Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

A common question when I returned from my time in Canada was “Did you fall in love?”1 My answer was always “No, no, I have no thrilling romantic stories of travel and adventure.” Or occasionally just “No”.

But that’s a lie. I met a beautiful, amazing girl in Banff. Her name was Bastila Shan.

I met her at the races. I knew she was a prize the moment I saw her, yet things didn’t go smoothly at the beginning. She was uppity, and refused to treat me as anything even approaching her equal. But underneath there was an insecure charm that drew me in like some kind of force. When I was with her, it was like there was a mystical energy field controlling my destiny. When we kissed, it was like everything just disappeared.

Shall I blast him now, Master? — HK-47

Sadly for my struggling social life, Bastila was also a fictional character inside a computer game — Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, by Bioware.

I’m hardly qualified to write this review, really. My experience of role playing games is highly limited. I’ve started many of them, but rarely continued for more than a few hours’ gameplay. The list of these aborted games includes Ultima VII, Ultima VIII, Baldur’s Gate II2 Normally I’m scared off by the volume of options and sense of “sink or swim” in such games. It’s not something I’m proud of, but if a game just drops me in a town with only very wide, general goals, I try to avoid my responsibilities and just give up. Not unlike life, actually. Saving the universe can be just as boring as studying for an exam, sometimes.

They say the Force can do terrible things to a mind. It can wipe away your memories and destroy your very identity. — Carth Onasi

Not in this case, however. Knights of the Old Republic manages to be very immersive and encouraging. It’s not as open, plot-wise, as some would probably like. In part this is probably a limitation of a console RPG, which has to simplify a few things. For a start, you can only have two extra party members at any one time — the others wait behind to hear your stories later. The plot is kept reasonably straightforward. Go to a new place. Exhaust all the minor side quests. Do your major quest. Leave. It’s usually pretty clear what the major quest is, so I rarely forgot to finish one of the minor ones.

You play some chump who has a peculiarly strong ability in the force. So peculiar, in fact, that you stand a good chance of being trained by the Jedi, despite being far too old to complete the training.3 Meanwhile, there’s a nasty pasty called Darth Malak wandering around the universe, leading a grand Sith army, and generally causing problems. The Sith are the enemies of the Jedi, you see. Darth Vader was one. The Emperor was one. It’s just not a word that gets used very much in the films. But forget the films — especially the prequels — because this game takes place many, many years before them. This gives the game a nice distance from the movies, while still allowing strong links in terms of planets and mythology.

Choices are a big part of RPGs. Knights gives you many choices, usually between being good, being bad and not giving a damn. These have both technical and cosmetic effects on you. As you do good, your skin gets all nice and blue light shines down upon you in the character screen. As you do evil, you get all tattooed and ugly. Even your clothes change a bit — the Sith seem to have black and red standard issue long-johns. More practically, an evil player will be able to use evil powers more cheaply, and vice versa. This makes specialising in one direction the most obvious direction to go. Becoming perfectly good or evil gets trickier the closer you get, which makes sense, I suppose, but can be a shade irritating.

It’s much easier to be evil than good, by the way. Just like life, really. Take your standard person on the street. If he’s short on cash, you can give him some, if he’s being chased by people you can save him. But quite possibly, there’s nothing much good to be done for him. On the other hand, if you want to be evil you just have to pull his entrails out, string him up with them and hang him above his sleeping child. It’s the same in Knights.

While you will make many choices in your various quests, there’s really only one choice you get to make for the overall plot. That’s a shame — it would’ve been nice to have two or three at least. But I suppose they needed to cut down on their endings. The plot is however crafted ingeniously to make almost every action leading up to that point sensible for either an evil person or a good person.

Combat is handled well. I’m the kind that panics in a tight spot, but this game allows you to pause the battle and set in motion a queue of actions for each character to perform. You can then let things unfold, and change or add too the queue on the fly (or by pausing again). Very relaxing. The animation for the violence is pretty good, too. For basic maneouvres there’s a bit of variation in the sparring, which looks good. Sadly, the special moves, such as flurries and crushing blows, always look exactly the same, and don’t really interact with the opponent. Since in the end you’ll be using these all the time, combat becomes a bit less interesting as the game goes on, which isn’t quite what you’d expect.

Finally, I’ll talk about characters. In other RPGs I’ve often had trouble finding the characters interesting. Knights gets a little more sophisticated than some by always having recorded dialogue for every line,4 and having the people moving with some limited body language as well as some basic lip movement. It’s almost like being there. Well, more like being there than most games I’ve played of this sort. I chalk my aforementioned crush on Bastila down to some excellent voice acting and good dialogue. Plus, she looks really hot in her Jedi bikini.5

Knights has a good story, fun combat, great dialogue and acting, lightsabers, and the chance to save the universe. Oh, yes, and destroy it, I suppose, if you’d like to do that. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Now excuse me while I go back to waiting for February’s Knights of the Old Republic 2.

  1. Slightly more common was “Where’s my money?” Particularly amongst financial institutions, landlords and parents.
  2. I think Baldur’s Gate 2 takes the prize for furthest I got — escaping a villain’s lair. After that I was all alone in a town, and someone took the most irritating member of my party from me. I didn’t feel much narrative impetus at this point and ended up wandering off.
  3. Everyone’s too old to complete the training these days, though, so I wouldn’t worry.
  4. Well, not exactly. Aliens are just on a loop of some standard indecipherable phrases, which gets a bit irritating. Kaaaashee koo, na?
  5. Don’t look at me like that. Andy had her running all around the scorching sands of Tatooine in her knickers for hours.
2 comments posted — most recent by Tom on 04/01/05