White Knight Chronicles (Only on PlayStation 3)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Developer: Level 5
Release Date: February 2nd, 2010
PSN – Online Multiplayer
Level 5 has brought us White Knight Chronicles, as they did Dragon Quest VIII, IX, Rogue Galaxy, and the Dark Cloud series. So, you should run out and buy it right away…right? Well, maybe not. WKC‘s release was poorly-timed unfortunately. It’s not only competing with BioShock 2, but everyone has surely been holding out for Final Fantasy XIII, or has been addicted to Mass Effect 2. White Knight Chronicles is an enjoyable Japanese RPG, but there are problems. Compared to the bigger RPGs released this year like ME2, and the aforementioned FFXIII, WKC pales. The decision is ultimately if you want a decent RPG, versus a spectacular one.
The genre’s soul is its story and battle system, and WKC doesn’t quite deliver. Standing alone, they’re enjoyable enough. The story isn’t as developed as it should be. A princess is kidnapped, and the most unsuspecting people possible become the heroes of chance set forth to find her. Meanwhile there’s a mysterious secret behind the world’s magic, and a bizarre group trying to harness it. It boils down to a legendary armor, White Knight armor as fate would have it. By making a pact with the nightmarish creature inhabiting the spiritual armor, a human is able to transform into something special. The White Knight isn’t alone however; several others exist. Magic’s role in the storyline is significant, as it allows people to become bizarre monsters. This is how the game justifies twelve foot demons flying all over the place.
On paper, that concept is fine. The tale is epic, and the character personalities likable. The problem is sub-par dialogue, an issue that games like Mass Effect 2 and Fallout 3 don’t have. Further bizarre is that your personal character is mute (Link Syndrome) and is provided no back story. Leonard is the star, and your avatar just hangs around him. It’s especially odd to play online as your creation, because you can pick who you want to control in the main quest. Why choose anything other than having a party that actually converses in tackling the side quests? This really brings down the experience, even if the core story is enjoyable.
Battles are also underwhelming. They all occur on the world map, which is great. There’s no loading or any of that typical JRPG jazz. While you’re free to move about, a circular action meter makes the game more turn-based than it appears. The same applies to the battle parameters. It seems possible to evade enemy attacks, but most often that doesn’t happen. Most foes can strike you so long as you’re anywhere near the frenzy. Occasionally this is logical, but instances such as being hit behind a stone wall obviously make very little sense.
To issue commands, you must create them for combat. This is done in the party menu, and is rather interesting. You have three rows, and seven slots per row to attach a command to. You don’t see ‘attack,’ ‘defend,’ etc. Instead they’re explicitly specific: ‘Frost Slash,’ ‘Back Slash,’ etc. The knowledge that you have to list every command, including combinations and black/white magic, is essential. The combos are especially fascinating. Once you earn enough SP (Skill Points) after leveling up, new abilities can be purchased, which range from a permanent HP boost to other commands. The ability to link commands together can result in happily impressive combos. The skill tree is also deep, but you don’t earn anywhere near enough SP to unlock the majority of the abilities.
The big downside is sadly tied to the White Knight. Action Chips (AC) are acquired as you battle enemies. They’re little blocks that appear on the lower left hand corner of the screen, and the basic requirements for using powerful commands and combos. For example, a five-hit combo needs three AC. To become the White Knight however, a minimum of seven is needed. So imagine a bunch of little enemies and a giant one in front of you, and your AC allotment is six. Attack all the weak foes to obtain the seventh, and then morph into the WK to obliterate everything else. Why use combos that eat them up? Instead, use basic attacks which don’t to quickly win AC #7. Just be aware that enemies have to be present to stay as the Knight, otherwise you revert straight back to plain Leonard. It just stinks that your AC count goes to zero as well. On top of that, White Knight is so powerful that even the most difficult bosses fall before you break a single sweat.
That’s WKC’s greatest weakest, the faux semblance of difficulty. Instead of tough enemies, Level 5 simply increased their health. That means basic battles last far longer than necessary. So long as you manage your party well, which you don’t directly control, defeat is almost a non-issue. If you can be healed consistently, you’re fine. By and far this is what annoyed me the most: lengthy battles and an alternate form (WK) that crushes everything. On top of that, I never really enjoyed the combos because of the AC asking prices. I resorted to standard attacks 90% of the time. Talk about boring.
The mix of an interesting, but flawed battle system and mute avatar is less than thrilling. As an RPG, WKC has merits, but too many others are better. Thankfully the online portions are slightly more entertaining. Progression in the main quest unlocks tons of side-quests that can be tackled solo or with up to three friends over PSN. Friends add so much to experience because you’re always talking and engaging most obstacles. Unfortunately, problems arise even here. Quests have level and guild requirements, which forces grinding the earlier ones just to meet the ‘entry fee’. That’s not fun, and made worse because only your avatar is playable. You remember him, the mute? Well, he also doesn’t wield many special abilities. He can’t become the Knight, and his frequency of use in the campaign can render him useful or not. If he’s included in that party, his abilities must be adjusted to account for the new role, even though he’s merely support in that respect.
The last portion is the town-building mini-game. This is a Level 5 staple and enjoyable, but also has issues. The idea is recruit the brightest locals into your village. That’s fine and dandy, but the financial element is ridiculous. By the time I finished the game, my town was upgraded only a few times. I didn’t obtain enough money to attract the best civilians, which means I would have had to invest hundreds of hours to enjoy some of the better abilities these people offer. With the proper dedication though, you can acquire rare items which can be synthesized to create rare weapons, armour, etc. Like every aspect of WKC, this falls short of what was originally conceived.
Presentation-wise, White Knight Chronicles is a mixed bag. Are you even surprised? The world map is extensive and very pretty. Forests are detailed, towns sport superb architecture, etc. Things drastically change underground though. Suddenly all the artistry disappears and you’re left fighting in a barren wasteland. The desert is nothing but dust swirls. The level design too is questionable. Too often I needed the map overlay to maintain my bearings. Areas are massive, twisting and turning in every direction, even illogical ones. Thankfully a waypoint always shows where your ultimate goal is, yet reaching it can be a chore. The characters also appear outdated from a technical perspective, though their creative appearance is right up there with the best. Level 5 is famous for original enemies especially. You should note as well that WKC is already old, having been a December 2008 Japan release. Yes, 2008!
For audio, the voice acting is additionally inconsistent. The actors took their jobs seriously, though some clearly just wanted the paycheck. Those folks sound bored out of their minds. Given the somewhat cliché story, expect your typical whiny hero voices, and deep/dark mysterious characters. There’s nothing impressive. The soundtrack features pleasing overture music though, with solid battle themes and well-done orchestrated tracks. The effects do their job too, but the bass from a surround sound setup is rather low.
White Knight Chronicles isn’t the disaster some portray it as, but it’s certainly no Mass Effect either. It’s somewhere in-between. I enjoyed my time with the game, but a lot more work needed to be done to spice things up. Increase the difficulty and combo accessibility, and tone down the White Knight. A more provocative plot and concrete ending would’ve been appreciated too. As it stands, WKC is a decent RPG that ends as the events pick up. The gameplay isn’t very polished or well-thought-out. There’s no masterpiece to be found here, but it’s not trashy either. It’s just alright. Ultimately a pick up is your choice. We’d love to know your thoughts on White Knight Chronicles.
Overall (Not an average): 6.7