Part 59: Malachor V - Because We Hate Endings
"The biggest influence was The Empire Strikes Back, and it was mostly a personal preference. The movie had a lot of surprises - it had a dark edge to it where not everything ended happily ever after, and I think the struggles of the characters ended up being stronger for it."
- Chris Avellone, December 23rd, 2004
"I am never going to do an Empire Strikes Back ending again in a game, even if they put branding irons to my feet."
- Chris Avellone, March 21st, 2005
At last, Kreia is ready to tell the truth. Or at least I think so anyway. She's done all she can to bring the Exile to this point and has little reason to lie right now.
"I wield it, but it uses us all, and that is abhorrent to me."
Star Wars has more similarities to Tolkien and high fantasy than most sci-fi franchises, and one of the most telling aspects of it is that you have destiny disguised as the Force. Everyone keeps saying the Force guides all things, trust the Force, etc. Then you you take a control-freak like Kreia who values self-determination above all else, yet who uses the Force as well, and suddenly you have this fate vs. free will dichotomy manifested within the same character.
"If you hate the Force, why do you use it?"
"I use it as I would use a poison, and in the hopes of understanding it, I will learn the way to kill it."
At least she realizes she's being hypocritical as well.
"So you used me to get revenge on Sion and the others."
"I used you to keep the Lords of the Sith from condemning the galaxy to death with their power unchecked."
Kreia fulfills the role of something called an unreliable narrator. Generally in films with big twists, you have an unreliable first person narrator; see The Usual Suspects, A Beautiful Mind, or Momento to see what I'm talking about. Kreia is a third person narrator, but since she provides most of the exposition for the game, she ends up fucking over the player's perception of the truth every bit as fully.
"And I used you to make those who wounded me reveal themselves, so they could be killed by the Republic."
There was an ending that was cut: Atris could have been Darth Traya at one point. I'm not sure what would have triggered it, but Kreia and Atris would have been swapped - you probably would have fought Kreia at Telos, then come to Malachor to fight Atris/Darth Traya. That's why Kreia talks Atris walking down the same path as she did, and why there are references to Darth Traya being a title, a mantle to be passed on from person to person.
This was taken out pretty early on, so all that's left are Atris's Dark Side model, and some recorded lines from Atris's voice actor reading Kreia/Darth Traya's dialogue at Malachor. The Telos script files also referred to Atris as Darth Traya at several points.
And in truth, this is part of the Exile's training as well. Kreia isn't a Sith any more than she's a Jedi. She even says as much during her confrontation with Atris. She has no real reason to really fight the Exile here. So why would she betray him?
It's always been about teaching. Her philosophy is the Echani belief (I've always had this pet theory that Kreia is Echani herself) that conflicts build character - except she's followed this to the logical extreme. In order to teach the Exile, she's thrown every enemy she can into his path, and he's become all the stronger for it. As the final hurdle, she's set herself up as the villain so that the Exile could finish learning from her.
She said of Revan earlier, "The difference between a fall and a sacrifice is sometimes difficult," but Revan learned that lesson from his original Master.
There's undercurrent of double meaning throughout this. Kreia is talking about Atris, but she is also talking about herself.
This is a bit of meta-commentary. In the game notes it literally says that she's making a reference to the fact there's no "Luke, I am your father" moment in this game. This game has no great big twist like in KOTOR 1. It's a series of little twists sure, but the point in the game when the big Revan moment would have occurred, is around when Kreia reveals herself as evil. That's not a "holy shit" moment, more of a "that makes sense" thing. So here Kreia is just messing with the player's expectations. They had come to Malachor thinking the truth was yet to be revealed, but the truth was what you knew all along, even if Kreia did a good job obfuscating it.
In a way this was a good thing; those big twists in stories can be a schtick, and only really work when you don't expect it. I think they knew it would have been difficult to follow-up on Bioware's plotting in KOTOR 1, and it probably wouldn't have been a good idea to get into a rut of forcing a shocker into every KOTOR game. Take a look at M. Night Shyamalan, who wrote "The Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable". After those movies, he became the 'plot twist' guy; people came to see his movies just for the surprise. That's a shitty way to watch a movie, and it's a shitty way to write a movie; his films got progressively more and more unwatchable from trying to duck under audience expectations.
Perhaps it's less memorable this way, but the strength on Obsidian games isn't really plotting. It's always been the writing.
"But there were other Jedi you could have chosen."
"No, there were not. In times past and in times future, there are Jedi who will stop listening to the Force, those that will try to forget it, but maintain unconscious ties. And those, as in the past just as I, who have had the force stripped from them."
"What happens now?"
And now we come to the end of it.
Unlike every other enemy in this game, Kreia does scale up in difficult with the Exile. She seems to always have about twice the Exile's hitpoints, and she's got massive resists, and uses Force Powers liberally. If she ever lands a stun or a disable on the Exile, she can fuck him up quite badly.
Fortunately, the Trayus Core is ripe with the sort of columns that completely screw up enemy pathing, so it's quite easy to run out of the way to heal.
I guess there's nothing more appropriate than finishing the game with Kreia fighting the Exile with her mind.
You can do wacky things with these floating lightsabers. Like shoot them with a gun.
And poison them. How does that work?
"What happens now?"
"You may take one of the ships that orbit Malachor and depart this place. Or you may remain here on Malachor, and wait for the others, those touched by the Force, who will come in time. Or you may return to your exile, where your presence will no longer affect the actions of others."
