Monday, May 05, 2014

Overthinking : The Faces of The Old Republic

"Perhaps you were expecting some surprise, for me to reveal a secret that had eluded you, something that would change your perspective of events, shatter you to your core. There is no great revelation, no great secret. There is only you."
- Darth Traya

A couple of weeks back, I've been suffering from a lack of an hour or so of sleep due to contemplating on how to get Dark Side points back for my Jedi Consular, Darth Ftaghn.

To give a little background, I was up late at night in the middle of the work week playing a rather old game called Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords (or KOTOR, as I'll identify it from now on). Granted, I was not up as late as I would have been were I a few years younger (not that my health wouldn't allow it nowadays) - but that's a different story altogether.

Like some of the games I've reviewed some time ago, KOTOR is a product of Bioware albeit set in the beloved Star Wars universe (a few thousand years before the movies' events occurred). I won't write about whether Bioware's writing has gone uphill or otherwise over the years (because I'm not an English major qualified for that), but KOTOR was made with the same essence as Dragon Age and Mass Effect: roleplaying at its finest where a character's (and their companions') fate are ultimately affected by moral choices.

What I could say, however, is that the Star Wars franchise lends itself well to the rules of the genre as evidenced by two titles (and an MMO) borne out of the troubled KOTOR series. Despite the many bugs and other quirks (which fans have taken upon themselves to fix due to LucasArts' inaction), KOTOR is one of those rare titles that seemed ageless in the extremely competitive arena of video games.

The mythology of the franchise's central concept, the all-encompassing Force, is one that has left fans enamored not just in the films but also in the rich expanded universe. While the divide between the Light and Dark side is more finely seen in the films, the freedom to interpret the force independently makes other media just as interesting, if not more so, than the six-part (or soon to be nine-part) epic.

KOTOR borrows a lot of its gameplay systems from another classic of gaming: the revered Dungeons and Dragons franchise. One of these systems is the character alignment chart which is often used to this day to loosely define how characters behave in relation to the situations that surround them. In a nutshell, each alignment consists of two qualities. First is a character's disposition towards the laws of society (Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic) followed by their general moral standing (Good, Neutral and Evil) making a total of nine different alignments.

This enables characters to be more dynamically represented in a system that relies on numbers and allows them be represented in various shades of gray as opposed to a simple black-and-white dichotomy. The alignment chart allows interesting characters to exist in a roleplaying concept - a gritty space marine willing to cut corners and ensure victory regardless of the cost (Renegade Shepard), godlike entities with very little concern for the welfare of the insignificant worlds they destroy for sustenance (Galactus, who seems to be Pure Neutral) and warlords seeking to crush insurgency in a seemingly destitute empire (Darth Vader, who is Lawful Evil).

Hence, Darth Ftaghn.

It's amazing to see how good writing defines games, and how KOTOR managed to prevent the story from becoming an unrecognizable mess even if I didn't exactly play it according to what a Sith Lord would do.

Telos on its way to restoration. Dantooine safe from the mercenary armies seeking to strip it of its spoils. Nar Shaddaa bathed in the blood of gangs. A coup on Onderon, backed by the ruthless Mandalorians. Korriban's dark secrets explored.

And five Jedi Masters - Atris, Vrook Lamar, Zez-Kai Ell, Kavar and Lonna Vash - were killed in a vendetta that stretched across the galaxy like a wound in the Force.

Ftaghn was a brutally just character, but his heart beat with the whispers of vengeance and thus he was led to the Dark Side leaving behind a trail of blood of those who had stood in his way. Perhaps he has saved more lives than he has taken, and it is this paradox that makes Knights of the Old Republic such an excellent game.

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