As unfinished as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords might be, it fixes a major problem with the original Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), and hopefully the newly announced KOTOR remake will do the same. The Sith Lords refuses to let you make a last-minute change of allegiances, defecting from the Dark Side to the Light or vice versa. The actions you’ve taken have weight, and you can’t backtrack just because you want the “good” ending.
This is not the case in the original Knights of the Old Republic, where it all but casts your actions aside in favor of one late-game single decision, and it does the game absolutely no favors. Granted, the game does keep track of the moral choices you make, whether they’re to punch a kitten in the face or help an old lady across the road. You get Light Side points for doing good things and Dark Side points for doing bad things; these points can then be ploughed into different skills. So if you want to drain the life force from your foes, kitten-punching is the way to go.
But instead of just tallying up those points as Knights of the Old Republic draws to a close, it has an NPC ask you to join them on the Dark Side. Your answer determines whether, from that point onwards, you’re following the Light Side or Dark Side path. It doesn’t matter if you’ve accrued a furry mountain of poor, concussed kitties — you’re still able to join the “good guys.”
Alternatively, you can have helped an entire retirement community across the road and the Dark Side will still welcome you with open arms. Falling to the Dark Side might make more sense, given your character’s background and your potential romance with the non-player character in question. But a few lines of dialogue really don’t sell the choice, no matter how well-written the NPC otherwise is.
It’s true that redemption is a Star Wars motif, as is falling from grace. But when either works it’s because there’s sufficient, solid setup. Darth Vader’s redemption, for example, is driven by family and is telegraphed by his interactions with Luke. Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side, on the other hand, relies on the clunky “romance” between two sentient planks of wood and is utterly hollow as a result.
Knights of the Old Republic’s flip-flopping feels much the same, and the fact you can get away with it undermines the actions, good or evil, that you’ve taken to get to that point. You might not get the full benefit of the Force powers you accrue from being pure Dark Side or pure Light Side, but it’s not a dramatic consequence and it feels egregious that such a shortcut even exists. Stepping into the light doesn’t require any kind of remorse, and the strongest reason to switch to the Dark Side is to spite the Jedi.
Short of dropping the choice entirely, refining Knights of the Old Republic’s Dark Side choices would be a step in the right direction. Palpatine clearly got a kick out of the Dark Side, even if Darth “Misery Guts” Vader didn’t join in on the cackling. But 99% of their heinous activities had some twisted benefit, at least in their minds.
Yet several of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic’s Dark Side choices are there just so you can be evil; yes, you earn Dark Side points, but there’s no in-universe benefit. Take the Romeo and Juliet scenario you encounter, where the offspring of two warring settlers have fallen in love. Through a combination of lying and goading, you have the option of making each family slaughter each other, with no survivors.
If your sense of humor is anything like mine, it’s very, very funny, but it’s not something a character can come back from. Amending this and other similar scenes so that there’s some major benefit (and I don’t just mean looting their corpses) would at least make a later turn to the Light Side more credible.
Alternatively, given that one of your companions literally classifies themselves as a Gray Jedi, go the whole hog and let that exist as a “side.” The game proves that the Jedi Council themselves aren’t above some very suspect tactics. One way of handling this would be to calculate how many Light Side points or Dark Side points a player has and, if they’re not at either end of the spectrum, let them choose to switch sides. And while I’m trying very hard not to spoil it, Knights of the Old Republic has more reason than, say, Fable to have players occupy that moral middle ground.
No doubt Aspyr is handling this remake with kid gloves, given it’s so beloved by many. But if there’s one thing that needs changing, it’s the ease with which you can abandon your previous path. Make players work for it, by all means, give it some emotional weight, but the Knights of the Old Republic remake needs a more convincing, consequence-laden change of heart.