"I will follow Revan, as I did a decade ago."
"Very well. There is nothing holding you here, not any longer."
"You spoke of the future."
"Many things do I see as I gaze here from the heart of Malachor. This place... channels such energies."
"The Republic will fall, as it always has, a fall that will take millennia."
This is the patented Black Isle game ending of running through the consequences of everything you did in the game. These vignettes were done in Fallout 1 and 2, and Neverwinter Nights 2 as well. It just kind sums the ending to each planet and what happens afterwards.
"But it shall be a homeworld again to others, who will stretch out across the galaxy and bring life."
"Tell me of Dantooine."
"The Republic shall again establish their presence there, and shield it with its forces... And Dantooine shall heal, be safe, and its skies free. The ruins of the academy shall remain."
"And Nar Shaddaa?"
The bad ending for Nar Shaddaa would have been to side with the Exchange, but we chose to rescue the refugees.
"Where once the lost and disposed were trapped there, now they will struggle and grow. From despair shall come hope."
"Queen Talia shall have a long reign, much good will come of it. She will, as she has, rule wisely and well."
This is maybe a bittersweet light side ending for the planet. If Vaklu came to rule, he would have kept Onderon out of the Republic, but they would have retained their identity as a people.
"Tell me about Korriban."
"Korriban shall be as it always was. A graveyard for the darkest of the Sith Lords, still whispering within their tombs. It shall always be a source of evil, spawning threats throughout the millennia."
Yes, talk about the NPCs that were cut out of the last 20% of the game.
"You travel with them for so long, yet you do not know them still. Feel them through the Force, feel what they feel, hear their thoughts and know them, as I fought to know you."
"She will miss you and think of you often. You, who awakened her, to what life is. She will live... but only for a time."
That's the first and only time in the real game Canderous's name gets mentioned.
"What of the Mandalorians?"
Yet another Jango Fett dig.
Past all the plot nuances and Star Warsy stuff, the big advancement this game made was to create the best written female character in a game ever. This is even a greater accomplishment if you consider that the writing staff, judging from the credits, was all male.
Have any games before or after this tried to write in the protaganist's mother as a deep, main character? You of course have miles and miles of paternal icons scattered everywhere, to the point where it's clichéd (for exhibit A, see progenitor unit Gandalf), but the feminine point of view is utterly lacking. Part of this is a function of the demographics of the developers working in the game industry I guess, but you'd think a shockingly simple idea as writing an in-depth maternal figure would have gotten more mileage elsewhere.
Kreia has gone through 3 names, 2 costumes, and countless lies at this point, but you always get the sense that she's stayed true to her own character throughout. That's good writing.
The titillation factor tends to be a crutch for female characters; if that department is lacking, then they tend not to stand out in most games. Part of that again is the demographics - male writers writing for male gamers - but it's unfortunate. The other female NPCs in this game (Mira, Visas, Atris and Handmaiden) are all have fairly strong voices in their own right, even ignoring their respective backstories, and aside from that metal bikini stupidity back on Nar Shaddaa, there's little in the way of that sort of stereotypical female writing present in other games.
Following in her mother's footsteps... both of her mothers.
Not that we really care, but...
"Their paths are unknown to me."
The only party member I haven't mentioned on Malachor is T3. I think it's okay that he's kind of left out of the Malachor V cut content fracas, as it's indicated his story isn't over yet. As Kreia mentions here, he stayed on board the Ebon Hawk. If there's ever a KOTOR 3, you just know that T3, HK-47, and the Ebon Hawk will be back.
"And Revan? She came here, was here. What happened to her?"
"And she came because Malachor, like Korriban, lies on the fringes of the ancient Sith Empire, where the true Sith wait for us, in the dark."
"The Sith have already struck against the Republic."
"Have we? You thought that the corrupted remnants of the Republic, the machines spawned by technology that Revan led into battle were the Sith?"
"She left the Ebon Hawk and its machines behind, for she knew she would not need them."
"Because such attachments would only bring doom to them both in the dark places where she now walks."
"Why did you not follow her?"
"But she will need warriors, Sith and Jedi, any who can be sent after her into the depths of space, any who know the way."
"Instead, I remained here... and now show others the way."
There appears to be a cut ending - one where the Exile and Kreia leave Malachor to find Revan together. It doesn't make a lot of sense in the current context for obvious reasons; it's possible that it would have occurred after the 'Atris/Darth Traya' ending. All that remains are these lines:
"Now, you are finally ready for war again. The Unknown Regions call to us, just as they called to Revan. It is time to leave the Republic to die. Are you ready?"
"They have done what was necessary, and they will live their lives better for having known you."
Kreia finally comes to rest.
Jedi Jesus has a few words with his friends before he goes off to
"You're leaving. I... I would come with you, if you allow it."
"You... cannot come with me. I need someone to stay here at the edge of known space, and show others the way. Where I go, I cannot take anyone I care for."
"Yes, others will come. Kreia spoke of Revan, and another war that waits beyond the Outer Rim. You must gather forces here, and wait. I need someone to show them the way. As Kreia showed me the way."
"I... shall do as you ask. I shall train others who will follow."
"Your journey... will you return?"
"Need any company? I mean, I'm not doing anything."
"Besides, if I'm not around to bail you out of trouble, who knows what could happen."
"All right, then. Where are we going again?"
"I mean, because last time, we were heading toward this mining colony on the edge of space, and there was this Sith Lord, and..."