Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Antagonists: Knights of the Old Republic

Knights of the Old Republic still marks a high point in computer games within the Star Wars franchise. It was my first foray back into the universe on a computer since the days of X-Wing, and I wasn't disappointed.  I'll confess I'm not a Star Wars fanatic, but I was still keen to give the game a shot when it finally came out for the PC rather than the XBox. Spoilers ahoy...

The player starts off as a lowly officer onboard a ship which is attacked. They barely manage to make it off the ship alive along with Carth Onasi, a pilot. The pair land on Taris, a Sith controlled planet, and must find Bastila Shan, a powerful Jedi with the "Battle Meditation" ability.  After rescuing her, the player is ordered by the Jedi council to counter the plans of the dangerous Sith Darth Malak, who betrayed his former master Darth Revan to assume control of Sith forces.  He is hunting for something called The Star Forge, which can only be located by finding a number of Star Maps scattered about the galaxy.

Bastila Shan proudly wears designer Jedi clothing.

With Bastila and other allies who you gather upon the way, you retrieve several Star Maps and fight some of Malak's forces, eventually killing his apprentice Darth Bandon.  However, you are then captured by Darth Malak along with all your allies. You, Bastila and Carth are then tortured, and Darth Malak reveals that you have been duped by Bastila and the other Jedi. You are in fact Revan, stripped of your memories through the powers of the force and sent to fight the apprentice who betrayed you. You escape, but Bastila is captured during the attempt.

You track Darth Malak to the Star Forge, which is a giant structure capable of creating thousands of starships. There you find that Bastila has been turned to the Dark Side due to Malak's torturing. After dealing with her, you finally make you way to Malak and dispose of him, either choosing to reclaim your role as a Sith lord or saving the Republic by destroying the Star Forge.

Just wondering, Malak... have you heard of breath mints?

Malak starts off as the classic bad guy, particularly in the Star Wars universe. He turned on his master in attempt to kill him along with a group of Jedi, and wants to rule everything. He sends a bounty hunter to kill you, though a very talented one, then his favoured apprentice.  In this he falls slightly into the classic arch-villain threaten of underestimating his opponent, especially seeing as when he sends his apprentice after you, he should know your real identity. Then Malak reveals your identity personally, and then steals your ally/friend/love interest in the form of Bastila, and turns them against you giving you another reason to want to destroy him. So he gives every for you to hate him, yet for me, he never quite achieved greatness. Why?

Lightsabers, lightsabers... everybody's got lightsabers...

Perhaps it's because of that twist sequence in the game, in which you first meet Malak face to face. Having been chasing your own tail (quite literally) to catch up to him, you're suddenly captured and placed under his control.  When the reveal of your identity comes, directly from Malak himself, it both weakens and strengthens him as an antagonist. On one hand, you've got even more reason to want to defeat him, because he's already betrayed you and attempted to kill you once before.  But on the other, the twist of the plot makes the whole encounter feel more about you as a character/player than it does about him as a villain.

This is even further pushed by the fact that when you escape from his ship, Bastila stays behind to prevent him from defeating you. You saved her at the start of the game, but now she considers you to be the key to defeating Malak. You were his master once before, and you will prove to be his better once again.

At this point, Malak strangely ignores you and treats Bastila as the tool of his victory through her battle meditation. The problem seems to be that Malak is not the vanguard of destruction, but merely uses others to do his bidding. He rose to power in your shadow before seizing control, doesn't kill you when he has the chance, then treats Bastila as his new toy. There's plenty of reasons to dislike or hate Malak, but there's never any real reason to fear him besides the admonition of NPCs that "he is a powerful Sith".

He looks deadly... why not show that side of him?

The problem is that his actions don't match his reputation as a fearsome warrior until you finally face him in battle, and even then, he's only powerful because of his tools in the form of captured Jedi he uses to fuel his power. He's constantly made out as the ultimate warrior, but in reality, he doesn't live up to the hype.

In defeat, he possesses some remorse, questioning what would have happened if your positions had been reversed. This comes across as a slight attempt for redemption that is a particularly nice touch for the light side player. So ultimately, Malak comes off as a somewhat complex character, from the scheming villain masterminding his rise to power and willing to do anything for victory, to regretting his failure in defeat and disgrace. He comes off as an interesting and worthy adversary, but never truly achieves the lofty heights of a grand villain that you love to hate.

There's some really nice elements to KotOR, and I've heard many people declare it their favourite game/RPG. It has the flaw of requiring a lot of backtracking during play, and is also a little hamstrung by the Star Wars moral dichotomy of "Light Side saviour of everything and everyone" vs "Dark Side puppy-murderer", but it's still a great game. Maybe Darth Malak isn't the greatest video game villain of all time, but when the story ends up revolving around you as the player to such a great degree... does he really need to be?


  1. Great Sith aren't defined by their brute strength. They work in the shadows where they scheme and plan to achieve power. While some of them are physically/force powerful, it's not what got them where they are (e.g palpatine, darth bane). I agree that the boss fight was disappointing and certainly damaging to his reputation, but I'd also be surprised if he made out to be some ridiculously powerful boss-brute. It would overshadow his more important characteristics.

  2. As stated, I'm not a massive Star Wars fan, so I don't know what makes a "Great Sith". However, I do know that all the other Jedi NPCs kept telling me how dangerous Malak was and how he would kill me if he found me. That's more what I took issue with, the fact that his character didn't match what I'd been told about him by multiple NPCs.
    I still *liked* Malak, I just didn't *love* him.

  3. This game was great for the following reasons:

    1. HK-47

    2. The plot twist

    3. The ability to play the entire game with Bastila wearing just her underwear