If a series of rather reliable industry rumors are to be believed, there’s a Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remake in the works. And if there’s a KOTOR remake in the works, there’s just cause to ponder how such a monumental project can prove successful not just commercially but in the hearts and minds of long-time fans as well.
As it happens, your humble author is a long-time fan of KOTOR as well as its stellar, if unfinished, sequel. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to explore the new hyperspace routes necessary for establishing a modern successor.
The Dark Times
First, a history lesson for the folks who may not be familiar with why a KOTOR remake is such a big deal.
It was 2003. Many fans felt let down by 1999’s Episode I: The Phantom Menace and even more bummed over Episode II: Attack of the Clones in ’02. Excitement over the Star Wars franchise was pretty low considering we were in the midst of a second film trilogy. Say what you will about the 2010s’ third trilogy, and there’s a lot that can be said, but at least there have been all sorts of great side gigs like Rogue One and The Mandalorian in case you’ve not been a huge fan of the Resistance and the First Order. The Clone Wars television show is often thought of as “redeeming” the prequel era… and it was a distant glint in Lucas’ eye until years after the prequels wrapped.
Attack of the New Hope
Along came a certain game developer, known at the time for its excellent Baldur’s Gate duology. With such talented writers aboard, surely these fresh-faced BioWare folks could crank something decent out in A Galaxy Far, Far Away? Indeed, what we got was so much better than decent. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic not only went on to win a ton of Game of the Year awards at the time; its legacy has endured for over 18 years and counting. We celebrate it as one of the greatest games ever made; a breathless, character-driven adventure with an epic twist to rival that time some cyborg told his kid he was his dad.
In KOTOR, the Star Wars fantasy was realized. You learn the ways of the Force, traveling across the stars in a beat-down ship with plenty of heart, joined by stalwart and plucky allies alike. There’s a cosmic conspiracy at play and an easy-to-hate bad guy with the “Darth” moniker. Simply put, it’s a franchise peak. And after relegating its era to an MMO for a full decade and counting — no offense to fans of The Old Republic, I know it has its strengths — it’s high time we see a KOTOR remake.
I guess the Force agrees.
5) Feel Alive
The troublesome gizka. The sickening rakghoul. The shyracks, anything but shy. Star Wars is at its best when it feels lived-in and alive. It’s not so much a work of science fiction as a space fantasy thrill ride, and populating its universe with strange flora and (especially) fauna plays a vital role in maintaining such a mesmerizing appeal.
The creators behind Knights of the Old Republic understood this. It’s novelty enough exploring vast open zones on famous Star Wars worlds (and a handful of superb original creations as well), but to do so with the vibrant trills of wildlife is especially grand, and a taller order in 2003 than it would be today.
With steady advancements in the field of digital audio technology, video games are capable of feeling livelier than ever. Some publishers aren’t as concerned with this sort of thing as others, but even beneath the Star Wars umbrella, there’s at least one fairly recent title that does an exceptional job of it. For a KOTOR remake to shine, its rumored development team over at Aspyr needs to understand that its planets cannot be mere battlegrounds. They must be energetic biomes showcasing the funky frills of Mother Nature that Star Wars has been tossing out since that very first Jawa is seen getting ready to incapacitate poor R2-D2.
4) Explore the Lore
Knights of the Old Republic brought with it a fascinating bevy of lore, from the sociopolitically charged underpinnings of Taris society and colonial-era exploitation of Tatooine to the wicked cool new Force powers and whatever the heck is up with the entire Selketh race.
When Disney wiped the slate of Star Wars canon clean back in 2014, KOTOR and The Sith Lords were just two among many stories abruptly deemed nonexistent. That’s not technically true, of course; they exist in our hearts and minds, and ultimately canonicity is something one can elect not to care about in the slightest. But the point is, so much of what we love from the era of the Old Republic RPGs no longer can no longer coincide within the same dimension, if you will, as the increasingly detailed world of post-2013 expanded media.
