Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Star Wars KOTOR II Playthrough Pt 2 - Exiting Peragus, Telos, Hidden Academy

Bao-Dur is probably my favorite character in the grand scheme of KOTOR II's companions. Being Obsidian, the relationship isn't perfect and both are reflective upon each other. Both of you are veterans of the Mandalorian War, and while you went off to be exiled from your order, Bao-Dur put himself in exile at Telos trying to fix its completely screwed over ecosystem with his tech knowledge. He buries all of his pain and guilt deep beneath his lucid, calm demeanor, and tries to do something that will save lives instead of ending them.

The Exile and he both have a great relationship - it's not happy, but their camaraderie is tight from the getgo. Atton basically fell into your lap (canonically, I think he literally does by the end), Kreia was in the wrong place at the wrong time and now can't leave you, T3 is a loyal servant, and Handmaiden is sent to spy on you. Bao is the one who you feel actually close to, even though you don't remember him at the start. He is a loyal friend.

If you go Light Side, the Exile is just as tortured by what he did as anyone, even though it was for a good cause. Their pain makes them closer. There's no gallows humor, just a lot of despair and unity in how they both feel like horrible murderers and are doing what they can to make the world better. It's a very unique relationship.
Bao-Dur's revulsion at Dark Side actions is some of the most damning in the game.


The section section in Tutorial Planet Telos is where the game stops being nice, yet it offers you only Bao-Dur to accompany you, another tech guy. This game really wanted you to play Guardian. I now have two tech guys (T3), a rogue, and a cleric.

Bao-Dur might not be the toughest warrior, but until Handmaiden shows up to bludgeon things to shit with her telescoping pole like the future version of Donatello (it was a real thing in Archie, look it up), he's the best I've got (which is not great). 14 strength is something.

Due to the sheer volume of mercenaries and robots I had to fight to get out of that area and to the Hidden Academy run by Atris, I ended up dropping the difficulty to get through some of the tougher fights, and I blame this entirely on my not choosing Guardian. I worry the game resents me for it - as though the warning at the start of the game wasn't trying to advise new players, but instead refusing was the game giving me the silent treatment and passive-aggressively glaring at me the whole game.


I like how the game seems to subvert the player's knowledge of Star Wars as a whole. Much of the figures from the first film are in place, such as the wise mentor Jedi, the scrappy rogue, and the villain, but it throws everything into reverse. Kreia is the complete reverse of Obi-Wan's mystery - you literally do not know if she's good or bad. She lands solidly neutral on the character screen and much of her actions seem to imply neutrality is the best path, and she's bitterly cynical of your actions at every turn. Yet, unlike South Park, she always knows where she's going and feels like she has real reasons behind being this way, even if she doesn't say it to you. Meanwhile, Atton's own secret slips to light and he begs Kreia not to tell, calling him a murderer. Han Solo dashing-rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold, he ain't.

From the getgo, Chris Avellone and the Obsidian team make you know this is by them. Kreia's not-malicious-but-not-altruistic outlook is a incredibly hard to get a handle on, and you start to wonder if this is this game's Ravel Puzzlewall; a curious, enigmatic old woman who communicates the game's prevailing themes without you knowing (and spoiler warning, this is pretty much the case). And yet, instead of dying in conflict with him to create a connection to the hero, her hand is cut off, awakening you to a connection that already exists.

Even this early on the writing still fascinates me in how good it is. Characters talk like real people, with Star Wars slang and lingo slipped in. Everyone is a character and feel real, not just a cliche the game felt like it needed to land on (in retrospect, maybe I was a bit unkind to KOTOR, maybe it was shooting to fit in the shoes of Star Wars IV). Even T3, once you get talking to him, has enough of an independent personality to stand alone. He even ends up fleshing out exactly why it is you're running around with the Ebon Hawk, something that, written by lesser talent, would be like the Millennium Falcon showing up in other areas. Even the dumb subquests have gravity and meaning.

People stick to you for a reason, like Bao-Dur's -camaraderie, Kreia's bond, 'Forces' you to stay with her, and T3's direct order given by Bastila herself. The only one who seems to not really state why is not revealed other than some vague mention of your presence and maybe the sorta-friendship he has with you, which (in true Obsidian fashion) I seem to remember being mostly bullshit. Everyone has their reason for what they do. There's no dumb shrug and "guess I'll hang with you now, got nothin' better to do."


The dialogue in this game is superb, seriously. I think the main reason I feel more kind to KOTOR II is because it doesn't insult your intelligence - I recall picking a Soldier in the first game and the tutorial character calling you "a powerful warrior," which not only shatters the concept of this game trying to be serious, but breaks the fourth wall a bit too. Seriously, who says "powerful" in terms of "fighting"? It breaches even the concepts of fantasy-in-space and makes the whole thing an episode of Dragon Ball Z, where power levels are discussed and measured as a fast-track way to set the stakes.

Meanwhile, in KOTOR II, characters exchange dialogue about The Force, the Dark Side, the Sith, and stuff like it much in the same way characters in Rokugan would discuss bushido, honor, and in-world politics.* It might come off a bit heavy-handed, but this is the universe these characters live in - thinking about the comparison between the two reminds me of when The Dark Knight landed at the theaters and movie critics insisted it was genuinely like any crime drama, such as the film Heat (because, at that time, people needed to be told that in a comic book film). Obsidian writes characters in their world with respect of what that world means for people that would exist in it, and it's so, so nice.**

Take the argument with Atris, a Jedi Master who was present for your exile. She hates you for turning your back on the Jedi Order and running off to fight in a war against their orders. You can (I think, I didn't re-play the segment) either confirm her suspicions of falling to the Dark Side and repulse her utterly, or point out - quite rightfully - you went to war for perfectly valid reasons and neither she nor the Jedi Order have a fucking right to tell you what you did was wrong just because the men in charge were Sith.

And, much like the rest of the game, the dialogue is perfect. You can feel Atris' emotions of hatred and fascination at you and your righteous defiance, in direct conflict with the cleanly good/evil axis of Jedi and Sith that she is indoctrinated in for her whole life, twisted through years of letting these conflicting emotions just sit and boil. I'm not positive, but it feels like a Hunchback of Notre Dame situation - everything Esmerelda (Exile) does, Frollo (Atris) was raised and told that he should hate and be repulsed by, and yet they can't help themself to be both attracted and fascinated by it. Esmerelda's "disgusting" sexual display and publicly calling him out repulses him in ways that make his pants feel funny.

The Exile went to fight in a war rashly based on what she believed the right thing, siding with Sith Lords (Revan and Malak) for the purposes of saving lives by stopping the Mandalorians. This concept, fighting in a war led by evil to stop other evil, completely undoes Atris' black-and-white view of morality and the Sith and Jedi. Inside, she's forced either to reconsider her understanding of it all, or take her aggression out on the person who created this paradox. I wonder which she's going to pick!

The difference being that while Frollo just thought about it really hard, then convinced himself that it was okay because he was a devout Catholic and he'd just burn her alive if she didn't fuck him and it's alright, Atris...well, I've still got my fanfiction, but I don't think it's going to turn into a Jedi lightsaber duel that ends with lesbian makeouts (or in my case, straight ones).

*Rokugan being the fantasy world based on Japan, Korea, China, and the like. It might sound like a fetishized asian wank-sock, and the concept of Bushido doesn't help, but it's actually a very fully realized fantasy world that I like quite a bit.

**Holy shit I just made myself think of Chris Avellone and the Obsidian team working on a Rokugan wRPG and I think I need to clean myself off now.

Screenshots are taken from Google Image Search, I'm still working on a widescreen hack and haven't started taking screens yet.

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