An Introduction to The KOTOR II Companion Series
“You see, the war, the true war, has never been one waged by droids, warships, or soldiers. They are but crude matter, obstacles against which we test ourselves. The true war is waged in the hearts of all living things, against our own natures, light or dark.”
A slave to your most intimidating enemy. A servant of an arrogant former peer. A spy. A bounty hunter. A weapons developer. A warlord. A battered servant to another master. An assassin. A crime lord. A maniac. A torturer. A teacher. These are your companions.
Compare that to the people in the other Star Wars games, no youthful Mission Vao here. None of the KOTOR II companions are whole, and at least a third of them are arguably insane.
The most detailed teacher in Star Wars is a liar, a fiend who performs impressive feats on a terrifyingly effective level, using not just dark but light side powers. Those mind tricks for harmless fun? She manipulates the memories of everybody she comes into contract with. I don’t remember any film Sith being so obviously insidious, even Emperor Palpatine.
It’s certainly an experience, facing bounty hunters, Sith and Jedi with at least one companion sicker than they are. But the nature of that sickness is one you exacerbate, or help. KOTOR 1 is a quest and an exploration of many vibrant planets sheltering a hidden civilisation. KOTOR II is looking at a wound, and deriving enjoyment or horror from poking it or sealing it. The notion of good verses evil is not divided under the paradigm of Empire and Rebellion, of Jedi and Sith. It is there, but entirely within each character warring with their own flaws, pain, and an aggressively hungry universe.
Even -perhaps most intriguingly- the droid characters do something that boosts intrigue and investment; they can lie. Their personal agency, and desires to hide, to choose their own initiative over blindly divulging make much more interesting character dynamics.
I believe a fair bit of the advantage in both cases is the humour, the willingness to disagree, in II the refreshing sense of open hostility, which increases consequence and drama. Unlike a fair few RPG’s, these are characters. Not companions, not broad archetypes that are good for game review, but not an attempt at literary analysis. There is a novel’s worth easily of character within these characters.
Even one of the funniest comedic situations in the game comes from the theme of contradiction and being ‘broken’ again, by temporarily reprograming HK-47. In programming altruism into HK47 temporarily… baseline nature, the morality even while evil is still what he naturally is. It is weird for such a character to be nice, unlike itself. No different than C3P0 being programmed to kill, as a juxtaposition. Manipulation and force, of either a subtle, or in some cases even worse accidental nature to change people occurs all the time to progress the plot.
An interesting dynamic exists, where there is need on both sides. The need of the exile, and others. Yet where the manipulation begins and ends is both due to morality, how the character plays it, and a subconscious element.
The theme of being part of the final moments of a war, its last warriors unable to let go, or the reality of life within a galaxy that has all but bled to death, which in the ‘present’ is about to be revived. Like the middle of the night, it’s at its literal and figurative darkest. Possible redemption or recovery is far away, and cannot be seen at this time:
“We are a sad pair, you and I, to defend the galaxy against such a thing. Life never ceases to teach, fallen Jedi… It is only when one ceases to listen that we grow still, and die. I fear there may be no other choice. the threat we face is grave… if you cannot defend yourself, then we have already lost.”
Dark as it is, the main theme of KOTOR II is healing as well as conflict. Dark and light, and the contrast with broken and whole. There is a duality, a binary ‘moral’ system, two primary routes or factions to typically side with, but part of a greater theme of absorption, synthesis and rejuvenation.
Every area harmonises with these elements, corroded and damaged locations with the possibility of growth, although the nature of such growth is malleable and not in the vein of the typical wondrousness. Much as the game is not ‘Light/Good Dark/Evil’, the transformation of these worlds, sculpting them by moving through them and the people within are subject to the type of change we see in the world. Will you nurture a rose, or a large green bush of thistles? Both are flora, both have thorns, yet each are distinct.
In a way, the idea that Star Wars possesses a deeper philosophy mostly derives from the first two Knights of the Old Republic games, and I can already see the eyebrows of a few of you shooting into the sky. Both on the games and the philosophy count. But that’s the appeal of entertainment. Aside from being simple, broadly appealing and visually distinctive, it is also the means to reference for those curious a richer vein of real world philosophies.
