Video games in the Star Wars franchise aren’t exactly a novelty. In fact, the very first Star Wars game ever released was Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which launched in 1982, two years after the same-name film, and five years after the beginning of one of the world’s most famous franchises. Of course, as the franchise’s popularity grew, so did the number of accompanying video games, and soon, everyone wondered how it would feel to play with a Jedi Knight as a protagonist.
Well, it took nine years for gaming developers to answer that question; 1991’s Star Wars video game was the first to feature a playable Jedi character. However, it took 21 years for the gaming industry to finally nail the experience, when in 2003, BioWare released their Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) — the best Star Wars video game ever made.
Let be honest; while over one hundred games based on the Star Wars franchise have been released to date, only 30 of them allow you to play as a Jedi Knight, and KOTOR ranks as the best Star Wars game ever — by no means a small feat, with so many games competing for the position. But what made KOTOR the best Star Wars video game ever, and how did an 18-year-old game manage to stay at the top of the Star Wars ranking charts since the day it was released?
Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic is truly set in a galaxy far, far away, though our statement has nothing to do with the location of the game, but the fact that it actually has nothing to do with the Star Wars films. In fact, its narrative takes place four thousand years before the events of the film, which had a massive impact on the factions and species previously seen in films. All previously established Star Wars mainstays were able to exist in the newly created setting on their own terms and in no relation to the Galactic Civil War that took place four thousand years later.
There are certain pitfalls surrounding video games in the Star Wars gaming franchise. And the major one is the tried-and-tested formula, which despite its failure, still gets used to this very day. Most of the Star Wars video games take place parallel to the films’ events and play on the protagonist’s involvement in the Galactic Civil War — which has no impact on the outcome of the story. The Rebels are going to win anyway, which limits the number of interactions between the player and the environment, as well as their outcome.
Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic, on the other hand, provided fans with the opportunity to explore the Star Wars universe like never before. The creative freedom of the development team became apparent the moment gamers were hit with the sense of exploring uncharted territories within the Star Wars narrative, which also made the game’s major plot twist possible. We’re not going to reveal what that is as not to spoil the surprise for those that haven’t played the game, but we will say it’s truly satisfying to play as a major figure from the Jedi history.
Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic was and still is a truly unique game because its gameplay was actually based on Dungeons & Dragons; the game’s RPG elements were based on the 3rd edition DnD. This actually isn’t so surprising, considering that BioWare had previously worked on immensely popular RPG video games, like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate gaming series, and translating tabletop games into virtual settings was something the studio was previously familiar with doing.
This led to the freedom of choice within the game. Players were able to choose how they wanted to complete their missions, and well-thought-out tactics were equally as viable as guns-blazing through opponents while reaching the objective. This added diversity to the gameplay, as you could play the game multiple times and never have the exact same feeling as before. Sure, the story was ultimately the same, but the path to the goal was all but beaten.
This type of gameplay was precisely what made playing as a Jedi so good. The players actually got to experience the process of becoming a Jedi, which took a serious amount of gameplay hours. But it wasn’t as simple as going through an in-game tutorial or completing a set of missions. Players underwent a series of mysterious rituals previously undisclosed within the Star Wars narrative. This not only made the process known but instilled a sense of intimacy between the players and the true meaning of being a Jedi.
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There are several other things that made Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic into the best Star Wars video game ever. For starters, Disney had nothing to do with the franchise, which gave BioWare basically unlimited creative freedom. Then there’s the emotionally packed narrative that had gamers fully at attention. Of course, playing as a Jedi was a dream come true for all Star Wars fans, but Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic took it one step further, and instead of simply dropping Jedi powers on the players, the gamers had to earn them through narrative-driven gameplay.
And lastly, there’s the aforementioned plot twist — so great that it took the gamers by surprise, with many pausing the game to brainstorm the narrative. Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic is currently available on PC and Xbox consoles, as well as Mac OS, iOS, and Android platforms. In September 2021, Aspyr Media announced a graphically-updated remake of Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic for PC and PlayStation 5, released as a timed-exclusive for PS5 before coming to other platforms.