My Favorite Themes In Gaming - The Sith Lords Theme - Star Wars KOTOR 2 The Sith Lords
This one's gonna be complicated, folks. So please bear with me.
I've been a huge Star Wars fan for many years now. The 1997 re-release of the original trilogy as Special Editions really ignited a fire and a passion for me with the Star Wars franchise. I loved the heck out of the Prequel Trilogy, with the Phantom Menace being my favorite out of those, and I had been an avid fan of the release of several notable Star Wars games that should be familiar to most fans. Dark Forces, Shadows of the Empire, Rogue Squadron, Jedi Outcast, Battlefront. And then in 2003, Bioware released perhaps my favorite video game of all time, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic.
I cannot quite articulate in words how I feel about the game. I never thought I could get close to so many characters who, until that game came out, I never had even heard of before. I had no idea that there was a comic book story line, called Tales of the Jedi, that took place 4,000 years before the events of the films. The writers of that comic really took Star Wars into some uncharted territory and all they had to go on was a throw away line from Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope; "For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic." So to create something as amazing as KOTOR, which I played on the original Xbox, and to capture the essence of what Star Wars was (adventure, excitement...you know, things a Jedi should not crave) amazed me beyond my wildest expectations. Just from the commercials of KOTOR alone, I thought the game would be amazing. Then to actually play it and realize how amazing it was with all of its characters, its locations, its system of battle, the stories and adventures you could go on...well, I liked it a lot to say the least.
There was just one thing missing from experience with KOTOR that would have made my time with it complete. The music, from my point of view, was a bit lacking. That's not to say it wasn't great and there are some wonderful stand out pieces. I think the main theme of the game, as your creating your character, is quite wonderful and I also enjoyed the music that plays on Dantooine and Manaan. Darth Malak's theme is also great, but only in a way that sounds like typical boss music. In the end, the music didn't give me that Star Wars feeling of taking part in this grand space fantasy. It didn't really match the style of what John Williams established with the movies. Again, the music in KOTOR isn't bad, it's just not very unique sounding.
Now here's where we get to the complicated bit.
Not long after KOTOR's release and apparent success, a sequel was announced to be in the works. Star Wars KOTOR 2 The Sith Lords was handled by a different video game company, Obsidian Entertainment. They had done a respectable amount of work in RPGs before, doing work on the Neverwinter Night games (a series I admittedly have never played) so their being handed the reins of the KOTOR universe seemed like a smart move at the time, especially since Bioware was busy working on other Intellectual Properties. Like Jade Empire and Mass Effect. But something rather horrible happened in the development of KOTOR 2 that scars me to this very day.
To capitalize on the success of KOTOR, which won pretty much every single Game of the Year award that you can think of, Lucasarts rushed Obsidian's development of the game, and in the process released something that was a broken, incoherent mess of a product. Game crashes, bugs, glitches, dialog trees that could repeat over and over again and go absolutely nowhere, and a broken influence system that was never fully explained how to use, made KOTOR 2 TSL something of a nightmare for me. And then there was the game's morality system and the actual story itself, along with its characters.
Obsidian was definitely trying to go for a dark, Empire Strikes Back vibe with this game where the characters and setting are in a precarious situation. The Republic is on the verge of collapse is the message that gets drilled into the player again and again, which completely does not fit in with the way the story was conveyed in the original KOTOR. To say that KOTOR 2 went out of its way to make things appear bleak is an understatement of a life time. And oh dear God, the characters in this game. I know I'm getting off track here, but why did Obsidian feel the need to populate the sequel to this game with a-holes?
Seriously, once I had all of the characters recruited for the game, and failing to establish any kind of emotional connections with any of them, this is pretty much how I felt about KOTOR 2's Ebon Hawk crew:
Some characters I can completely understand those tendancies with, like Canderous or HK-47. But Mira, Atton, GO-T0, Hanharr, Bao-Dur (who creeped me the heck out) the Handmaiden, the Disciple...and Kreia...KREIA! If there is a character I utterly despise in the world of fiction, it is this dreck of a character Obsidian created to try and be your dark mentor in this game. Dark mentors, like say Ra's Al Gul in Batman Begins, or even Palpatine in the Star Wars movies, are suppose to have character traits that make you like them and sympathize with their line of thinking, thus making their eventual betrayal and motivations even harder to deal with. Kreia had none of those things. She had an obvious chip on her shoulder to begin with, would chastise your character no matter what kinds of decisions you made (good or evil) and ultimately had a ludicrous goal trying to destroy the Force. Bold, maybe, but pretty freaking stupid when you get down to it.
The only character in KOTOR 2 that I liked quite a great deal was Visas Marr (pictured above), voiced by the exquisite Kelly Hu. Now that character should have been your dark mentor in the game, because she had all of the right motivations and character traits to do so. She wanted to basically deliver you to her master, help you to see the darker side of things on the Force, and readily wanted to be with your character to guide him. Kriea always came across as a "get out of my face" type persona, which made me never want to deal with her. But Visas was an amazing character, and kudos to Obsidian's writing for her. Too bad the encounter with Darth Nihilus was sooooo disappointing and did not at all match the danger he was described to be....
All of that said and I haven't even touched KOTOR 2's ending. Needless to say, the game was the opposite experience of what I got with KOTOR 1. I played it twice to see how things would go on the dark and light sides and...yeah...I returned that sucker to Gamestop about a week or so later and never touched it again. But the bad memory burns strongly in me to this day!
Okay, that rant aside, here is other thing KOTOR 2 got right. The music is an absolute joy to the ears to hear. Yes, it is dark and ominous, but it captures the spirit of what John Williams accomplished with the Star Wars films. And unlike KOTOR, some of the music from KOTOR 2 actually made it into other Star Wars games and commercials! That's just how great it was. And for me personally, it was hard to pick just one theme to settle on for this entry so I decided to go with the main theme of the Sith Lords.
It captures the dark and moody feeling the game tried to convey while at the same time reminding you that you are in the Star Wars universe. There are big moments and subtle movements with the stringed instruments, and brass plays deeply enough to let you know that not all is well where it's going. The theme of this game is dark but it's not without hope, and you can listen to it again and again and instantly be transported to this strange and uncertain era within the Star Wars universe. I reccomend listening to the entire soundtrack but this theme in particular is a great place to start with. My hat is off to Mark Griskey for composing this soundtrack. Well done, sir!