With a next gen remake on its way, the original version of Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic is remastered for the Nintendo Switch.
It’s a hard life being a Star Wars fan. The franchise long ago reached the tipping point of their being more bad movies than good, with modern content being of such variable quality you never know if you’re going to be experiencing the best thing ever or the worst. There’s also a serious problem with nostalgia, with even the best shows and films unable to make a clean break from the original trilogy.
In that respect video games have done surprisingly well, with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order creating its own relatively unique corner of the universe. That’s nothing to compared to Knights Of The Old Republic though, which is set four thousand years before the events of the movies and so doesn’t feature a single cameo from any previously established character.
The setting debuted in an obscure comic book series, but the original 2003 game was the first time it gained mainstream exposure and there’s been talk of turning it into a movie ever since. Technically the game is now non-canon, but that’s set to change when the recently announced remake is released for PlayStation 5 and PC. Which makes this Nintendo Switch remaster a useful opportunity to look back at the original game and its legacy.
Originally, Knights Of The Old Republic (KOTOR to its friends) was an Xbox One console exclusive, the first major console project for BioWare – who up to that point were primarily known for their PC work on classic franchises such as Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. This was years before Mass Effect and Dragon Age established their more modern, action-orientated style and KOTOR’s combat is still based on Dungeons & Dragons d20 rules.
Playing the game now, the battle system is certainly not something you can imagine being invented new today, as the action pauses every time a fight breaks out. This gives you the chance to lay out complex orders for all your party members in what are essentially turn-based battles with only the illusion of being real-time. Some battles go on for a bit too long but there’s enough flexibility that it all still seems novel and interesting.
In most other respects the game operates similarly to Mass Effect, which was always something of a spiritual sequel, given that BioWare did not work on the KOTOR sequel. That means you’re free to wander around the various locations with your crew, talking to whoever you want, engaging in side quests, and making moral decision that tip you towards the light or dark side of the Force.
The level design is very simplistic, with little mechanical difference between the desert sands of Tatooine or the thick forests of Kashyyyk, but the game does its best with the technology of the time – even though it’s obvious that if it was made now it’d be a semi-open world title, not just a series of maze-like rooms pretending to be a whole planet.
Surprisingly, KOTOR is in a similar position to the GTA Definitive Edition trilogy in that the only proper remaster it’s ever had is on smartphones. This new Switch version is clearly just a port of those and while the almost 20-year-old graphics have been spruced up slightly the low-tech facial animations rob a lot of the dialogue sequences of their full impact. The controls are also overly fiddly, which shouldn’t have been an issue considering the original was an Xbox game.
Despite these problems, KOTOR is still hugely engaging and that’s because its real appeal is in the story and characters. With only a few exceptions the dialogue tends to be long-winded and sapless – more like Star Trek than Star Wars – but the concepts at work behind the story remain highly compelling, with the best plot twist this side of The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, it seems even better today, in the context of the sequel trilogy’s pathetic attempts to find an equivalent ‘I am your father’ moment of its own.
The script may have its issues but it’s elevated by the generally good voice-acting and some memorable characters. Sardonic assassin droid HK-47 is the most fun but what’s surprising is that the Jedi are also genuinely interesting and relatable.
Even though the game was made after the prequels turned the Jedi into dispassionate monks, veteran Jedi Bastila Shan is portrayed as a complex and emotional character, with a romance subplot and an engaging plot twist all of her own. In hindsight she’s also strangely reminiscent of Rey, except better thought out and with a more logical backstory.
Canderous Ordo is less engaging, but it’s still interesting to see how Mandalorian culture was portrayed in these early days of the concept. At the same time, Jolee Bindo is the most famous example of a ‘grey’ Jedi – a concept popular in Star Wars fandom but which has never really been embraced in any mainstream media.
Darth Malak is the game’s primary villain, a Sith Lord with his own Sith Empire, and while there’s an obvious and natural attempt to make him a Darth Vader equivalent, he’s different enough in concept and attitude that he doesn’t come across as just a wannabe. Which again, is more than the recent movies can say.
KOTOR is the perfect example of exactly the sort of game that deserves a remake. Its best elements have nothing to do with technology and if they’re kept intact, while the graphics and script are given a modern makeover, then it could end up being the best piece of Star Wars media for a very long time.
What developer Aspyr (BioWare don’t seem to be involved in the remake) will do about the battle system remains to be seen but this simple remaster proves that the Force is still strong with the Knights of the Old Republic.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic review summary
In Short: Time has not been kind to some elements, but KOTOR’s story and characters are still the most interesting there’s ever been in a Star Wars video game.
Pros: The setting and plot are both interesting, with a classic plot twist halfway through. A variety of compelling characters that are more engaging than many of their modern movie equivalents.
Cons: The graphics are obviously showing their age and the script is often unwieldy and bloated. The battle system is interesting but can also seem long-winded. Awkward controls.
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