The PlayStation 3 hasn’t exactly been the breeding ground for classic JRPG titles like its predecessor. Most titles have been hand-me-downs from Microsoft’s console or games that just don’t break the mold other than a few exceptions such as Demon’s Souls and Valkyria Chronicles. White Knight Chronicles is about as promising as a first-party RPG can be with developer Level 5 (Dragon Quest, Dark Cloud series) at the helm and the recent trend of fantastic first-party exclusive for Sony’s console. While it does introduce a fantastic community where gamers can discuss tactics and plan quests, it still lacks a certain panache that would place among the elite in the genre. Still if you are a PS3-only owner in need of some classic JRPG action, this is one of the better exclusives for the console.
When you first boot up the game you are introduced to a fairly intricate character creation system that gives you control over every aspect of your virtual avatar. This is misleading for single-player as your creation simply becomes a background piece for the main party. They never interact or speak to anyone, and mostly follow you around like that friend no one wants to hang out with. The purpose of this is to level them up to take online similar to Phantasy Star Online. This character becomes your main focus online, and being able to level them in the single-player game is definitely a bonus; even if they play absolutely no role in the overall narrative.
The main story follows the time-honored save the princess and the world mentality. The main character is a local boy named Leonard who winds up unlocking the secret power of the White Knight. This unlikely hero then begins a quest to bring the two kingdoms together again by taking down the Magi and rescuing the kidnapped princess. Sure things here are standard fare, and for the most part the story does have some cool twists and turns, but it never really captivates the way some narratives do. You never feel entirely connected to the characters and the mediocre voice acting doesn’t help. I loved the presentation of the cut scenes, but there execution simply falls flat.
The battle system fares a little better than the story at keeping players interested, but it isn’t without its own faults. Everything is presented in real-time meaning the enemies can be seen on the battlefield eliminating random encounters. The actual combat feels more akin to an MMO than anything else. While you have freedom to move around the battlefield at will, all of your actions are turn-based. There is an action ring that builds up before each attack called the Command Circle. This is really what drags down the seemingly fast-paced combat as most of your actions involve waiting. Attacking enemies and moving into position is irrelevant because regardless of your position enemies can hit you wherever you are. This makes me wonder why they even give you the option to move at all once in battle.
Before each battle you can opt to set your action palette with an array of moves. You can even create your own combos and assign them to the palette, which can be traversed during combat with the d-pad. You can also assign spells and other actions here to keep a nice collection of attacks handy at all times. The problem with that is that most of your actions and skills are unnecessary due to the fact that enemies in the game really don’t put up much resistance. Whether you are tackling one small foe or a dozen, the same attacks usually work. This takes any sense of strategy out of the combat and makes it feel more like the waiting game at times.
Thankfully not all is lost during combat as the ability to transform into mammoth-sized knights really is exciting. The enemies can be quite large and tackling them on foot can be a chore, especially when their life bars are massive in size. Once a character builds up enough reserve energy they can transform into these large knights sort of like a summon spell. Again the combat here isn’t any more exciting as these transformations have an even more limited move set. I found myself using this form mostly to stay alive during some of the more challenging encounters towards the end of the game.
In addition to the lengthy single-player portion of the game there is also an online component that allows you to partner up with your friends online. The main story isn’t playable here but instead a series of side quests that you unlock. This is truly where the game shines once you get past the barrier for entry. Much like a certain other annoying online structure, White Knight features its very own online ID that must be traded among friends in addition to your regular PSN ID. What are cool though are the community features of the game. You can have your own blog and other features that help in finding quest partners and really customize your online experience. Once you get past the setbacks and hindrances of playing online it really is a blast. It reminds me a lot of getting together with friends on Phantasy Star Online back in the Dreamcast days. If you intend to invest time into playing online, WKC is definitely a game you will want to pick up.
Visually the game looks great in some areas, while immensely drab in others. The landscapes of the environments are open and gorgeous at times, but they tend to mesh together after a while. I loved a lot of the outdoor settings with the clean, crisp look. The character models are not quite as impressive as they feature a really generic look for the most part. It is a traditional JRPG motif though so if you are a purist then it likely won’t bother you nearly as much. The music is quite mood setting with some classic tunes scattered together with plenty of forgettable ones. The voice acting though is really disappointing as I felt some of the performances really could have gone a long way in establishing some of the characters. Certainly not the worst I have ever heard, but more standard than I would have liked.
White Knight Chronicles is an interesting beast to review. There are going to be die-hard fans that absolutely love what it does and cry foul if anyone says something negative about the combat. Truth is though that a lot of the strategy you find in most RPGs simply isn’t present here. The online component was definitely more entertaining than the single-player game, but it also comes with its own set of setbacks that keep it from being as user-friendly as I would have hoped for. Still PS3 fans looking for a solid JRPG experience will not be disappointed as long as they know what they are getting into. The game flashes moments of brilliance, but it isn’t the end all, be all of JRPGs that some were hoping for.
Review copy provided by publisher.