The Star Wars franchise isn't churning out as many games as movies nowadays, but that could just be because perfection has already been reached with 2003's Knights of the Old Republic. Knights of the Old Republic, often abbreviated as KOTOR, came out an interesting time in Star Wars history. The game was developed and released on the original Xbox while the prequel trilogy was in theaters, between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The game came from then relatively obscure game studio, BioWare. Yet, there was no connection to the prequel trilogy or the original triloy, besides the Jedi, Sith, and a battle of good versus evil were all involved.
Knights of the Old Republic was one of the first Star Wars stories of its kind. It ignored all mention of the Skywalker family and its generation spanning stories. (There's a tiny reference to the Organa family on Alderaan and that's it.) There was no using Luke, Leia, or Darth Vader to prop up the story and create fan interest. Knights of the Old Republic created its own world and it matches, if not surpasses, that of the best stories in the Skywalker saga.
What Makes KOTOR A Great Star Wars Game
Knights of the Old Republic obviously owes a debt of gratitude to the Star Wars movies. It's not as if the game created the Jedi, the Force and lightsabers. A few of original characters do have shades of famous people in the Star Wars canon. Bastila Shan, the female lead of the game (assuming the player doesn't choose a female character), has the same haughty with a heart-of-gold attitude as Princess Leia. One of the first missions even involves rescuing Bastila, only for Bastila to completely take over her own salvation. It's, "Aren't you a little short for a Stormtrooper" all over again. Still, even if Knights of the Old Republic is inspired by what came before it, the game still charges its own path.
This is due to the fact that Knights of the Old Republic takes place thousands of years before Anakin Skywalker was a twinkle in any midichlorian's eye. It's set in era of the Old Republic where the Jedi and the Sith (who longer consist of just two devotees) spread across the universe. There's a familiarity about the world but there's also an exciting freshness. The world comes alive as the player explores it, learning about about all the ways it differs from the world of the movies. Knights of the Old Republic is obviously meant to appeal to Star Wars fans but the brilliance is that it's accessible to anyone, especially if they enjoy a tightly written and expertly crafted story.
Knights of the Old Republic's greatest strength(s) is the same to that of the movies. The characters are what makes the game shine. Being an RPG, there's a level of player control in crafting the main character. It's possible to become a pure light side Jedi, a power-hungry Sith, or somewhere in the middle, such as the ever elusive Gray Jedi. However, no option feels like the right one. Each route is smartly crafted. That same level of expertise extends to the crew of characters that surrounds the player.
In what would become a staple of BioWare games, in everything from Dragon Age to Mass Effect, as the story progress more and more characters join the player's squad. Each have their own stories and personalities. They all build their own unique relationship with the player character. Romance, friendship and rivalry are all possible, and each journey has an extra level of polish and care put into it.
Knights of the Old Republic can take about 30 hours to beat, longer if all the side missions are explored. Most of that time will be spent in conversations with other characters and choosing from a variety of dialogue options. Although it sounds tedious, it never feels dull. The way that conversations and character open up is just as dynamic and exciting as any combat mechanic. Knights of the Old Republic is a Star Wars movie that players have total control over. There might be specific paths and endings but there's such a level of freedom in choosing them.
Even when Knights of the Old Republic reveals its grand twist, players are still retain control over their path, despite the game upending everything they knew beforehand. In the end, it's about the journey players had taken and whether or not they want to side with the light or dark sides of the Force; restore the Jedi or lead the Sith. It's not an easy choice, and players will have to choose between their companions and their own story, but it's a story that has been remembered for more than a decade - and for good reason.
Why KOTOR Is Still The Best Star Wars Game
It's this dedication to story that still makes Knights of the Old Republic the best video game that Star Wars has to offer. Star Wars is a franchise about story, narrative and characters. The action can be exciting and the big twists are extraordinary. However, Star Wars works because of of the stories it tells with his cast. The lightsaber battles between Luke and Darth Vader aren't memorable for their choreography; they're iconic because of the personal struggle between the two characters. That's something that players feel when battling certain characters in KOTOR.
This is something that recent Star Wars games (and developers) don't seem to understand. Whether it's quick cash-ins in the mobile market or the microtransaction disaster that was Star Wars Battlefront II, there's been a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes Star Wars special. The action is the sprinkles on top of the sundae; it's not the main course. The attraction of the Star Wars franchise, especially with regards to video games, has always been its story and characters, not how fast a space ship can go or how big an explosion it'll make. Underneath all its nonsense with pay-to-win mechanics, Star Wars Battlefront II does have some rather solid gameplay. Yet, the story campaign was just OK. It's far too short and wastes a fantastic main character (and performance) with Janina Gavankar's Iden Versio.
Going back even further, 2008's Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, which has a rather excellent campaign, emphasized the insane force powers of the main character, Starkiller. The game had a moment in which Starkiller dragged a Star Destroyer from out of the sky, but that moment wasn't able to live up to what had come before. Of course, not every Star Wars game is about furthering the Expanded Universe (or Legends), but there's a reason Disney-owned Lucasfilm has been siphoning specific elements from Knights of the Old Republic over the past few years, adding those elements into both the movies and TV shows. In the end, Knights of the Old Republic gets what makes Star Wars great; it's about the story, the world, and above all, the adventure. And despite releasing 15 years ago, it still remains the best Star Wars game out there, though there are a few titles that can still give Revan a run for his credits.