KOTOR 1 & 2 comparison

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Stewart M
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KOTOR 1 & 2 comparison

Post by Stewart M » 2019-02-22 12:10am

Several months ago, I started playing KOTOR 2 off an on. I played the original almost a decade ago. The sequel isn't exactly "fun" (I've grown impatient with old-school RPGs), but it is compelling. Playing KOTOR 2 gave an unsettling feeling that I've rarely felt from any fiction*. It took me a long time to put this feeling into words**. But I've finally found a way to describe it, and I'm so proud of myself that I wanted to share my epiphany.

Imagine the Star Wars franchise is the Disney movie canon. Today that is literally true, but I mean the likes of Cinderella and Toy Story.

A kid watching these films wants to meet the characters they’ve grown to love. So they go to Disney World. KOTOR 1 is Disney World. The well-made rides and attractions do a fantastic job of convincing you you’re in the fantasy. Even the frightening bits are Disney-brand frightening, and the thrills are Disney thrills. It’s all very carefully packaged and on-brand.

But imagine if, at the end of this great day at Disney World, our innocent child wanders across an unmarked door leading to a dank hallway - clearly not intended for guests. Voices echo from a room at the end. The kid tiptoes over and finds a staff break room. This is somewhat forbidden territory for a child, so he keeps to the shadow. Inside are Snow White and Buzz Lightyear and Micky Mouse and Winnie-the-Pooh. Their costumes are still on, but they’re no longer in character. Far from it.

Snow White is silently crying over a mug of coffee. Her eyes are red but her face is expressionless. She stares at nothing.

Buzz Lightyear is cradling a pay phone to his ear as he leans against the wall. He’s arguing loudly, just short of yelling, with someone about “joint custody” and “his weekend with Amy”. Buzz is being careful to use polite language, but even the child can see he’s scowling the way granddad does when he curses at the news.

Mickey Mouse is playing a game with a pocket knife, quickly stabbing the table between each of his fingers in sequence. This is impressive considering the size of his gloves. Every so often he stops and stares at Snow White from across the room, looking her up and down.

Winnie-the-Pooh is doing one-armed push-ups in the corner next to a boom box playing Wu-Tang Clan.

Yes, these characters are all Disney, but this scene just isn’t Disney. This bleak room behind the theme park is KOTOR 2.


*The best comparison that comes to mind is Max Payne 2, which is also unnervingly referential towards its first game. However, the unsettling feeling from the Max Payne duology is not as serious as the KOTOR example since the first Max Payne game was already darkly self-aware. Both have lots of commentary about violent cop thrillers, psychological dramas, and video games, while being all those things, so the sequel was more a change in style than message.

** I would love to have a conversation with Chris Avellone. I would also also love to know the lead content of the paint huffed by whichever LucasArts executive was supposed to perform editorial oversight over his script. Has anything so subversive been officially backed by the Lucas empire before or since?

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Lord Revan
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Re: KOTOR 1 & 2 comparison

Post by Lord Revan » 2019-02-22 05:37am

I think part of the problem is that KOTOR 2 was really rushed. If you look at production of KOTOR 2 something 1/3 of the intended story was left in the cutting room floor
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Re: KOTOR 1 & 2 comparison

Post by Civil War Man » 2019-02-22 09:08am

It did have a problem with being unfinished, though there is that community patch that restores a lot of the cut content, particularly in the finale.

As for the OP, I think that unsettling feeling is by and large exactly what Obsidian was going for. I've seen a lot of comparisons between KOTOR 2 and The Last Jedi, in that they are both aiming to be in-universe deconstructions of both Star Wars as a whole and the Force in particular, though usually when I hear those comparisons it's from someone expressing their opinion that KOTOR 2 did it a lot better.

Without delving into spoilers (since there was no mention of the OP finishing the game), I think a core part of what makes the game feel subversive, and probably why a lot of people think it did a better job of it than The Last Jedi, is that it disconnects the ideological war between the Jedi and the Sith from the Republic/Empire dichotomy. It's the only Star Wars story I can think of where neither the Jedi nor the Sith are in ascendance. Even the stories that focus on non-Force users take place in a setting where Force users are at the core of the society they exist in. In KOTOR 2, as far as the average person can tell there are no Force users left. What few do remain are hidden, either cutting themselves off from society or operating in secret. On top of that, the Republic is ostensibly at peace, with no outside threats like the Mandalorians or the Empire or the CIS attacking it, but it's all coming apart at the seams. It feels a bit like a comic book story where Earth has had superheroes for centuries, and then after a big war all of the superheroes mysteriously vanish with no real indication of where they went or what happened to them.

It's also interesting in that it's one of those games where the story also contains meta commentary on games and game stories. Kind of like how the stories of Bioshock and Spec Ops: The Line are commentaries on determinism and player choice, a major part of KOTOR 2's story is about player progression and power growth in RPGs. Again, without getting into spoilers, the finale is pretty mechanically easy, since the game's based on 3rd Ed D&D and that system gets really wonky when you get above level 20, but Obsidian actually gives an in-story explanation for why that happens.

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Re: KOTOR 1 & 2 comparison

Post by Lord Revan » 2019-02-22 11:14am

Civil War Man wrote:
2019-02-22 09:08am
It did have a problem with being unfinished, though there is that community patch that restores a lot of the cut content, particularly in the finale.

As for the OP, I think that unsettling feeling is by and large exactly what Obsidian was going for. I've seen a lot of comparisons between KOTOR 2 and The Last Jedi, in that they are both aiming to be in-universe deconstructions of both Star Wars as a whole and the Force in particular, though usually when I hear those comparisons it's from someone expressing their opinion that KOTOR 2 did it a lot better.

