White Knight Chronicles – The PS3 Attitude Review
White Knight Chronicles (International Edition) is a Role Playing Game developed by the brilliant minds at Level-5. Expectations are very high and it’s for a good reason. Level-5 are the developers behind great games such as Dark Cloud, Jeanne d’Arc, and Dragon Quest VIII.
In Japan, White Knight Chronicles was originally released on Christmas day in 2008. It took over a year to localize the game and many improvements have been made since its initial release.
PS3 owners have been waiting impatiently for the arrival of an epic JRPG from an established studio. Is the latest effort from Level-5 the white knight that fans have been waiting for?
White Knight Chronicles begins with a deep character creation process. You can modify pretty much every aspect of your character. Body size, facial features, and even minute details such as the angle of your eyebrows are at your disposal. Creating a good character can take up to an hour and it’s worth the effort. Once you finalize your avatar you cannot edit it without purchasing a ticket from the PlayStation Store. The only other solution is to start the game over again, and that may not be a viable option if you have invested many hours into it.
Leonard, the hero of White Knight Chronicles, is a worker for a winery in the kingdom of Balandor. His main task at the start of the game is to obtain a cart full of wine and deliver it to the castle for the 18th birthday of the princess. As the adventure begins, the avatar becomes a party member as Leonard’s loyal new friend. Your avatar is seemlessly connected to the single player mode and the White Knight Chronicles network, GeoNet. Any experience gained in one mode will carry on to the other.
The story in White Knight Chronicles is easily forgettable. The princess is captured and you have to rescue her. There are interesting events that transpire, but these moments are far too infrequent. The adventure does not begin to show its full potential until the last few hours of the game. Once the story reaches its climax, it abruptly ends. There is no closure and the credits roll right after the best sequences. A side story was partially developed but it never goes anywhere! All throughout White Knight Chronicles it felt like Level-5 was holding back on the story.
Most of the plot twists are blatantly revealed numerous times. Once Leonard finds out what is going on, the player already knew hours ago. What’s worse is that some of these events happen several feet away from Leonard and he somehow is oblivious to this. If the pacing wasn’t a mess until the final portions of the game, White Knight Chronicles could have been epic. Regardless, even if the tale is lacking, it’s not horrible.
One annoyance is that your avatar is basically a ghost during the story. At first it seemed like Leonard would pay attention to your character, but then it becomes obvious that you are nothing more than just a silent stalker with no particular goal. While this may seem bothersome, it’s not that big of a deal. Sure, it’s weird seeing the avatar just standing there being awkward, but it’s neat being able to use a fully customized creation throughout the whole game.
In White Knight Chronicles there are three members to a party and the AI controls two of them. An occasional forth member will join at random parts of the story, but they don’t tend to add much. Aside from the very basic AI commands, you can’t tell your party to do specific tasks and that is a problem. There is no equivalent to the gambit system from Final Fantasy XII, and the preset commands are a joke.
At any point in the game you can switch to another character. This is also an ability during combat, but it is unnecessarily complicated. First you have to press the select button and then you have to choose the switch characters option. Once you do that, you can finally pick the character you want to control. It would have been far easier if you could assign a single button to switching characters. If that were an option, the game could have easily been a lot faster and more enjoyable.
It makes no sense why the developers made switching such a nuisance. Since you can’t tell the AI to do specific commands at key moments, you will find yourself attacking as one character and then switching to another frequently. This helps keep the game entertaining as you will always have something to do during longer battles. It’s unfortunate that this style of playing is more of a hassle than it needs to be.
The gameplay in White Knight Chronicles is very similar to Final Fantasy XI. You explore an open world and all the enemies are visible on screen. It’s obvious that Level-5 took the MMO approach, just like Square Enix did for Final Fantasy XII. If you are not familiar with this type of gameplay, you might think that some of the rules are broken. For instance, once enemies are engaged in combat they can attack from a very long distance, even if they appear out of range. This makes running away a challenge, but it is not impossible. It’s not like the enemies pose much of a threat anyway.
