sunnuntai 1. toukokuuta 2011

REVIEW - Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)

RELEASED: July 2003

In the summer of 2000, while working on the sequel to their smash RPG Baldur's Gate, BioWare announced they were in cahoots with LucasArts to create a role-playing game based on Star Wars. LucasArts gave BioWare a choice: they could either take the easy and automatically lucrative way out and make a game based on Episode II: Attack of the Clones, or they could create an original storyline set thousands of years before the events in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Since creativity has been one of their most important traits through time, BioWare chose the latter option and created their very own chapter in the Star Wars saga, which they baptized Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The game's development took three years and not only did the game take the Star Wars fanbase by storm, it was also a critically acclaimed RPG, another glorious chapter in BioWare's success story. A while ago, I did a review of Dragon Age: Origins; now it's time for me to take a step back and see what all the KotOR fuss was about back in the day, and why it's nearly always mentioned in the same sentence as Dragon Age. It's pure Star Wars, it's undoubtedly a great RPG - not a bad start if you ask me.

Impressive. Most impressive.

Jennifer Hale : Bastila Shan
Raphael Sbarge : Carth Onasi
Rafael Ferrer : Darth Malak
John Cygan : Canderous Ordo
Kristoffer Tabori : HK-47
Kevin Michael Richardson : Jolee Bindo
Courtenay Taylor : Juhani
Edward Asner : Master Vrook Lamar
Cat Taber : Mission Vao
Robin Atkin Downes : Griff Vao / Mekel / Vulkar Mechanic

Darth Malak, an exceptionally malevolent Sith Lord, manages to shake the foundations of the Jedi order with such force, that most of the Jedi either turn up dead or turned to the Dark Side of the Force. He then leads a full scale revolution against the Republic. You are a mysterious, recently enlisted servant of the Republic - your mission is to learn the ways of the Force and defeat Malak. You can either bring peace to the galaxy as a legendary Jedi Knight, or attempt to take Malak's place as a Dark Lord of the Sith.

My biggest complaint about the PlayStation 3 version of Dragon Age: Origins, in a nutshell, was the simple fact that it was a console game. I've had many people telling me I should test the PC version, and judging from what I've seen, I believe it; I believe the game is at its best on the PC. The user interface is wholly different. But, I am not a PC player. It's both personal preference and the fact that my computer is not much more than a workbench. It's kind of old, not optimized for gaming and there are always these random hardware problems usually related to memory. These hardware problems made it very difficult to me, almost impossible, to play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It's one of the latest games this old piece of shit runs. So the game indeed runs well in itself, it's the faulty RAM that spat in my face on steady intervals. I pushed on to beat the game once - it's a BioWare game, so that's basically just scratching the surface - but on my computer, even that's an accomplishment. An accomplishment I was willing to make, because Knights of the Old Republic is one excellent game. The best Star Wars game ever made. Easily. Although older, its most important gameplay qualities and the fact that it's not just based on Star Wars, but has a whole new, original, intriguing story based on the best sci-fi franchise of all time, guarantee an even more gratifying role-playing experience for me on a personal level than Dragon Age: Origins. The comparison is easy to make, since it's such a similar game.

Just equipped myself with two vibroblades
and I'm ready to kick some ass. You just keep
unlocking those doors, a'ight? And get me a
damn coffee.
Some characters look exceptionally blocky (like Grand Theft Auto-blocky), but I can't help it, I find Knights of the Old Republic quite sweet-looking. It lacks the certain graphical fluffiness and run-of-the-mill look of the usual movie license, which once again drives home the fact that it's a completely original game - and although it might not look like it at first, it's quite huge. Especially exterior areas; as small as your actual playfield might be, the landscape looks like it stretches to eternity.

Jeremy Soule is no stranger to composing music for quality RPG's. He started his career with the soundtrack to Square's first wholly American production Secret of Evermore in 1995, and went on to compose the music for BioWare's Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Nights, as well as Bethesda's Morrowind and Oblivion. He's apparently no stranger to John Williams' work, either. The partly ambient soundtrack - the ambience is part of the experience - is filled with subtle references to Williams' most classic, vintage Star Wars compositions. It sounds magnificent, I don't remember a non-Square RPG making such an impression on me when it comes to the music.

