Friday Flashback! Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Starting today (and running forever), is the first of our Friday Flashback features.  We we going to go with Thursday Throwback but ran out of time.  Once a week we’ll pick an Xbox game from the annul’s of time and tell you a little bit about what it meant to us and any long lasting impact on the gaming landscape.  Here goes.

The launch of Bioware’s newest game in the form of Mass Effect: Andromeda has got me thinking about the game that started it all – on console at least.  Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic (KOTOR) was a masterclass in taking a hugely popular license and adapting it to suit the type of game being made without losing what made the IP great in the first place.  Set 4000 years before Luke Skywalker et al were even a twinkle in the milkman’s eye, the setting meant Bioware could use locations and concepts that were familiar to long time Star Wars fans without having to stick to rigidly to established canon.

KOTOR woke you aboard a huge Republic battleship under attack by a Sith fleet.  Round based combat was the order of the day with a huge number of recruitable party members available and upgradable in different ways.  Near-fully voice acted games were a rarity back in 2003, but it was the quality of the speech that really stood out.  Drew Karpyshyn, a name many will recognise as writer of several of the Mass Effect spin-off novels, wove the much re-hashed amnesia type story-line beautifully, meandering throughout before smacking you in the face with that belter of a twist right at the end.  Hindsight tells me I should have seen it coming but I’m glad I didn’t; it’s the reason KOTOR sticks in my mind as one of the finest video game stories of all time.

I had just turned 16 when the game launched and walked into Gamestation without even knowing it had come out.  I picked it up there and then.  I’d played some decent role-playing games on console up to that point.  Final Fantasy VIII a few years previous, on PSX, was the one that really got me into gaming, but nothing like this.  I could choose my response in conversations and the story reacted to the choice I had made.  The game would then track these choices and characters would recognise where you lay on the moral spectrum.  It was absolutely incredible 14 years back. It’s since been copied in umpteen other games; if a modern rpg doesn’t have a morality system it’s seen as missing a key component.

Oh, and you could craft and use your own lightsabers!

I attempted a replay a year or so back and time hasn’t been as kind to it as I would have liked.  That said it’s backwards compatible on the 360 and you can pick up a copy for under £10 if you look around.  Don’t even hesitate if you’re yet to play.  Share some of your own memories in the comments below.

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