KOTOR II explores, arguably teaches themes of battle, sociology and politics, correlating to specific worlds with a flavour, even a character of their own as does its predecessor. Each deals with a different topic, in keeping with a theme of well roundedness. To be proficient in multiple fields, and self sufficient. To possess ‘personal power’, as I’ve heard another reviewer say, but also explore the nature of binding others to one’s cause. Rather than war being a visual spectacle, and the conflict of imperial and fascist elements against a rebel army; this story possesses no Empire and no Rebellion or government of ability at all. It is the tale of scanter, more desperate, forgotten warbands and outcasts whose effect is smaller in scale, but feels more urgent due to the theme of being the last of one’s kind. The last Jedi was a concept coined in 2004, not 2017. The last of the Mandalorians is a threat given by Kreia to toy with Mandalore’s mind, and in a practical use of technology this 18-year-old game uses its writing to make you care for the limited assets of an admittedly rushed product.
The little ship, hidden planets and disreputable people are what stops the guaranteed extinction of wars that have gone on too long, the death of self-satisfied orders and governments that devoid of people or resources and allowed to ‘bleed’ forever cease to be. As is the case with other Jungian stories such as the 1989 Kentaro Miura manga Berserk, KOTOR II is a story centred around struggle, to show the importance of striving and appeal of character studies and very small groups having a great impact when looking inward and individualising their pain and the shadow of humanity’s darker or less understood urges.
To my knowledge, there is a formula that runs through the development and personality of each companion character. That of the past, that of the present while they are broken, and the ‘reformation state’, whom each becomes over the events of the game at the direction of your influence, battle, and their own whims.
Each character is vitally shaped by The Exile, yet this works because of the agency each possesses also. Their in-fighting, hostility and chaotic nature is necessary for the themes of choice, strife, and conflict resolution. Each individual is so dangerous, determined and set in a particular worldview that clashes are practically inevitable, the cultures, species and aims of the twelve causing them to interestingly disagree, but also work together positively. It’s a rare and engaging story where we don’t just see companion drama, but these characters plot a way to free the player character or aid them with no input whatsoever from player or protagonist. KOTOR II enhances the immersion and empathy a player can have for a character by introducing sequences where we specifically play as them, for example Atton not just being an optional inclusion and the pilot, but part of a rescue attempt and a target for bounty hunters in Nar Shaddaa.
I would argue that while KOTOR I is much more ambitious in its worldbuilding: its original contributions to lore such as introducing the Mandalorian and Revan periods that a sequel and MMO would explore, creating the Jedi and Sith Codes (and by extension draw comparisons and parallels to Buddhist, Hindu and Nietzschean philosophy), and a brilliantly executed precursor theory all are much grander and certainly more influential original creations than II, with its more cynical and deconstructive character and psychological focus. Where I is focused upon very distinct environments to explore, fascinating biomes and devices such as the Star Forge connected to a single quest and civilisation (clearly an inspiration for Mass Effect for Bioware going on), II is one of those pieces that deconstructs and consciously exists as a sampling or a progression of former works, while displaying its own fascinating settings, its awareness of being a sequel and piece of SW media leads to the vast amount of creative energy being spent upon characters that think differently or exist as an archetype contradiction (a theme with roots in Planescape Torment: an enduring example of arguably the best script of any video game, and a superior story to even most fantasy novels ever written).
The story is a challenge to our nature. To that of inversion, of breaking. In seeing the world in a way contrary to what we assume it to be, and then to question again, in the circle arriving at new resourcefulness.
“The ability to heal is also the ability to harm, and the inability to heal what is damaged can also bring about harm.”
Really that is what the game is about. Not saying let go, but really letting go. Waking up to really odd possibilities, stating and then rising against systems of which you were not aware. Using the Force as a means to explore the nature of life, metaphysics, and a binding element connecting physical and spiritual matter; in such circumstances the Force itself is threatened, or ‘wounded’ to give an anthropomorphisation and to use a word the story uses often in reference to its most critical characters.
The KOTOR II series will progress through all twelve of the companion characters, each given their own article discussing the core of their character, the circumstances that broke them, drew them to The Exile player character, and how this dark adventure can change them as they travel to the light, the dark, or simply die as an end to their story. As is the case with our other Character Analysis articles, Nemean® does feature a full review with spoilers. In this case, the 2004 game is better discussed with as comprehensive a view as possible, where we can see and quote many of the statements and discussions made in a narrative that can branch out radically into at least two main paths for each companion, and certain companions’ appearance even being mutually exclusive with each other.
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Obsidian Entertainment. 2004.