There's always another side to the coin, though; the quality of the voiceover work varies greatly between excellent and just OK. The primary cast list is absolutely filled to the brim with TV and voiceover staples including Jennifer Hale, Kevin Michael Richardson, Robin Atkin Downes and hell, Ed Asner, but no matter how much even these veterans try to keep the show together, I don't quite feel a huge effort made by the supporting NPC cast. Also, it's a great thing that aliens speak in their native Huttese (the subtitles are in English, of course), but God damn it, do those off-rhythm rants last forever or what?! Let's exaggerate a bit: the subtitles say "Hello.", while the Huttese translation is "Uggamuggala ugga habalahu blahblahblah ploploplop mathafaka Han shot first". Since about 10% of the script is in Huttese, I couldn't help but skip some conversations even on the first time of playing. It's never happened before. Sounds very authentic, though, I'll give 'em credit for that.

The story of the game holds the dedicated Star Wars fan in a tight grip throughout. In the very beginning, you really don't know what's going on in the game, but before long, the story begins to flow smoothly and remains quite consistent right until the end. The player character and his/her origins remain a complete enigma for a lengthy while, and while I didn't quite feel the "grand revelation" concerning 'em from an originality standpoint, it sat well with me. It's a good thing BioWare didn't force this as a "prequel to a prequel", and try to come up with some way to link this up to the movies or any other works in the Star Wars franchise, but strictly made it an original, deep story based on what they knew of the Star Wars universe and its subtleties - and a good one, to boot.

When you start the game, you get to create your character. You can choose a male or a female; the choices for facial features are quite narrow but sufficient considering the times. Knights of the Old Republic is a different RPG in the sense that there's no stand-in for a mage. One of the main quests in the game requires you to undertake Jedi training - one of the coolest quests, ever. - and once becoming a Jedi, you can use some form of magic regardless of your starting class (JEDI MIND TRICK! JEDI MIND TRICK! OH, THE GLORY!). So, there are still three classes for you to choose from, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Soldier is quite self-explanatory, he's the tank with the most HP and strength, BUT he is weak at verbal persuasion and stealth. Scoundrel excels in both of a Soldier's weakest qualities. Scout is most definitely the most balanced class in the game and recommendable for new players. They are quite efficient in every skill a casual player could take advantage of.

When you become a Jedi, you can decide on what type of Jedi you want to be, in addition to your class. It's kind of a "sub-class". Guardians are most efficient at settling things the old-fashioned way, with their lightsabers blazing. Consulars place more trust in the gift of the silver tongue, and once again, Sentinel is the most recommended Jedi class for new players, since they're semi-adept in all skills. At times, you don't need to fight or even talk your way out of a sticky situation, you can look for an alternative solution, like hack a terminal to get a defense system do your dirty work for you. There are a lot more choices than you might think at first.

The main theme of the game is the thin line between the light and dark sides of the Force, which is just about the coolest karma system ever, in any game, and although Knights of the Republic is somewhat "aged", it also works pretty darn neat. Mostly, the balance is based on your dialogue choices, but also some of your concrete actions. As a cool detail, an abundance of "dark" actions makes your character's facial features change - his eyes and skin change colour, just like in inFamous years later, in which your character gradually became dirtier and actually started to look like a Sith as we know them in the Star Wars franchise whenever you pulled enough evil stunts. The dialogue itself could flow a little better; the same dialogue choices keep popping up on the screen instead of just disappearing once used.

I could've just borrowed my friend's Xbox to play the game, but I necessarily wanted to experience it on the PC, because of BioWare's knack for producing notably more comfortable user interfaces for the PC, which I mentioned many times while I was reviewing Dragon Age: Origins. I don't regret it one bit; the menu system and the combat system in Knights of the Old Republic are amazing. The self-pausing combat system feels and looks a bit awkward at first, but it is easily taken to heart. All of the necessary icons for each situation of the game are right there on the screen, you don't have to use an extensive menu for all the extensive actions in the game. You can just sit back and enjoy, for whatever reason you'll find the game enjoyable. You WILL find it enjoyable. It's the kind of game that has something for both, fans of RPG's and fans of Star Wars, and for fans of both RPG's and Star Wars, it is an amazing trip they can't afford to ignore. Have I said that enough times already for you to believe it? Whenever you buy stuff, it's hard to compare new equipment to your existing inventory, which is pretty much the only downside to every imaginable menu in Knights; they're very easy and comfortable to use for the most part. In the beginning of the game, the Republican "credits" (money) are very scarce to come by, and you will face this problem and be forced to buy stuff on instinct.

