Videogame (2003). Bioware. Platforms: Win, XBox (2003); Mac (2004).
Knights of the Old Republic is a Computer Role Playing Game using a three-dimensional third person view, set in the Star Wars universe. Its design combines the player created characters and branching plots seen in many Western CRPGs with the emphasis on character backstory and directed narrative commonly associated with Japanese Console Role Playing Games. The game is set four thousand years before Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), in a galaxy not very different from that of the films. The Jedi, servants of a democratic Republic whose dedication to virtue allows them access to the spiritual power of the "Force", are losing a war against the Sith, their moral and philosophical opposites. As the game begins, the main character is forced down on the planet Taris by Sith fighters; the player's initial mission is to find and rescue a Jedi whose exceptional skill with the Force offers hope for the embattled Republic.
The game mechanics are based on the d20 (2000) system as used in the second version of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game (see Star Wars Games). Gameplay concentrates on puzzle solution, round-based combat and character interaction. Depending on the choices made by the player when creating their character, their persona may be more proficient at one of these approaches to the game than the others. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the mechanics is the morality system, which tracks the player's actions and conversational choices to determine whether they are aligning themselves with the dark (Sith) or light (Jedi) side of the Force. Different plot paths appear for good and evil alignments, and computer controlled individuals' interest in joining the player's group will be affected by the player character's moral position. While neither orientation is favoured, the game does encourage the player to select a side, since high level Force powers are only available to characters with a definite affinity for either light or dark. During the course of the game, the player will discover that their character is actually the previous Dark Lord of the Sith, whose memory has been wiped clean by the Jedi in an attempt to redeem them. In the end, the player must choose whether to save the Republic, using a superweapon built by a forgotten Galactic Empire, or resume their position as Dark Lord. Knights of the Old Republic is an impressive example of a licenced game which successfully translates the key concerns of its original, notably the ever present danger of turning to the dark side of the Force, to a different medium. Arguably, it expresses the ethos of the original trilogy of Star Wars films better than does the second trilogy.
Related works: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (2004 Obsidian Entertainment, XBox; 2005 Win) is a sequel with similar gameplay in which the player adopts the role of an exiled Jedi; its tone is darker and somewhat more morally ambiguous than that of the first game. Interestingly, this work allows the player to select which of the endings to Knights of the Old Republic should be included in its backstory. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2006-2010) is a Comic series, written by John Jackson Miller and published by Dark Horse, which is set in the same era as the games but tells an unrelated story. Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan (2011) is a novel by Drew Karpyshyn, writer for the first game. This book acts as a sequel to both games; their protagonists are assumed to have turned towards the light, but the tone of the work is dark. [NT]
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