Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic Two
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II-The Sith Lords is a horror story. What happens when the force no longer benefits you? Can you survive if you run away from the Chosen One? KotOR 2 shows you the dead, unbeatable heart of an endlessly vast and carefree Galaxy. Instead of being fully committed to space-western fantasy like its BioWare-made predecessor, KotOR 2 is a razor-sharp question of whether the Star Wars universe should exist at all. It holds back the soft nostalgia evoked by the most recent Legos Star Wars game, and I respect it for asking my skepticism about the story.
First released in 2004, KotOR 2 had only a year of development time, resulting in a ton of cut content and technical issues compared to its relatively stable predecessor. When I played the PC version, you had to install a content restoration mod to watch a ton of plot-critical cutscenes. So it’s hard to get upset about Aspyr’s just released Nintendo Switch port for a buggy mess.
I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that the Switch port will randomly crash for no apparent reason, or loop a scene repeatedly until I give up and reset the game hoping it won’t loop next time. Such issues would give enough reason to walk away from most Switch games, but as a seasoned KotOR 2 player I have come to expect these bugs as the cost of accessing Obsidian’s blunt, messy, and broken galaxy. Still, it feels a little blatant that it took Aspyr two weeks to fix a game-breaking bug that caused players to be unable to even complete the game.
I accidentally discovered the best feature of the Switch port: by pressing the Left movement stick twice, you can open the cheats menu. Here you can manually add skills, replicate items, jump to certain cutscenes or zoom around in the free camera view. I found this to be an excellent compromise between staying true to the original game and trying to provide a less frustrating buggy experience.
The free camera is by far one of my favorite features: I explored the entirety of Lyon’s Royal Palace and found the entire level floating in the air. Some games are content to just poke fun at themselves. KotOR 2’s Switch port fully owns its warts and invites you to explore them at your leisure. Aspyr’s port also restores certain story scenes that were cut from the original, but it was hard for me to remember which ones they were because I always played the PC version with the content restoration mod.
The Switch port crashes less often than the PC version, but you play this game not to experience technical excellence, or to monotonously traverse the sparsely populated environments. You play it because KotOR 2’s cynical, questionable perspective of the Galaxy is what we need in an era where all our settings are falling apart.
BioWare’s original KotOR has a former Sith Lord save the Republic after initially conspiring to finish it. In Obsidian’s sequel, A Jedi “Exile” digs up the remains of a failed war, a failed government, and a failed spiritual philosophy. KotOR 2 is much less encouraging about saving the Republic. Crucially, it does not ask you to feel any loyalty to the Galactic Federation or the Jedi Order. What do you owe a government that turned you into a weapon? Nothing at all. But you can take your laser sword for your own good, and you can teach others to do the same.
The game excels at telling multiple stories from the past and present at the same time. The best example of this is the peragus tutorial level, in which the player escapes from a mining facility. A finisher locked me in the asteroid belt, forcing me to make video recordings to learn about his other, murdered victims and possible escape routes; all of that was part of a larger plot orchestrated by a droid’s attempts to “fix” the Broken Republic. Exploring the ruins of the Sith planet Korriban, I tried to find not only a Jedi Master hiding, but also the role of the protagonist in the brutal Mandalorian Wars, which took place before the KotOR series even began. And I felt fear when I went to investigate strange signals on the smuggler’s moon of Nar Shadaa, only to find, upon returning, the severed limb of my seeker. There were no clear answers, except for those that I deduced from contextual clues.
Like any good horror game, KotOR 2 thrives on making you feel isolated and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, not every matter of philosophical research holds the landing. Such a misstep occurred when I decided to give money to a beggar on Nar Shaddaa. Instead of reacting like a normal person, your mentor says that you weakened him by showing charity. This in itself would have been fine, except that the game then showed me a vision of the man being beaten for his loose change. I laughed at the scene, which came out more hamfisted than attentive. KotOR 2 may feel radical and liberating, but those moments coexist with Nar Shaddaa’s, in which the game reproduces the cold, conservative logic of a dying empire.
KotOR 2 is not a happy RPG in which everything can be solved by the power of friendship. The characters reproduce the broken logic of a galaxy that has completely failed them, and the game is relentless about dropping them. Years after, female developers claimed that lead writer and designer Chris Avellone had committed venereal misconduct while working at Obsidian, to which he responded by powered them with libel. Avellone wasn’t the only writer on the team, but it was still hard for me to separate the art from KotOR 2’s lead designer. The game portrays the Galaxy in shades of gray, making the game feel liberating to play as a troubled student. Now, as a more experienced mature, I am much more critical of how KotOR 2 represents moral ambiguity, which can often be armed to serve men in power.
“You were blinded,” accuses the master. In response, the camera abruptly cuts to the Sith Lord Traya, who is lurking nearby: “and finally, you saw it.”While these lines aren’t as flowery as most of the script, the dramatic irony of the execution lands hard and makes this highly anticipated Dantooine experience the most memorable scene in the game.