Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Epic Villains in Video Game Lore: Knights of the Old Republic II

Within the game, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, lies one of the most complex characters ever created in a video game or elsewhere. It is in fact a game with many characters that have great depth and interest to them. Sadly, the characters inhabit a video game that, gameplay-wise, was never that good. Consequently, their story has been missed by many unable to reconcile this fact. Despite this, it is an old favorite of mine, having one of the most complex plots and characters of any game I've ever played, bad gameplay aside.

Worlds in Darkness
"It is all that is left unsaid upon which tragedies are built."

KOTOR II is set in the Star Wars universe, thousands of years before the events of the movies. You start out in the game upon a space station almost entirely in ruins, wiped clean of life by an unknown force. You are an exiled Jedi, unique in that you appear to be a void in the Force; this is attributed to your character's time in the recent Mandalorian wars, a conflict epic in scale, filled with atrocities and violence. This does not stop you from using Force powers, but it does affect those around you in subtle, meaningful ways. As you come to, you meet another companion, a survivor of whatever whirlwind ravaged the hallways of the space station; an old Jedi woman from a time long since past. She is a teacher, although perhaps the most peculiar teacher ever to be encountered. Her name is Kreia.

As you escape the space station and begin a search for the last remnants of Jedi in a galaxy dominated by the Sith, you learn more about this strange, proud, and manipulative old woman. Kreia's past is cast in shadow, but she parts with some information as the bond between teacher and student grows. Before the wars, she was a Jedi Historian, a Force-user tasked with consulting the histories of the galaxy and of the force in order to pass on said knowledge to those who require it. She was most unorthodox in her learnings and became a philosopher of sorts, willing to challenge the established Jedi creed in an effort to get others to think for themselves.

For Kreia is not truly a Jedi as we perceive them in film. This is part of her appeal; Kreia defies conventions, and does so in a way that makes it difficult to cast her as either Jedi or Sith. Instead, Kreia decides to be 'on her own side', seeking only to further her own inscrutable goals, goals that include training you to become something more than just another user of the Force. As you go through the game, Kreia teaches you her philosophy, a point of view that is both intriguing and somewhat unsettling.

A Galaxy without the Force
"Take the greatest Jedi Knight, strip away the Force, and what remains? They rely on it, depend on it, more than they know. Watch as one tries to hold a blaster, as they try to hold a lightsaber, and all you will see is nothing more than a woman – or a man. A child."

As Kreia teaches you, it becomes clear that she is opposed to the Jedi, the Old Republic, and the methods with which that they have sought, throughout history, to live and get by. Unlike anyone ever depicted in the Star Wars mythology, Kreia believes that the Jedi have lost their way, requiring a radical change in belief, temperament, and the way they approach life and the Force. In this era of Star Wars, the Old Republic is failing and the galaxy has become an ever darker place. Kreia tells you that the Jedi are the ones responsible; she casts them as a religion unwilling to learn or to change, ever focused on serenity, unable to take action, blind to growth. Similarly, she points to the Sith as being just the same, enraged warriors who cannot see past their own arrogance and lust for power, blinded in a way that causes them to make the same mistakes, unable to learn from history. But, interestingly, she does not blame the Sith or the Jedi entirely for the state of affairs in the Star Wars galaxy. She reserves that blame, and her own hatred, for the Force itself.

What Kreia seeks to explain to the player is that the Jedi do not need the Force, that they are addicted to a power that breeds conflict, an ability that stunts their own personal growth as individuals. She illustrates that most of the wars in the universe of Star Wars have come from those who use the Force; infinite conflicts arise from the never-ending duel of ideologies between the Jedi and the Sith, Light and Dark. Part of this arises from the tendency to regard the universe as being separated into good and evil, when the reality is far more complicated than that. Another part lies with how the Force seems to subtly guide those who use it down one of those two paths.

Everything that Kreia does and teaches derives from this singular belief; the belief that the Force is an arbiter of conflict and death in the universe. She tries to teach that it is not necessary, and that furthering one's self and self-discovery are more important. Essentially, she believes that relying on the Force blinds one to the greater mysteries of the universe, inhibiting self-progression.