My soon-to-be goody two shoes Jedi Knight.
I've only scratched the surface here, but still went over the most important basics. If you've played a BioWare game before, you'll know how this works behind all that fancy Star Wars schtick. It's all the same, with a different name... and it's of awesome quality, there should be no doubt about that. The game is very vast, much bigger than you'd expect it to be. There's a neat array of sidequests and "minigames", a well-functioning fast travel system, ten playable characters and two wholly different endings. To get a different ending pretty much requires you to start over, you can't just save at a certain point and do the ending differently, because everything you do _throughout_ the game, your light and dark actions, affect it. So, you need to play the game through at least twice, and with a totally different attitude, to see everything there is to see. Since I've only done it once (or struggled through it... God damn this %/#(")! piece of shit computer!), I might be exaggerating with the lifespan a little here, but this game was going to be highly rated based on gameplay alone.

I've repeated myself a few times here, but I'll say it one more time. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is easily the best Star Wars game out there and a standard for both Star Wars games and BioWare RPG's. I don't know how the user interface in the Xbox version really works, but I'm willing to bet I did the rational and pretty much only sensible thing by playing this game on the PC instead, and that the Xbox version would've come a few points short of a niner. Whichever the version, I must say that on my account, Knights of the Old Republic is one of the most intriguing RPG's of the 21st century. What is it about it? The theme? No... that's not true! That's impossible! ...Wait. I searched my feelings. I know it to be true.

SOUND : 8.8


a.k.a. Star Wars: KotOR

GameRankings: 93.25% (PC), 94.25% (Xbox)

Vima Sunrider from the Tales of the Jedi comic book series was originally set to take Bastila Shan's place as the lead female of the game.

The Ebon Hawk is partly modelled after the Millennium Falcon, Zaalbar after Chewbacca, T3-M4 after R2-D2, and Darth Malak after Darth Vader.

Mission Vao contributes the line "I have a bad feeling about this.", which is said in every Star Wars movie.

Bendak Starkiller's name is derived from the name George Lucas originally gave Luke Skywalker. Later, Starkiller became the Sith name of Galen Marek in the Force Unleashed series.

3 kommenttia:

  1. Wahey! I just picked this up for the PC so I can replay it once my Mass Effect 1&2 gig is up. My brother had it for the Xbox when it came out, and I remember having a lot of trouble playing it on the console. I mean I did alright, but I got so frustrated that I never actually finished it (not that that kept me from buying and playing KOTOR II which I love). I'm excited to play it on PC ... in a few months or whatever. There is either not enough time in the world to play games, or I simply am "cursed" by games that go on for hours. No, trust me, I'm not complaining.

    I didn't know that Jeremy Soule did the soundtrack for KOTOR though. That makes me even more excited to play it since in my mind Soule all but walks on water.

  2. That reminds me. I'm sorry to say there will be no review for KotOR II in the near future at least, it was on the schedule but just playing this game on my computer was a nightmare. I'm considering of investing my tax refunds on a new computer in the end of the year. Almost anything's better than this.

  3. Trust me, I totally understand. An out of date video card is one of the reasons I'm so behind on videogames myself. I got lucky with DA:O, but I'm afraid that anything more powerful than that game will barely run, if at all, on my system. Most games are at least three years old before I even have a chance to get to them, since that is usually about how long my computer systems last before biting the dust. I seem to remember KOTOR II running more than fine on minimum reqs (we are talking a 32MB vid card and barely enough memory) but it just *looked* so much better with the recommended specs. To be honest it was almost like playing a completely different game.

    Either way, it was nice to read your KOTOR review like usual. Now I’m psyched that I picked it up last week when D2D had it on sale.