It's almost summer, which means it's almost time to play through "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" again.
My favorite game of all time turns 11 this year. When I first popped it into my 20-pound Xbox, I didn't know that I would play through the 30ish-hour storyline every summer. It just sort of happened.
I don't play it because of some compulsion or ritual. I don't think that some digital groundhog is going to curse me with a year of bad gaming if I don't save or enslave the galaxy.
No, there are three very tangible reasons that keep me coming back.
First, I have been a student for most of my life. My free time doubles or even triples in late May. Eventually, I run out of things to do, and I start searching around for an old game to fill my time.
Second, I've lived in Fresno my entire life. I have always been against bursting into flames, so I stay inside a little more often in the summer. Inside time is usually video game time.
Last, and most important, is "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" is a revolutionary game, and I had a front-row seat for that revolution.
I feel as if the storyline of "Knights of the Old Republic" will stay with me forever. I've been shocked by video game plot twists since — the ending to "BioShock: Infinite" rocked me. But there is something futile about learning the truth and then seeing the credits.
In "Knights of the Old Republic," the biggest plot reveal comes just about halfway through the game. The developers at BioWare said "okay, here's the bombshell — now what are you going to do about it?" I had to keep going and make choices after the major reveal, which just doesn't happen much in video games.
The freedom of choice was another huge part of my immediate love for "Knights of the Old Republic." It gave players an unprecedented amount of control over everything from minor interactions to major story events. If a beggar approached me, I could choose to ignore him, kill him or give him enough money to eat for a week. I could also choose to sacrifice thousands of important Republic soldiers just to have my revenge, or I could save most of them and allow the antagonist to flee. This wide range of choices affects your overall affinity toward the light or dark side of the Force, but more importantly it makes you feel as if everything you do in "Knights of the Old Republic" matters.
The game also looked fantastic. The combat animations were solid, the character detail was great and the cut scenes were phenomenal. It was absolute marvel back in 2003, but I think it still holds up pretty well today. I have reviewed indie games in the past few months that looked worse than "Knights of the Old Republic."
BioWare incorporated this out-of-the-box writing style, freedom and attention to visual details into its next two franchises: "Mass Effect" and "Dragon Age." These ongoing franchises are immensely popular and rightly so; there are some great games in there. However, loving those games without playing through "Knights of the Old Republic" is like loving "Mario 64" without playing through "Mario Bros." True appreciation requires a journey back to the source.
I could be looking at "Knights of the Old Republic" through rose-colored glasses. I was 14 years old that first Star Wars summer, which is the perfect age to find an all-time favorite. I was barely old enough to know that it was vastly different than any other game out there, but still young enough to put it on an impossibly high pedestal.
I don't think it really matters though. Nobody goes out looking for their favorite song. You hear a song a few times, and you just know. That song takes you back to a particular time of your life, good or bad, and it carries weight throughout your whole life.
That's how I feel about "Knights of the Old Republic."
When the time comes this year, I think I will take the evil road. No one will be safe.