How to Win Pazak and Influence Jedi

by Debbie Ginsberg

(Warning: mild spoilers)
The Pretty Jedi Game: Knights of the Old Republic II

Every two years, I completely disappear for about a month. Not so many blog entries, not so much with the IM, way fewer webcomics. Why? The latest version of Knights of the Old Republic has been released! Time once again to fire up that X-Box and visit an age of the Republic 4000 years before the Skywalkers made their mark. It's the most fun a girl can have with a vibrating joystick. At least, on the X-Box.

The Basics of KotOR, or Where Have I Seen this Before?

For those of you who missed the first round, the Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) is an X-Box game that's set in the golden age of the Galactic Republic, when Jedi freely patrolled the galaxy, protecting it from conquest-minded Mandalorians and evil Sith Lords. The game system is more or less based on the d20 system. Players gain levels (along with skills and powers) as they complete intricate quests, perform great feats, interact with a variety of interesting characters, face moral conundrums, and battle dire foes – fairly standard RPG stuff.

KotOR II is set about 5 years after KotOR I. The first game focused on the fate of the Sith Lord Revan, once a hero of the Mandalorian War but since turned against the Republic. In KotOR II, someone, perhaps a remnant of the Mandalorian War, has been killing off all Jedi and further weakening the Republic. While investigating this new threat, players can decide to join it or attempt to destroy it, depending on their tendencies toward the Dark or the Light Side.

The main character, a former Jedi, also follows a personal quest to discover why he or she lost a once powerful bond to the Force. The player's companions – who include droids, aliens, and even Jedi -- have their own ideas about what the eventual fate of the galaxy should be. Some will assist players, while some will work against players, depending on their personal agendas. Certain companions will not follow the player at all depending on the main character's sex and moral leanings – e.g. female characters get a cute guy, and male characters are paired with a female who seems to have few problems with nudity.

Game Play, or Is It Fun?

The biggest frustration I had with KotOR II was the rate at which it crashed our old, cranky X-Box. Since finishing the game a couple of weeks ago, we have replaced our old box with a newer one that seems to handle KotOR II just fine. Guess our timing was off, but others have reported similar crankiness.

I quite enjoyed the game’s graphics -- there's a reason I call it the Pretty Jedi Game. Not being the world's most experienced gamer, however, I'm not sure how they compare with industry standard. For what it's worth, they look as good as anything else I've seen on the X-Box -- realistic enough to add depth to the story without being distracting. Two issues: male main characters seem to be more expressive than the female ones, and NPC character designs are often repeated (first game was worse; after a while I started calling it The Clone Wars).

Game play focuses on resource/power management, not how fast players can twitch a joystick. In KotOR II, players can build their own equipment (even light sabers) and can spend time tactically assessing fights before jumping into the fray. For me, this makes this game a lot more fun — I'm not exactly Ms. Hand-Eye-Coordination. For those players who like having some twitchiness, the game includes several scenes where they can pilot swoops and gun down foes from their spaceship. Fortunately, in KotOR II, these scenes are optional or have little impact on the storyline.

Interactions, or What to DO between Fight Scenes

While I completely appreciate taking out pent up aggressions by slicing through hordes of obnoxious aliens and droids, after a while, hack’n’slash (or hack’n’shoot) gets boring. Generally, I much more enjoy talking to all of the game's characters and facing interesting moral issues.

KotOR II added a new dimension to character interaction – influence. Depending on their actions in the game or how they respond to conversations, players can gain (or lose) influence with their companions. Gaining or losing influence can unlock secrets, grant new powers, and even improve stats. Influence also determines if companion characters follow the player on the path to the Light or the Dark Side. Players will find, perhaps to their frustration, that they cannot satisfy all NPCs. Almost any player action will please certain companions while angering others, so players will have to carefully choose who to please and who to piss off.

By talking to their companions and the other characters in the game, players learn Jedi history, the tale of the Mandalorian wars, and their companions' personal stories. Some companions may fall in love with the player (but then completely clam up about it! See Part II) Players can even decide what happened in KotOR I: was Lord Revan male or female, dark or light? Player's choices will have significant impact on KotOR II's plot. Well, mostly. Annoyingly, the game kept forgetting I had said Revan was female.

Moral Choices, or Deciding on the Red or Blue Side of the Force

In nearly every character interaction in KotOR II, players must make some kind of moral choice. Will they assist a character in need and return any reward? Will selfish and demand credits for every favor? Will the simply kill anyone and anything that crosses their path? These choices, of course, determine whether players are Light or Dark.

What is especially fascinating about the game, however, is the system of morality it is based on. Players who are selfless and help others in need will receive Light Side points; those who refuse to help or kill indiscriminately will be Dark. Yet even the game itself is aware that real-life moral systems are more complicated than this. While I was playing the game, my Light-side Jedi constantly argued with her mysterious mentor, Kreia. My character wanted to help another NPC, but Kreia argued that by helping this NPC without fully understanding the situation, I might leave him unable to help himself later because he might not learn an important lesson he needs to grow.

So, what choice should I make here? I found that if I helped the character, I received more Light Side point. If I refused to help, I’d get Dark Side points. So, basically, if I responded as a Democrat, helping anyone who needs assistance, I'd be Light Side, but if I pursued a Republican agenda, letting characters build on their own resources, I'd be Dark.


Not that I mind, of course. As a life long liberal, I quite enjoy a game that rewards me for moral choices I'd make anyway. I wonder, however, if other players would feel the same way.

Story, or Finding the Great Secret

As important as the other aspects of the game are, no RPG game is worth playing without a strong story. KotOR I's story was wonderful, with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. KotOR II did not have as many plot twists but, for the most part, told a strong story that kept my interest throughout the game, even through the constant crashes. I became enmeshed in galactic politics, fought evil Sith Lords, battled interesting monsters, explored ancient ruins. Unlike KotOR I, the overall focus was more personal than galactic, but I felt the chance in focus allowed me to be more involved with my character than I was in KotOR I.

Yet while generally well paced, the story crawled at a few key points. The opening scenes were great fun, but the second world took too long to pick up interest. Worse, the end wasn't as strong as it should have been. The first part of the endgame was quite exciting – lots of politics, characterization, and mayhem.

But during the very final scenes, players are dumped on a world without their companions. At this point, we don't need our companions to help fight, but having someone to talk to would be nice. Moreover, many of the final scenes consist of the same fight over and over and over. After the 10th time through the exact same scene, I'd had enough.

The endgame leaves much of the plot unresolved. I had thought that maybe I had missed parts of the story, but the cheat book (hey, the darn game takes long enough to play as it is) suggested I had not. What happens to that last planet? What happens to the Jedi? And at least one of my companions still owes me money!

Yes, but it is Star Wars?

In the end, the real reason to play KotOR isn't the game system, the graphics, or even the plot. Unlike the last two movies, the Knights of the Old Republic series gets Star Wars. From the characters, to the Force, to the fights, to the droids, players are completely immersed in the world of the Jedi, fighting for the forces of good or of evil. It's the closest experience I've ever seen to actually being a Force user, and it is the game's ability to so perfectly recreate the Star Wars experience which will not only have me playing KotOR I and II over and over, but also salivating for their sequels.

Copyright 2004-2005 The Lady Gamer. All rights reserved.