The iconic Star Wars RPG arrives on Nintendo for the first time.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, is one of those games that many players will go into with a deep sense of nostalgia. For those players I offer this, Knights of the Old Republic on Switch largely outperforms any previously released official version of the game. Yes, you can eliminate load times by playing the original Xbox version on an Xbox Series X. And yes you can mod to your heart's content with the PC version. But when it comes to simply being the best the original version can offer, it's hard to beat this Switch release. But I, like hopefully a few of you, have no nostalgia for Knights of the Old Republic. I had a Gamecube during this generation and my PC couldn’t run anything close to cutting edge. I’ve since picked up both the first and second Knights of the Old Republic on Steam but struggled to ever really get attached. Finally on Switch I think I understand, while also being painfully aware of just how far western RPGs have come since 2003.
While technically no longer considered fully canon, Knights of the Old Republic’s story is set 4000 years prior to the prequel trilogy and long before modern canon’s High Republic era. However, its story and characters have been referenced heavily across The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Mandalorian making it a sort of assumed canon for the modern franchise. Your custom character awakens into the heat of war between the Republic and the Sith just after the conclusion of the Mandalorian War. After crash landing on a Sith occupied planet, you’ll slowly begin putting together a party of allies before setting off on a much grander adventure across the galaxy.
Knights of the Old Republic leans heavily on Dungeons and Dragons for many of its RPG elements. Combat plays out in real time but your hits and misses are determined by behind the scenes dice rolls rather than accurate aim. In one sense this could be seen as a predecessor to modern titles like Xenoblade though much simpler, and with fewer real-time elements. While the various stats and abilities are adequately explained, an existing knowledge of tabletop RPGs definitely helps to smooth over the rough edges. It doesn’t make the experience inaccessible by any means, but you may stumble a little on your way. Luckily multiple difficulty options are available, which are especially helpful for those more interested in the story and branching paths than the combat. As the story progresses you find yourself unlocking your connection to the force, with new abilities that help make the combat significantly more interesting.
Gameplay takes place across multiple large, segmented environments. While the first two planets are strictly linear, the universe ultimately opens up entirely, allowing you to pursue your goals and explore at your leisure. Each planet generally consists of a settlement of some sort, an overworld (separated into multiple loading zones) and two or three dungeons. While you’ll be seeing loading screens pretty regularly, they’re all short and most serve as an auto-save (something of a rarity in 2003). The greater issue comes in quest structures, which generally send you back and forth multiple times from one end of the planet to another. While you can fast travel from the overworld to your ship and back, leaving the vicinity of your ship resets the fast travel point, making it a one way trip. While this can absolutely be tied to the time period of its development, for a modern player you’ll often feel like Knights of the Old Republic is doing its best to convince you that its planets are significantly larger than they are, by making you traverse them in their entirety without much to do along the way. This is a regular occurrence playing Knights of the Old Republic in 2021. The unavoidable battering of time is definitely evident. At the same time other, surprisingly modern features caught me off guard. For example, if you swap a character into your party who is not as leveled up as other members, they will instantly be leveled to match the rest of the party. It makes experimenting with different party combinations more inviting and ensures that you’re never punished for your favorite characters not being ideal for every mission.
Developer Bioware’s path from this to Mass Effect is extremely evident. The branching paths and multiple routes to solve every problem are excellently executed. It feels like almost every quest can be completed in different ways, and not just a binary good or bad (though these choices do ultimately effect your path towards light or dark Jedi). Good doesn’t always mean peacefully talking your way through a problem, and bad doesn’t always mean going in lightsabers blazing. Choices are nuanced, and your party, skills, and knowledge often provide additional options.
As alluded to at the outset, this is an excellent HD port of Knights of the Old Republic. In fact I’d go so far as to say it is the best port of a Star Wars game Aspyr has brought to Switch thus far. Docked resolution sits comfortably at 1080p and handheld comes in at the Switch screen’s native 720p. It also natively supports widescreen without any of the odd scaling issues seen in Star Wars Republic Commando. I did experience two crashes when loading into a new zone. This only ever happened after I had left the game running or suspended on my Switch for multiple days and neither crash resulted in significant progress loss. It should be noted that this version appears to be derived from the Xbox version and not the PC version. This means that while environmental detail is largely a match for the PC, select character textures are lower resolution. As a result this looks very similar to playing the original Xbox version via backwards compatibility on the Xbox Series X but with the advantage of widescreen support.
For years, despite being an avid Star Wars fan who eagerly devours movies, shows, books, and games, Knights of the Old Republic had eluded me. Despite multiple attempts it had just never clicked. Finally now, playing it on Switch I think I understand. While elements of its design certainly haven’t aged as gracefully as others, it still tells a complex and dynamically evolving narrative. It provides a depth that few Star Wars games have and its place in the timeline makes it relevant to modern fans even if you otherwise have no interest in legends content. Yes you’ll spend a long time running back and forth across the dunes of Tatooine but the payoff is always worth it. Save for the potential of the recently announced remake, this is easily the best experience I’ve had playing this game and I can now earnestly hope the sequel finds its way to Switch as well.