Rise and Fall
"There is no truth in the Force. But there is truth in you. And that is why I chose you."

But what makes Kreia the villain? Aside from an interesting viewpoint on the Force and its machinations, where is the harm? The truth is initially hard to see, like so much about Kreia.

Throughout almost the entire game, Kreia is very careful to hide why she takes so much interest to you. To this effort, she goes so far to manipulate your other companions against each other, occasionally going so far as to fool with the minds of others. When you allow a Jedi to join your crew, she secretly uses the Force to confound his vision, leaving him completely unable to even detect her being on the ship, even when she is standing right in front of him. With every action that you take and planet that you save, Kreia shifts events behind the scenes, moving pieces about with some final aim in mind. It is only when you finally find all the Jedi Masters and assemble the Jedi Council that this goal reveals itself.

On the planet of Dantooine, you gather with the last remaining Jedi Masters in an effort to discuss and resolve what to do against the massive, unknown threat that lies among the stars. Unexpectedly, the Council decide to sever you from the Force. The reason is that, despite your efforts to gather Jedi together to oppose the darkness of the galaxy, your character remains an anomaly, a void within the Force; you are something that, to their eyes, should not be. Therefore, in fear and, perhaps, in lack of understanding, the Jedi decide that you are an abomination and must be purged; they regard you as possibly being the reason behind the galaxy's shift toward the dark. You resist, but all together they are too much for you. Hope seems lost... until Kreia shows up.

Kreia halts the Jedi Masters, declaring them to be ignorant and fools. She states that they have lost their way, unable to see that the galaxy's fragile state upon the edge of a knife is a situation of their own making. And this is where she becomes the villain. For Kreia decides that, for the galaxy to live in peace, the Force must be destroyed. This process begins with the murder of the Jedi Masters. In the end, she hopes to cause the Force's death through you, an enigma of the Force; one able to use Force and suck it through you endlessly, like dumping water into the empty void of space.

This is obviously an extreme view, and one that you have to stop. For killing the Force might, possibly, destroy the fabric of the universe itself. For, in the many movies, the Jedi state that the Force is in everything; it is an indicator of sentient life. Therefore, it is possible that such a move to end the Force might exterminate all life, everywhere. And it is for this reason that she must be stopped.

"You are greater than any I have ever trained. By killing me here—you have rewarded me more than you can possibly know."

You follow her to a planet so disturbed and dominated by the dark side of the Force that the only life that grows there are hostile, twisted mockeries of normality. There she seeks to persuade you to kill her upon this massive gaping wound in the Force, an explosion of Force power that, with your Force void in place, she thinks will destabilize and essentially break the Force itself. She tries to talk you into it, but it is clear that the ramifications of this action might destroy the entire universe. You fight, and she is unable to match her former student. As she slowly dies, Kreia notes that you are the greatest of her students and that she is glad that the galaxy is in your hands, even though her own plan failed. She tells you of the future of the universe, a power that only she seems capable of using given her experience of all facets of the Force: the Light, the Dark, and that area somewhere in between. And then she passes away, fading back into the Force that she despised so much.

Kreia is by far one of the most complex individuals I have ever seen in any story format. And, though I tried to do her justice, I still feel as if I have failed to touch upon the many nuances and gems of interest within her story. I failed to mention the subtleties of her plan to teach and control you, how she carefully devoted her later life toward accomplishing this one goal, essentially dominating and planning out twenty years of history through her own thoughtful actions. I did not explain how her teachings affected another student, Revan, and how powerfully he affects the universe of both KOTOR games. Needless to say, Kreia is the only villain I have ever seen who is so intricate as to have her own strange and interesting philosophy of life itself, as well written as it is intriguing.

"What do you wish to hear? That I once believed in the code of the Jedi? That I felt the call of the Sith, that perhaps, once, I held the galaxy by its throat? That for every good work that I did, I brought equal harm upon the galaxy? That perhaps what the greatest of the Sith Lords knew of evil, they learned from me?"

And a villain of such complexity helped make KOTOR II one of the most rewarding stories I've ever experienced, even if the game itself was occasionally a chore.

Kreia is awesome. That is all.

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