Without delving into spoilers (since there was no mention of the OP finishing the game), I think a core part of what makes the game feel subversive, and probably why a lot of people think it did a better job of it than The Last Jedi, is that it disconnects the ideological war between the Jedi and the Sith from the Republic/Empire dichotomy. It's the only Star Wars story I can think of where neither the Jedi nor the Sith are in ascendance. Even the stories that focus on non-Force users take place in a setting where Force users are at the core of the society they exist in. In KOTOR 2, as far as the average person can tell there are no Force users left. What few do remain are hidden, either cutting themselves off from society or operating in secret. On top of that, the Republic is ostensibly at peace, with no outside threats like the Mandalorians or the Empire or the CIS attacking it, but it's all coming apart at the seams. It feels a bit like a comic book story where Earth has had superheroes for centuries, and then after a big war all of the superheroes mysteriously vanish with no real indication of where they went or what happened to them.

It's also interesting in that it's one of those games where the story also contains meta commentary on games and game stories. Kind of like how the stories of Bioshock and Spec Ops: The Line are commentaries on determinism and player choice, a major part of KOTOR 2's story is about player progression and power growth in RPGs. Again, without getting into spoilers, the finale is pretty mechanically easy, since the game's based on 3rd Ed D&D and that system gets really wonky when you get above level 20, but Obsidian actually gives an in-story explanation for why that happens.
I think part of why KOTOR2 works and the Last Jedi fails is that KOTOR2 ultimately respects its audience to make the choice to accept the message being told or not accept it. The Last Jedi instead tries to force (excuse the pun) the message on to the audience.
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Re: KOTOR 1 & 2 comparison

Post by Gunhead » 2019-02-22 01:24pm

Funny thing, while I generally think Jedi are utter trash with liberal sprinkling of boring, I did like KOTORs pretty well. As games they're shit, but the story is good enough in both to warrant multiple playthroughs. A lot of it is thanks to memorable side characters and it's one game where two way moral system makes some modicum of sense, I'm looking at you Mass Effect.... Shame no one has made a new KOTOR with more emphasis on making the gameplay itself more engaging, specially combat.

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Re: KOTOR 1 & 2 comparison

Post by FaxModem1 » 2019-02-22 09:36pm

I like the comparison to breaking into the backroom of Disneyworld. It is that, but at the same time, there's still room for the good side of Star Wars to be there, without breaking the setting. I would say it is akin to breaking into that dark room, but at the same time, going up to Snow White and giving her a hug, helping her through her crisis.

Yes, there is a light side, and a dark side. And the road between them is complicated and easier to fall into than one thinks, while also not being the land of everyone who has ever disagreed with the Jedi. There's room for you to tell Kreia that her conclusions about the force are wrong.

Atton's backstory is proof of what the Jedi are, and how even in a horrible place like the setting of KOTOR 2, there can be beacons of morality and goodness. At the same time, we see the Jedi Council interpret the Exile as something different from what she really is. Because they haven't learned from the "Jedi Civil War'. We see potential avenues the Jedi can go, such as Kreia's direction, the old Jedi Council's, and Atris's idea to preserve the knowledge without preserving the order. These are interesting directions, and we see how they fall apart.

The game also goes places that other Star Wars works haven't really gone to. The whole mining base at the start of the game is essentially a Survival Horror game, in Star Wars. If you're coming in blind from Star Wars, seeing a place where a bunch of people killed each other, or were killed by droids, and it makes you want to turn your head and look at R2D2, wondering about his relationship with the rest of the main cast.

But what makes this work, at least, if the content was finished, is the Exile's place in it. Yes, this is how far the galaxy has fallen, but your main character's job is to restore it back to what it was, and rebuild the Jedi Order. You recruit a bunch of people broken by the past, and you can bring them into the Jedi Order.

A broken bounty hunter, and make her embrace the good she can do, so that she can stop running.
A former Sith pilot, who used to be really good at hurting and killing Jedi, now a Jedi himself and helping others.
A woman raised to guard the Jedi knowledge without ever using that knowledge herself, becomes awakened to what she was guarding.
A man who tries to fix all the damage he's done mechanically, now learns that there are other ways to fix things.

They don't fall blindly into the Star Wars archetypes, but they are still mold-able enough to get back to being heroes. At least, that's what I took from it.
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Re: KOTOR 1 & 2 comparison

Post by Civil War Man » 2019-02-24 12:46pm

One of the interesting things about being able to train some of KOTOR 2's party members to be Jedi is that there are two ways to do it, since the influence system either drives them towards your alignment when you gain influence, or away when you lose it, and training them only requires them to be at one of the extremes. A Sith Exile could manipulate them into having positive influence and turn them into a Dark Jedi, or intentionally alienate them and train them to be a regular Jedi, and vice versa for a Light Side Exile. So you can actually benefit from losing influence with a party member, as opposed to it just being a sign that you screwed up your playthrough. It's a little like the companions in Dragon Age 2 or handlers in Alpha Protocol where you get different bonuses depending on whether you befriend them or alienate them.

KOTOR 2 also had a bit more nuance than you'd expect in a Light Side/Dark Side morality system. I liked how it was possible to play a Light Side Exile who regretted following Revan in the Mandalorian War, as well as one who had no regrets and would make the exact same choice again in a heartbeat. In a lot of other games that had good and evil paths, it all boiled down to being given a quest, where the good choice is to do the quest and refuse the reward, while the evil choice is to murder the quest giver for no reason. KOTOR 2 toys with this a bit with things like, to use the most famous example, coming across a guy being threatened by some thugs, and saving him the Dark Side way by mentally dominating the thugs and forcing them to commit suicide in front of their victim.

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