Recently I took a dive back into one of my most treasured RPGs of all time, Knights of the Old Republic and I wanted to see if it would still hold up today as a big name Role play game.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, or better known as KOTOR by the fans, is an RPG set in the Star Wars universe. Created by the BioWare team and published by none other than LucasArts, the game was released for the original Xbox on July 15th in 2003 and later for PC in November. The game was directed by Casey Hudson, designed by James Ohlen and written by Drew Karpyshyn. LucasArts proposed developing a game tied to Star Wars Episode 2, or a game set thousands of years before the prequels. The team, of course, chose the latter as they thought that they would have more creative freedom. KOTOR received critical acclaim upon release, with critics applauding the game’s characters, story, and sound. It was nominated for numerous awards and is considered one of the best video games ever made. In 2004, a sequel under the name of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 – The Sith Lords was released. However, this time it was developed by Obsidian Entertainment at BioWare’s suggestion. In 2011 the story continued with the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic as an MMORPG this time developed again by BioWare.
The gameplay of Knights of the Old Republic is at the surface just a basic semi turn-based RPG, but if you look deeper, it is so much more than any old turn-based RPG. So let’s talk about the turn-based system before getting into the meat and potatoes. For the most part, a battle in Kotor is a player freezing the game to queue up attacks or support spells and then unfreezing the game to watch them play out. I like to describe the combat system as a game of chess almost. Where you the player are the King and your abilities and attacks are your pieces that are trying to take down the enemy king. In no means is the combat system hard, however, the combat is. As you progress throughout the game, battles become more and more difficult causing the player to have to think about party configuration and strategizing placement and aggro and who will focus on what enemy and who will focus on healing and who will do this and that. It gets a little complex, but not too complex to where you need a guide to beat the game. Sure you might need to run in guns blazing and die a few times before developing a perfect plan, but that’s the glory of the game!
In my personal opinion, Kotor captures the experience of playing and being a Jedi better than any other game to date. Being able to customize and level certain abilities and skills to enhance your character really makes it feel like you are playing YOUR Jedi while balancing between the Light and the Dark Side of the force. Some abilities are locked depending on which alignment you are, either Dark or Light. You will also notice that some abilities cost more Force Points depending on the alignment of the ability as well. For example, Cure costs much more if you are the path to the Dark Side whereas Shock costs more if you are on the path of the Light. There are even some items in the game that the player is unable to equip depending on their alignment. Being able to fully customize your alignment with your Jedi and the abilities and skills really make it feel like you are creating your own Jedi.
A feature of the gameplay I did not expect to love as much as I did back in 2003 was the dialogue. Going around the world and speaking with different characters and experiencing their story was the most enjoyable part of the game for me. During your adventure, you travel to a world Manaan during a murder trial. Being able to help during this trial and deciding through all of the dialogue options was one of the most enjoyable moments of this game. It’s fun to see what options cause chaos or what options might save a lone drifter or what options might just turn the tide of the game. There are so many different options, it would take so many different playthroughs to discover each dialogue options.
Back in 2003, you had games like Final Fantasy X-2, Call of Duty and Jak 2. All of their graphics, for their time, were stunning and beautiful which some fall short to current generation titles like Assassin’s Creed, The Witcher or God of War. The graphics in Knights of the Old Republic were brilliant for its time. We saw beautiful 3-D worlds with stunning blur and lighting effects along with vibrant colors in an out of battles as well as the use of dark and bland colors to make bars and the slums seem more alive. After playing through the game once again, I felt that the graphics gave me the same warm and fuzzy feeling as it did when I first played this game back in 2003. Sure there are a lot of things graphic wise that did not age well such as some character faces and models such characters like Vandar Tokare or the Bounty Hunter Calo Nord.
I noticed as well that a lot of the same character models were reused throughout the universe and seeing the same generic human, Twi’lek or Selkath just copied and pasted in a new location with a new name did not really sit well with me, however, this is just a small gripe. The feature that I believe aged the poorest would be the animations while characters speak, specifically their movement and mouth flaps. Back when I first played the game when I was a kid, I thought the voices fit the mouth flaps perfectly and thought it was the coolest thing ever! As I have become older it is hard for me to ignore the inaccuracy of the mouth animations and the awkward idle movement animations and arm flails.
Aside from the mouth and conversation animation, the graphics still hold up to this day. The beautiful scenery really immersed me into the world, specifically the world of Dantooine and the beaches of the Unknown World towards the end of the game.