This may sound like a dagger in the dark, but I’d argue it’s a double-edged sword. The talented team at Aspyr can reimagine Taris bolder than ever. It can breathe new life into the tale of desolate Tatooine and the venture capitalists chasing its scattered treasures. It can expand upon the crazy Force abilities and give us Selketh characters in 4K high definition. Actually, that’s kind of horrifying, but I digress.
The KOTOR remake can also take strides to sync with the existing canon in exciting ways. Mandalorian culture might need a bit of a revamp, for example, and this would be the prime place to redraw those distant origins. There could be representatives of the Togruta race (Ahsoka’s people) strolling around on Korriban for all we know. And if a character with the surname Erso should happen to appear and nobly sacrifice herself at the end, well, it’s like poetry, they rhyme.
3) Luscious Skill Tree
These days, it’s common practice to incorporate RPG-like skill trees and leveling systems into more straightforward action-adventure games. Even God of War has it, and frankly, it’s kind of surreal to see.
This wasn’t the case when Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords first arrived at the scene in the mid-2000s. There were exceptions, of course, but broadly speaking RPGs and action games kept to their own lanes. Both KOTORs employed d20-based die-roll systems and complex skill checks for every attack and defense despite a more kinetic presentation than your turn-based Dragon Quests and the like.
It should come as no Palpatine electric shock that the KOTOR remake is reportedly moving away from real-time turn-based systems and into something closer in resemblance to an action RPG. They’re all the rage right now, and they can be pretty terrific when done right. While some may lament the loss, the fact is KOTOR combat has looked like it’s trying to be more of an action RPG from the beginning. Now players can experience it as such, whilst still building their hero and companions’ stats and abilities in whichever directions they wish.
2) New Look For You
Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Now, imagine seeing the Endar Spire and the Ebon Hawk in visual fidelity as high as the above Darth Vader screenshot from Star Wars: Battlefront II.
Without knowing the graphics engine that the KOTOR remake will run on (and there’s no way it’s actually going to be EA’s proprietary Frostbite engine seen above) it’s impossible to say for certain what we’ll see. But given that this is a game with an alleged $70 million budget, the odds are in favor of sumptuous graphical splendor.
I’d love to see what modern tech can do to give iconic character designs like Revan’s and Bastila’s a facelift (or mask-lift in Revan’s case). Similar to what it’s felt like seeing Cloud and the gang again in Final Fantasy VII Remake, this is bound to be a grand old time. We just have to hope that the art team recognizes the color tones and key sketches that make Knights of the Old Republic’s vistas feel so rad to this day.
1) Dark Fantasy Fun
Any amount of good gameplay and strong immersion could still fall flat on its face without the #1 most important thing the KOTOR remake needs to rock — Aspyr can’t lose track of the original game’s beating pulse. Both Knights of the Old Republic games tackle some deep subject matter and go in particularly dark places (especially the sequel) but neither game forgets for overlong that Star Wars, at heart, is a swashbuckling tale.
Hilarious characters like assassin droid HK-47 pepper in dark humor. Canderous Ordo has a tale for every occasion. And for all her high philosophy and low opinions, Kreia is a treasure trove of quotes to drop at parties to your guests’ thinly-veiled bemusement. “I am but a mirror whose only purpose is to show you what your eyes cannot yet see.” Imagine Aunt Martha making a fuss over your choice in attire at a Thanksgiving get-together only for you to counter her with that line.
We Wrap This List With A Jackie DeShannon YouTube Video
In the final telling, what the KOTOR remake needs now is love, sweet love. It needs an appropriate amount of time in the proverbial game-making oven. It needs a development team that understands what makes Knights of the Old Republic timeless who can leverage that timelessness with the tricks and techniques of modern times.
If we’re lucky enough to have that, this will soon get out of hand — now, there will be two incredible takes on the same fantastic story.