White Knight Chronicles is an active turn-based RPG. You can only attack once the battle circle is complete. Due to this, there will be a lot of downtime between commands. Certain attacks make the wait shorter, while others make it significantly longer. Another variable to consider is the type of armor that you are wearing. The heavier the armor, the longer you have to wait. While it’s tempting to just equip the best defensive gear available, you probably won’t have fun just standing around taking hits.
There are six different types of weapons to equip. Staffs, swords, long swords, spears, axes, and bows each have their own skills to master. In addition to using weapons, you can also learn Divine Magic and Elemental Magic. With the exception of your avatar, each character will have skill trees that they cannot learn. Despite this, there is still a lot of freedom given to the player. If you want to use two-handed swords and heal, you can do just that.
Abilities need to be added to an Action Palette in order to use them during combat. There are three rows of seven commands to utilize when engaged in battle. While this may seem like much, as a mage I found myself omitting a lot of useful spells. Fortunately, you can save your command list and have multiple sets at the same time. This allows you to specialize your skills for the appropriate situation and they are easy to swap.
The main technique in Leonard’s repertoire is his ability to transform into the White Knight. The wait between attacks are significantly longer and there are no combos. There are moments when you are forced into one on one battles using the White Knight and they are tedious. It’s astounding how Level-5 somehow made the most interesting aspect of the game so incredibly dull. I found myself transforming into the White Knight and then switching to my avatar because there was nothing engaging about being slow, overpowered, and limited.
There are many dynamics to pay attention to during a battle. Action Chips determine when you can use certain attacks or spells. To transform into the White Knight you need at least seven AC. If you have twelve or fifteen AC, you gain new attacks to obliterate your foes with. You can also create devastating combos in exchange for Action Chips. You may find yourself constructing the most brutal looking combos and they are very satisfying to see in action.
To chain attacks you need to press the X button when the Command Circle lights up. These timed prompts happen almost immediately after the preceding attack. If you miss a button press, the combo will end. It’s a nice mini-game that requires fast reflexes, but that’s until you realize that you can just mash the X button to successfully initiate a combo.
The biggest problem in White Knight Chronicles is that the single player campaign is ridiculously easy. Throughout the adventure you will rarely have any trouble defeating bosses or enemies. Your party is simply too powerful for what the game has to offer. It doesn’t help that the enemies either don’t hit hard enough or they just die before they even get the chance to do anything. Some of the larger encounters become nothing more than just long drawn-out endurance battles. You don’t need to do clever attacks or even utilize more than ten percent of your abilities. The biggest travesty is that the gameplay is more than solid but we never get to see its true capabilities during the story mode.
Initially, there is a lot of screen clutter. While in battle, on the top left corner of the screen, every detail of the fight is constantly displayed. This can take up a large portion of the screen, but that’s until you realize that you can modify nearly everything. You can make the text size smaller, have less lines, and you can even filter anything you don’t want to see. If you don’t like the fact that characters randomly talk as you walk around, you can disable that too.
After you beat White Knight Chronicles a New Game + option unlocks. Everything aside from key items will transfer over. Oddly enough all the enemies retain their original level and stats. You will find that you can just 1 hit kill everything in your path and blaze through the entire story mode with ease. The only reason why you would even want to play NG+ is for all the new treasure chests that appear throughout the world. These chests contain hard to obtain items and equipment. You definitely do not want to miss out on the high level armors.
The visuals are a mixed bag. White Knight Chronicles sometimes looks like an upscaled PS2 game, and then there are moments when the game looks absolutely stunning. The art direction certainly makes everything look unique, especially when it comes to the bosses. It’s also neat that every piece of armor you equip is visible throughout the gameplay and cutscenes. The voice acting is pretty good but you don’t want to look at the characters mouth as they speak. The lip-syncing is completely off and sometimes their mouths don’t even move. It’s weird but you get over it.
