The KotOR Comparison Part 1: Beginnings

“May the Force be with you, is that how it goes? Yes, may the Force be with you.” – Gar, Knights of the Old Republic

Firstly, let’s look at how the opening crawl sets up each game. KotOR’s is as follows:

Four thousand years before
the rise of the Galactic
Empire, the Republic verges
on collapse. DARTH MALAK,
last surviving apprentice of
the DARK LORD REVAN, has
unleashed an invincible
Sith armada upon an
unsuspecting galaxy.

Crushing all resistance,
Malak’s war of conquest
has left the Jedi Order
scattered and vulnerable
as countless Knights fall in
battle, and many more
swear allegiance to the new
Sith Master.

In the skies above the Outer
Rim world of Taris, a Jedi
battle fleet engages the
forces of Darth Malak in a
desperate effort to halt the
Sith’s galactic domination…

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/ca/50/f9/ca50f9b77c88f2ef17dcc19ed084270d.jpg
Fun fact: Darth Malak used to be a friendly Jedi named Alek, now he’s all evil and suffers from the worst case of osteomyelitis in galactic history.

This is simple, effective, sets up the story without giving too much away and introduces enough new elements to distinguish the product from its movie based predecessors while also harkening back to them. There is a balance of good and evil apparent simply by how it’s written, even if evil seems to be prevailing. Now let’s take a look at the opening crawl for TSL:

It is a perilous time for the
galaxy. A brutal civil war has
all but destroyed the Jedi
Order, leaving the ailing
Republic on the verge of
collapse.

Amid the turmoil, the evil
Sith have spread across the
galaxy, hunting down and
destroying the remaining
Jedi Knights.

Narrowly escaping a deadly
Sith ambush, the last known
Jedi clings to life aboard a
battered freighter near the
ravaged world of Peragus….…

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/4b/a6/43/4ba643092012935996b6aefe9fbd056e.jpg
Pictured from right to left: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Far less specific, far more hopeless, and in a way far more interesting as practically nothing is given away to us. It also sets up the circumstances and the situation of the second as far more dire. “Countless Knights fall in battle” is dark, but it still tells us there are Knights to fall. TSL begins by telling us the Sith are “destroying the remaining Jedi Knights”. Jedi aren’t dying; they have died, and the last known Jedi is barely alive. KotOR’s crawl is reminiscent of the beginning of A New Hope, and because of that direct association with the movie in our heads we are filled with just that; Hope. TSL’s is far more difficult to associate to other Star Wars stories; the best comparison I can think of would be Return of the Jedi but even then there is far less of a heroic endevour here. KotOR’s “desperate effort” is still an attempt; TSL’s opening is a description of a battered and broken Galaxy barely holding itself together, almost as if it has been abandoned by the Force. The Force balances the galaxy through predestination, and it cannot try here because the threat is unknown and it lacks the strength to do so. But enough of that, on with the opening cutscenes!

The cutscenes are nothing to write home about in either game really. Most are just shots of your ship taking off, landing or evading enemy fire, though some are prerendered character interactions. This is slightly baffling as these could be shown as in-game cinematics rather than pixellated prerenders, I mean they’re all done with the in game engine, there is really no need except to save space on a disk. Tangent aside, the first game opens with a large battle in space as described in the opening crawl. It’s a cluttered mess of lasers and ships, perfectly depicting the chaos of the few (Jedi) versus the many (Sith). The second game begins with your badly damaged ship rocketing towards an asteroid field. Again, this sets up the atmosphere of KotOR II; you are damaged, you are in inescapable danger and most importantly, you are alone. Both games are very different in this regard, especially when you compare the opening tutorial segments.

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/starwars/images/d/d7/Endar_Spire_Duel.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20090720024037
The eternal conflict between Jedi and Sith personified in awkwardly dated 2003 graphical form! Both of these people are disposable and die seconds after this.

KotOR begins with the player character (who you can completely customise with gender, class, skill options) waking up aboard the focus of the of the Sith attack, The Endar Spire. You are then given your first party member who in true Bioware fashion dies before you leave the ship. He and main character Carth guide you through the ship and the game mechanics until you find the last escape pod and leave the doomed vessel for the planet of Taris. It’s a fun simple introduction that again gets across what it needs to, while introducing the alignment system without actually giving you any light side or dark side points. It’s riding the speeder with really heavy training wheels, which makes it a pain to go through when replaying the game, but it is quick enough to be forgivable.

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/starwars/images/8/85/Escapepodkotor.JPG/revision/latest?cb=20071006170850
I can see a new horizon underneath a blazing ship, won’t be where Trask is dying higher and higher! I could be a Sith in motion, but I wanna be a Jedi Knight, take me from the destruction of St. Endar Spire!”

TSL again begins on a darker note with its prologue, but it is also entirely skippable, a welcomed option after the unskippable tedium of the Endar Spire. Here, the player character is clinging to life, there’s a dead old woman on the floor and you take control of a damaged astromech droid. T3-M4 is a party member in both installments, and he is tasked with stabilising both the ship and the Exile (whose canon name is Meetra Surik, but for the sake of in-game analysis I’m just going to refer to her/him as the Exile) before arriving at the Peragus Mining Facility. Everything about this opening screams doom at the player; the ship’s hull has been penetrated, the lights are flickering, internal sections of the ship are severely damaged or destroyed and there’s a goddamn dead lady with weird eyes just lying on the ground. It’s eerie stuff that engages you regardless of whether or not you’ve played the original. The only con is the fact that you do not begin as the Exile, which depersonalises the journey somewhat (the game is more liberal in its relinquishing of player control to NPCs than the original), and perhaps the fact that the tutorial voice distracts from the immersion to an extent, especially considering that a vast majority of Trask Ulgo’s (your first party member) dialogue on The Endar Spire contains optional tutorial selections.

https://i2.wp.com/assiste.free.fr/kotor_2/images/003_2_ebon_hawk_cokpit_1.gif
In short, TSL’s prologue is the droid equivalent of waking up on someone else’s couch and being all like “the fuck did I do last night?”

Overall, which game has the better introduction? Well, as far as direct functionality, accessibility and, I have to be frank, more fun gameplay, the first easily takes it. However, as far as atmosphere, tone and presentation (awkward yet necessary tutorial computer lady aside) goes, TSL is far more interesting and carries more depth. It perfectly represents extinction as KotOR represents struggle, which is perhaps best represented by the presence of Jedi in both introductions (The Endar Spire has two Sith and a Jedi, one of many killed but presented in a manner that suggests Jedi are somewhat disposable, while the Ebon Hawk has a single Jedi on board severely injured). As tHess games really prioritise narrative and characters, I have to give the point to TSL. These games focus on two entirely different forms of conflict, and they become more and more distinct from each other as they progress. For Part 2, we will be looking at the extended tutorial environments; the Outer Rim planet of Taris and the Mining Facility of Peragus. Until then, may the Force be with us all…

 

SCORE

KotOR: 0

TSL: 1

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