Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the Nintendo Switch immediately pulled me back

Duel with Darth Malak in KOTOR

Darth Malak has taken root in the galaxy in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Aspyr / Nintendo

I definitely should not be sucked into Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic again. I’ve played it before, it’s pretty dated, it’s about to stay and fancy remake in a few years and there are newer games I should get through.

Still, I’m here, getting up late to save the galaxy from Sith, as if it were 2003, and playing Nintendo Switch front version will be published on Thursday. The new games can wait.

Knights of the Old Republic (affectionately known as KOTOR) was a Star Wars game when it was released on Xbox and PC 18 years ago – developer Bioware made a completely immersive RPG set thousands of years before the original trilogy. Unleashed from these events, it was free to tell an epic tale of a galaxy destroyed by the forces of Darth Malak, his apparently slain master Darth Revan, and a Jedi order driven close to extinction.

In the years since its original release, KOTOR has been released on MacOS as well as iOS and Android devices. The original Xbox version can also be played on Xbox Series X and Series S via backward compatibility.

Developer Aspyr, which also handles the upcoming remake, has not made many visual tweaks or quality of life improvements to the Switch version, so this port for $ 15 is pretty much the same as the previous releases. But the loading times are small and it is the first version that offers an easy jump from TV to portable games.

Limited Run Games will also release this version and the PC on physical media, with pre-orders opening Thursday, but these options are significantly more expensive than the digital one. That standard edition is $ 35, the premium version is $ 90 and master edition is a striking $ 175 (the latter two include cool collectibles like posters, needles and small replica lightsabers).

The fate of the galaxy

You play as a character that can be customized, suffer from memory loss (always a good way to make a blank board) and eventually unlock your Force potential. Like many Star Wars games before and since, you can then bring light and hugs to the galaxy like a Jedi or make everyone unhappy and look increasingly naughty by turning to the dark side.

Your customization is determined by dialog selection, a signature Bioware gameplay element that it would further refine in post-KOTOR games such as Mass effect and Dragon Age. After experiencing the nuanced moral decisions in these series over the years, KOTOR’s possibilities feel wonderfully unsophisticated. A typical dialogue with a person you just rescued from bullies can make you choose, “Here are some credits to help you when you escape these criminals,” (😇) “You’re welcome, be free,” (neutral) or, “No witnesses, I’ll have to kill you.” (😈)

When I got full of evil on my original throughplay and remembering to feel like a corrupt (but cool-looking) monster at the end, I decided to be super cute at all this time. I only got a few hours and it’s been a pleasure to revisit this era of Star Wars, but there were definitely a few hiccups along the way.

The creaking republic

This might make some old Star Wars fans angry: I re-watched the original 1977 movie over the summer, but was not drawn into it as unreservedly as I usually do. Maybe I’ve seen it a few too many times, maybe I’ve seen too many CGI-loaded blockbusters lately, but the Death Star sets looked a bit shaky in 4K. The incredible art direction, charming writing and excellent character dynamics hold up, it’s just fascinating to accept that even the most iconic experiences may seem dated.

The same is true of KOTOR. It’s a game firmly rooted in the era of the PS2 Xbox GameCube console, which shows up in the tiny places and bland backgrounds. Taris, the first planet, is a gray cityscape that basically consists of three small hubs. There are two canteens, but they have identical layouts and are each home to a Hutt that sits in the exact same place (one runs a battle arena, the other dispenses bounties). There’s not much that takes me out of a game more than overtly recycled assets.

I was also a little put off by the obvious tabletop RPG elements that KOTOR immediately throws at you. Today, you do not often see terminology such as “throw-in” (which determines how effective your attacks are) and “critical threats” (a chance to do extra damage) when deciding how your character will evolve; it is hidden in the game mechanics and presented in a way that is less overwhelming for players who have just started.

Taris and KOTOR

Taris is visually dull, but becomes more engaging when Mission Vao and Zaalbar join you.

Aspyr / Nintendo

A timeless adventure

But my problems with the dated items melted away within the first hour or so. After I escaped a crashing Republic ship with my fellow soldier Carth, we wandered the streets of Taris. Every single gray nook asked to be explored; each random Bith and Rodian up to a (rather limited) chat.

Carth is a notoriously boring character, but your party quickly expands to include the street-smart Twi’lek orphan Mission Vao, her stoic Wookiee companion Zaalbar, the stunning but slightly arrogant Jedi Bastila Shan, and the harsh Mandalorian Canderous Ordo. Once you have assembled this party, the game’s sharp writing comes into focus and their interpersonal dramas become entangled with the intergalactic war.

As I increased my stockpile of weapons, equipment, and increased a few times, I felt more and more in control of the battles and confident in how I was distributing skill points. Trampling a team of Gamorreans in the sewer became a whole lot of fun, with just the right sense of challenge and danger.

starwarskotor-screenshots-lehon

Hanging out with the HK-47 and gaining Force powers spice up the adventure.

Aspyr / Nintendo

And Taris is not even the best part of the game – you do not even have a lightsaber (Bastila does have his cool double-bladed yellow though). It really does not start until you meet the Jedi Council of the other world, Dantooine, and unlock your character’s Force abilities, but the adventure and drama of the first five hours or so have been enough to draw me in. I can not wait got into some lightsaber duels and get a killer droid HK-47 to call me “meat bag”.

If you’re a Star Wars fan and have not played KOTOR, I encourage you to dive into one of the many versions available now, especially if you’ve somehow avoided story spoilers all these years. It may be tempting to wait for the remake with all its bells and whistles, but the original is still dripping with challenge and charm for players looking for a bang from the past – it’s still the best Star Wars game ever made (sorry Jedi: Fallen order) and an essential part of the franchise’s history. Hopefully Aspyr will bring the successor from 2004 to switch next.

The unplayed games are going to sit for a while yet.

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