutscenes), and the number of dangling hooks and sidequests I’m passing up is driving me crazy. That cocky jerk in the cantina? I totally coulda taken him in the fighting pits… if I had time. That feud between settler families? Sure, I could deal with it, but they’ll totally learn a better lesson if they fix it themselves, right?

I’m trying to rush through to make the deadlines – I want to share with people how I feel about the end – but maybe speeding through doesn’t do the game justice. Generally, rushing through for the end isn’t a good way to play a game.

So now I have a choice.

Next week is the last week for KOTOR. Do I rush through for the end of the game, or do I not finish for next week’s deadline, instead taking my time to mull over the game and really enjoying the ride? Or do I combine both, by letting all other priorities (chores, writing, sleep) fall by the wayside?

Feh. Who needs sleep anyway?