Sound & Music
There is not much I can say about the sound of KOTOR. The first shot of a blaster that I heard back in 2003 instantly immersed me into the Star Wars universe. Every footstep, computer terminal, and clang of a Vibro Sword enhances every experience and moment of the game and that is not lost when playing it today. When you are walking around in a large city and you hear the sound of Hover Vehicles flying above and chatter of the local inhabitants. Or if you are deep in the jungles of Kashyyyk and all you can hear are the sounds of bugs and critters that reside there. The sound of each location adds so much to the game that without I am surely the game would not be as beautiful as it is. Something I truly enjoyed was just sitting in the middle of a large city like Taris and watching the droids and civilians walk around and listen to some of the chatter while being fully enveloped into the world.
As far as the music goes, for those fans of Star Wars, it is definitely a very Star Wars-y soundtrack. For most worlds, the music partners the atmosphere and ambiance, only playing soft melodies where other themes like those of Dantooine and the Jedi Counsel are made to be heard to evoke emotion and feelings during the game. The composer and developers knew exactly when to let the music take over or when to just let the atmosphere play. During fights and conflicts, the music is loud and boisterous which always made me feel excited during fights and made each battle rewarding. When I first played through KOTOR, I remember the world Taris and down in the undercity, I was always nervous going in the infected zone where the Rakghouls were. The music and the atmosphere immersed me into the world and instilled the right amount of fear and danger in me and I am pleased that this still holds up to this day.
Knights of the Old Republic is fully voice acted, but you would be surprised at the number of actors and actresses who helped bring this world to life. From Jennifer Hale who was the voice of Bastila to Raphael Sbarge who played Carth, these are the voices you can expect to hear while traveling all of the different worlds.
Canderous Ordo was voiced by John Cygan. Cygan has appeared in numerous video games and television shows, with guest appearances on Frasier, The X Files, and NYPD Blue. In Knights of the Old Republic, the grim Mandalorian Canderous is a soldier of stark contrast to the gentle Carth. His supreme confidence and severe combat experience give him a natural leadership quality that sometimes puts him at odds with Bastila. A firm creed and rich history make him every bit an interesting storyteller as Jolee Bindo. His character is given complete credibility through performance and even offers an unexpected dynamic change in personality.
HK-47 was voiced by Kristoffer Tabori. When you first try to speak to the stiff droid in the corner of the shop, he seems to be very professional and calculating, if not a bit detached from humanity. And why not? But as you further question his behaviors and thoughts, it becomes clear that this robot is far more intelligent and deceptive than you first suspected. One minute he sounds like a narrator for a BBC documentary, then suddenly he discloses a casual desire of a most disturbing and gruesome nature (with the very same aristocratic clarity in his voice!). Tabori (aka Christopher Donald Siegel) is no stranger to acting and television, but he is actually a seasoned director as well. Directing credits include Providence, Judging Amy, and Chicago Hope. In Knights of the Old Republic, HK-47’s quick quips and somewhat twisted perception of morality have made him arguably the most popular character in the game.
Jolee Bindo was voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. The distinctive, rich quality to this actor’s voice perfectly reflects the wealth of history and experiences that have made Jolee the man he is. Numerous video game performances (both Bioware and Lucasarts titles), and he seems to be the preferred man for voicing Mace Windu (hear him in the Obi-Wan and Jedi Starfighter games). If you’ve ever seen The Animatrix, he’s had numerous roles including the famous Thaddeus from “Final Flight of the Osiris”.
A few other notable voice actors who helped bring the world of Knights of the Old Republic to life would be, Courtenay Taylor who voiced Juhani and Cat Taber who voiced Mission Vao. You can also hear the voices of April Stewart and Bill Martin all over the world as you travel and speak with practically any shop keepers and non-story-related characters. These people truly brought this world to life for me and at the time having a fully voiced 3D game was all the rage. After playing it again, I still found myself falling in love with the voice actors and enjoying every bit of dialogue they have to offer.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a 16-year-old RPG that fans still talk about to this day and is a game that is still critically acclaimed and loved. Sure the game has small minor issues and bugs, but what can you expect from a game that was created during the gaming revolution where games were advancing and growing into what we have today. Does it hold up though? Is this game still worth the time and effort in playing? I would have to say absolutely yes. The game offers a rich story and extensive gameplay with strategic elements that make the player think about their next choices. It has a diverse ecosystem with beautifully orchestrated music and a vast living atmosphere that truly immerses the players. For anyone who loves the Star Wars universe and loves a good RPG, I would strongly suggest playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.