RPGs are often defined as their own genre, but the fact of the matter is that, much like FPS games, there’s different types of RPG. JRPGs, or Japanese RPGs, are typically known for the strong story and somewhat rigid gameplay system. CRPGs, or Computer RPGs as they’re often referred to in the West, tend to focus on a more open gameplay style rather than their story.
Later in the genre’s lifespan, though, games would come out with which try to emphasize both gameplay and story. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – or KOTOR, as it’s mostly known these days – was a great example back in 2003 on the original Xbox console of an effort to combine the two, and now it’s available on Switch.
As a nameless soldier aboard the Republic ship Endar Spire, you don’t expect too much action. You certainly don’t expect the ship to be attacked by a Sith strike fleet, especially when a Sith Lord is on board gunning for you. In your efforts to escape, you end up on another world. Now you’ll need to navigate a new culture, find your Jedi commander, ensure your companions work together and determine your way back into space. That’s just the opening, by the way. Expect a lot more to go on as you proceed.
You’ll run around chatting up party members and NPCs alike as well as using your skills to survive in a hostile world. Talking to people is one of the highlights of Bioware games, particularly if you don’t think too hard about how silly these folks tend to be. Carth, your first party member, is comically untrusting, there’s a Jedi later who’s comically arrogant and so on…it’s the epitome of video game characterization, really. Combine this with the Light Side and Dark Side morality system where your character’s capabilities as a Force user are based largely on your dialogue choices and it leads to a somewhat rough experience that’s meant to be played two times at most.
The other half of things is, of course, combat. This runs on a sort of simplified D20 system – I’m not actually sure if this maps to any existing tabletop system, but here we are. Roll a 20, add modifiers, determine if you hit that way then determine damage. It’s the sort of system that really rewards min-maxing characters, so while it might seem like there’s a lot of customization available at first that’s less of the case than one might think.
You want a melee fighter? Dump into strength. You want a ranged fighter? Dump into constitution. You want a caster? Good luck with that, since Force powers aren’t available for some time, but you’ll want a lot of Wisdom. This is an earlier CRPG, so this isn’t meant to put down the game – but it is what it is. Likewise, your character changes classes as the game progresses, so to get the most of your experience you might want to wait to level up until this happens. That might not be the most satisfying experience at first, but later on you’ll find yourself having a better time with your more powerful hero.
It might sound like I’m down on this game, but the reality is that this game is more foundational than anything. If you’ve played Mass Effect or Dragon Age, for instance, it should become clear pretty quickly how much they owe to KOTOR. Bioware took what worked in this game and built on it, making for far more immersive RPGs later on. Even KOTOR 2 is a superior title that does a lot of exciting things that the original game doesn’t – but that doesn’t mean the original isn’t worth playing.
One of the perks of this being an older game is that the Switch can handle it without too many issues. On handheld or Docked mode alike, you’ll be getting an experience that surpasses the original Xbox version from 2003. There’s something to be said for older games being treated well on modern hardware.
“An older game” really sums this one up. It’s the prototypical example of what would become the Bioware RPG – a subgenre exemplified by the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games. That means there’s some quirks, both from a gameplay and presentation side, that one is going to have to grow accustomed to. On the other hand, with patience (and a fair amount of Star Wars fandom) there’s plenty to check out here. New players ought to try Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on Switch. Returning fans, though, may find themselves better served by a modded version of the game on PC.