Friday, December 31, 2010

A Special Review for a New Year!!! Video Game Assessment: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) (2003)

Okay, there are some things I really hate to admit, but here's one of them: I'm a pretty big fan of Star Wars. Now, don't get me wrong, I hate a lot of Star Wars stuff. I literally cannot stand the Prequels, most of the books suck, the comics are mostly terrible, and the video games which all make me kind of want to vomit up piles of blood... that and I black out for long periods of time after partaking of any of those activities and wake up with gore all over my hands, a toy lightsaber that seems far too dented to be good, and a Jar Jar Binks mask...

...uh... moving on... I'm not proud of being a Star Wars fan in this day and age. Star Wars has gone pretty far downhill since around... oh... let's say eleven-and-a-half years ago. I wonder what could have happened then...? Well, I obviously have no clue at all.

See my problem is that there is a lot of bad Star Wars out there. I mean, besides the Original Trilogy (and not really even a good portion of Return of the Jedi), what else can a Star Wars fan do?

Well, here's the answer. This game and its sequel are the sole shining lights in an age of terrible darkness for the Star Wars franchise and its fans. I understand that sounds like quite a hefty charge to be making, but understand that I do not make this fact-based argument lightly, nor do I let nostalgia of Star Wars get in the way. I freaking HATE the Prequels. Let me say that again so that everybody can truly understand me here. Most of the games suck (although some of the early games aren't terrible), especially those games that have come out most recently. You people who like The Force Unleashed and its sequel are the garbage of society giving a man named George Lucas more money than he should have ever had on a franchise that is bloated beyond reason, a terrible fat monster... and it has needed to be put down for a long time.

Yeah, I'm talking about the death of Star Wars here. This video game and its sequel are the last good things to come out of Star Wars and they will always be. I'm not biased here either, this is the truth. Mr. Lucas doesn't seem to have a mind for anything more than money, and it's sad. It's sad to see something that I've loved ever since I was young being mutated into a terrible monster that needs to be stopped by any means.

I'm not going to rant too much longer on how terrible Star Wars has become. I'm going to be doing that when  (and yes, I do mean WHEN) I review some of the terrible things of this franchise. But in the meantime, I'm going to stop talking about the terrible things, and instead start talking about something great in a sea of crap.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, usually known as KotOR is something amazing to come out of this bloated franchise. It does what so many other things have failed to do. It captures the spirit of the Original Trilogy without riding its coattails and trying to make everything more COLORFUL, more INTENSE, MORE CGI-ish, and more "AWESOME". It relies on storytelling, great and memorable characters, and the universe of Star Wars really brought to a new life. This video game feels like a movie. Hell, I'd take this game as a movie over almost anything else crapped out these days.

The game was released originally in 2003 for the Xbox and PC. It was developed by Bioware and published by the behemoth LucasArts. When this game came out it was overshadowed by more hyped games, but soon maybe even in spite of those other games, gained a following. It was a great RPG (role-playing game), and it was made even better by taking place in the Star Wars universe. Hell, this game became 2003 Game of the Year almost universally. Do you know how many other Star Wars games have done that? Exactly zero. And yet, and I think this shows just how "committed" Mr. Lucas is to "art", this franchise was cancelled, despite being intensely popular, and featuring some of the best overall video games to come out in their respective years because the games didn't sell as well as the more hyped and more intense games LucasArts were publishing at the time. So, instead of hyping this legitimately good franchise up, they abandoned it. And don't even talk to me about the MMORPG of The Old Republic coming out. That is a blatant money-maker and nothing more. They call it a "sequel" or "spiritual sequel" to the KotOR games, but all it is is a cash-in on a few legitimately good games. Stupid MMORPGs...

Anyway, I guess I should review the game now and tell you why this game is one of the best I've ever played. First and foremost, even if you have little knowledge of the movies, this game is great.You don't need to know the movies to know this game because it takes place 4000 years before the movies. No, that's not a typo. I did type 4000 years right there. So, no characters ever mentioned in the movies are in these games. Yeah, you see a lot of alien species that also happen to be in the movies, but you see some alien species that are never featured in the movies at all.

The story is a basic one, but it works really well. The Jedi and the Sith are at war after the devastating conflict of the Mandalorian Wars tore them apart. The new Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Malak, who took the title from his own master Darth Revan after he attacked and defeated the previous Dark Lord, will stop at nothing to capture a young Jedi woman, Bastila Shan, who happens to be incredibly powerful in a rare force technique called "Battle Meditation". He intends to capture her and turn her to evil to be able to use her power against the Republic so that he can take it over for himself. There, it's a basic good versus evil story, the heart of the Star Wars franchise. It gets pretty epic and works really well.

The characters are what drive the story and they are really what makes this game not only memorable, but fantastic. Bastila Shan, the young Jedi woman, Carth Onasi, a captain in the Republic's navy, Jolee Bindo, a failed Jedi, Canderous Ordo, a tough Mandalorian mercenary, and HK-47, and assassin droid with a distinct personality, comprise just some of the crew of characters you meet along the way. They also happen to be the best characters. This game is fully voice-acted and features some of the best voice acting of its time that I have ever heard. The characters are believable and feel real in their own way. They're every bit as memorable as Han Solo, C-3PO, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, or R2-D2. They have this feel of Star Wars realness to them. You come to like them and hate them just as you might like or hate real characters. The voice acting helps so much too. It makes the character-oriented story work beautifully.

The graphics and gameplay are good. They may not be the best of their time, but they still stand up well today. I could easily play this game and compare it to other, very recent games, and be happy playing this one over a more recent game. That probably sounds a little ridiculous. Newer games should be better, but that's often not the case. KotOR is in a class of its own for me. I love the game. I love how well it worked. I love how everything comes together and makes sense. I love the combat system and the gameplay. The graphics, story, characters... they're all believable and fantastic. The settings are wonderful, ranging from a huge ecumenoplis of Taris, to the desert world and familiar landscape of Tatooine, to a throwaway planet spoken about in A New Hope, Dantooine, to a water planet called Manaan, and the world of the Wookiees, Kashyyyk. The settings are simply fantastic. Of note are Manaan and Taris, which are absolutely gorgeous pieces of programming. They both make you feel like you're actually on the planet while you're playing. You may think I'm kidding, but I always have a hard time keeping myself from simply staring off into the distant ocean when I'm on Manaan or looking up at the huge skyscrapers of Taris. It's absolutely gorgeous, and needs to be seen to be enjoyed.

This game happens to be one of my favorites. The sequel is my absolute FAVORITE video game of ALL TIME, and only because it takes everything from this game and makes it better. The characters are better, the settings are better, the gameplay is better, and the story is better, but that doesn't take away from what this game accomplished and how well it was received by both Star Wars and video game fans alike. There are many reasons why this game is one of the best games ever made despite LucasArts and its time limitations and the cut content lurking within this game (Yes, there was even more content made for the game that was never implemented because LucasArts instituted a Christmastime deadline for this game, which means things had to be cut. This means that this game could have been even better. What the Hell, Lucas?). This game brought back the nostalgia of the Original Star Wars trilogy without compromising story for Jar Jar Binks "hilarity", overly stupid lightsaber duels, podracing, terrible acting, or needless characters, and insipid dialogue.

This game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, is Star Wars to me. Hell, to me this game is more Star Wars than 2/3 of the movies, which is a travesty, I must say.

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