Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, or KOTOR as it’s commonly known, is widely considered not just one of the best Star Wars video games ever made, but one of the greatest RPGs of all time, period.
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However, despite its glowing reputation, it’s taken me practically a decade to see it through to the end. In fact, I've started playing this 2003 role-playing game on four separate occasions, and it’s only during my most recent playthrough on the Nintendo Switch that I reached the end credits.
During my first trio of playthroughs, I struggled with the game’s fundamentally flawed gameplay and I admittedly made some foolish decisions when it came to the platform I opted to play on. However, almost exactly two decades on from its original release, I can finally admit that KOTOR is indeed a masterpiece. Here’s how it finally won me over.
My history with KOTOR
I begin my first adventure onboard the Ebon Hawk all the way back in May 2013 when KOTOR was ported to iOS. I’d always wanted to play the game, and a shiny new mobile port seemed an ideal opportunity. I booted the game up on my iPad 2 and…things did not go well.
I will note the quality of the port was not to blame. The game ran to an acceptable standard, even the now ancient second-generation Apple iPad was more than powerful enough to run a far from visually-impressive game. I did experience some slowdown during combat encounters, but this issue persists across platforms so I don’t think the mobile version should be docked points for this particular problem.
I got around two hours into my first playthrough of KOTOR before giving up. The reason? I couldn’t hack the touch-screen controls. Lacking one of the best Bluetooth controllers for mobile, I found moving my character around the environment by jabbing my finger at the screen far from intuitive and the finicky nature of touch controls quickly sapped my enthusiasm to play beyond the opening portion.
A few years later, I decided to give the game a second shot, but this time I wisely opted for the PC version instead. Unfortunately, this sophomore effort was thwarted by a nasty bug that corrupted my save file after a few hours of play. I had only just left the first planet so I wasn’t that far into the game, but I didn’t have the inclination to start over again and decided to shelve the game for a second time with plans to pick it up someday down the road.
My third playthrough (again on PC) stalled as a result of the game’s frankly horrendous combat system driving me to quit. The game’s turn-based combat uses a dice-rolling system inspired by classic tabletop games, and it's absolutely terrible. Surviving enemy encounters feel heavily luck-based as you line up a string of attacks and watch them succeed or fail based on the roll of an invisible die rather than anything you did as a player.
It didn’t help that most of my attacks seemed to miss their intended target which only added to my irritation. In KOTOR it rarely feels like you’re in complete control of battles and in the end the best strategy is often to mash your most powerful attack, throw in a few healing spells, and keep your fingers crossed the enemies go down before your squad does.
After recusing the Jedi Master Bastila from a raider group known as the Vulkars on the planet Taris — essentially the game’s first main mission — I’d had enough and dropped the game for a third time. At this point, I believed that I’d never quite understand why KOTOR continues to be held in such high esteem to this day.
Fourth time is the charm
In November 2021, KOTOR was ported to the Nintendo Switch, and during a seasonal sale towards the end of last year, I picked up my third copy of the game with a determination to give it one more shot.
My confidence that this fourth time would be the one that sticks was high. The Nintendo Switch offers the portability of a mobile device, but with traditional button inputs, and I flipped the difficulty down to easy so I could steamroll my way through each combat section to avoid getting frustrated during battles as I had done before.
And, I’m pleased to say, as of last week, I have now completed KOTOR on the Nintendo Switch. With combat a total breeze on easy mode, I was able to focus on what really shines about this sci-fi RPG, the story, characters and worlds you visit. And in these areas, KOTOR can compete with even the most current games.
I quickly developed a genuine affection for practically all of my squadmates. The wise but irritable Jedi Bastila, the bright-eyed Twi’lek Mission, the loyal Wookie Zaalbar, and the untrusting human soldier Carth, all now rank among my favorite Star Wars characters ever. And during my roughly 22-hour playthrough, I took every opportunity to talk to them that I could.
The game’s main story is also extremely compelling. Sure, it does revolve around a hunt for a magical MacGuffin as so many Star Wars stories do, but each of the planets you visit has its own intricate side stories to tell, and these optional threads are well worth pursuing. Plus, the game packs one of the most downright jaw-dropping twists in all of gaming, which I certainly won’t spoil here. And if that wasn't enough there's an additional third-act wrinkle that took me by surprise in the best way possible.
However, my favorite thing about KOTOR is the remarkably strong mission design. Players are nearly always given multiple ways to complete objectives allowing you to approach missions in a way that best suits your character's chosen strengths and personality. Throw in a morality system that is rigid but effective, and you start to understand why gamers have been raving about KOTOR for almost 20 years.
KOTOR deserves a proper remake
There has been strong demand for a KOTOR remake for years, and when one was confirmed in September 2021 during Sony’s PlayStation Showcase, the gaming community reacted with overwhelming excitement. I now understand why.
In many ways, KOTOR is the ideal candidate for a full-scale remake because the key bits remain so good. There’s no need to change the story, characters or missions, instead this upcoming remake is a chance to polish up the very dated graphics and overhaul the terrible combat system. With these upgrades, a KOTOR Remake would be something really special.
Unfortunately, it was reported last year that the KOTOR Remake is experiencing development difficulties and it's even changed developer from Aspyr (who incidentally ported the original KOTOR to the Switch) to Saber Interactive, so don’t expect a release date anytime soon. In fact, it’s been suggested that a release before 2025 is almost out of the question, which is a huge shame.
Nevertheless, I’ll be eagerly awaiting any news on the remake project as KOTOR absolutely deserves to have its rough gameplay brought up to the same level as its phenomenal story and characters. In the meantime, perhaps I’ll jump into KOTOR II while we wait for an update.