The world that Level-5 crafted is believable and large in scale. The environments are expansive and some of the towns truly come to life due to the variety and detail put into them. You can talk to nearly every NPC, but that doesn’t mean they will always say anything of interest. While the game isn’t a graphical powerhouse, it takes advantage of its strong points and makes them flourish.
The music in White Knight Chronicles ranges from appropriate to great. There are some tracks where you might find yourself stalling so that you can hear your favorite part. Fortunately, the main battle theme is one of those tracks and this makes grinding all the more bearable. The introduction sequence alone makes it very clear that the soundtrack will be a delightful treat to the ears. If anything, the music in White Knight Chronicles is one of the more consistently good aspects of the game.
The online portion of the game is where most of your time will be spent. In White Knight Chronicles you have the ability to create a HomeTown using the Georama editor. HomeTowns are where players meet up for online quests. You can either host your town and wait for others to randomly trickle in, or you could just join existing rooms using the basic search feature on your HomePage. One nice feature is that you can set the background music of your town to any theme from the soundtrack. You can talk to players online by using either a headset or a keyboard. There are no excuses for being silent in this game.
Editing your town is a whole new investment and it can easily make you broke. Not only that, but you need to build town parts using materials obtained throughout the game. It’s a lot easier said than done and you will often find that you cannot build basic Job Parts to place into your town. It’s frustrating and it should have been more user friendly. There is no reason why making a practical HomeTown involves so much work just to get started. However, I still found myself driven by a desire to constantly improve my town. It’s very addictive.
The benefit of building a good town is that you can specialize it to sell certain types of material. By recruiting workers from the cities offline, you can place them into houses and their abilities increase your town’s stats. You can then upload your town to GeoNet and anyone online can visit. You don’t even to be there. Building a great town also means that you can unlock Georama armor. It takes a lot of effort to make Georama editing worth while and that can easily put off some gamers.
The player is allowed to sign in to GeoNet at the world map screen or at any save point. The online community easily contains the most helpful bunch of players on the PlayStation Network. It’s amazing how friendly everyone is and how willing they are to provide support if you need it. GeoNet also allows you to blog about your adventures. You will find that many people have tons of tips to share with everyone.
The GeoNet message board is as useful as it is entertaining. You can post new topics about anything and all players online can share their thoughts. While this does allow for off-topic discussion, the forum is beneficial to anyone that is looking for assistance. Many players specialize their HomeTown so that it sells certain types of items. For instance, if you’re looking for rare ores, someone most likely has a topic advertising that their town has them. All you have to do then is just press X on their name to visit their HomePage.
The friendslist in GeoNet is separate from the one used on the PSN. This actually makes adding players a lot easier if you have a full list. By using the “Add Friend” option in your HomePage, you can type in the PSN ID of anyone you know. Alternatively, you can add a player at any HomeTown you visit. There is also a companion list that shows you every person you went on a quest with. The dedicated friendlist works very well and you can locate your fellow adventurers easily. You don’t need to add 30 new players to your friendslist on the PSN just to play a single game together. Sometimes you might add someone on GeoNet just because they have a really good town.
The online missions are basically fetch quests, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most quests end with a large boss battle and you need a team to take them down. A party online can have up to four members. The difficulty increases significantly for quests, especially once you reach Guild Rank seven and above. It’s at this point in the game when its similarities to Final Fantasy XI become very apparent. It’s important that you have a good tank, damage dealer, and someone to buff stats and heal. The biggest difference is that each quest warps you to a location and you don’t need to travel a long distance to reach your destination. There is also little to no downtime after battles.
There are twelve Guild Ranks in White Knight Chronicles. The higher rank you are, the more quests you can do. Once you reach Guild Rank seven the gap until the next level is increased significantly. Due to this, you will find yourself replaying many of the older quests repeatedly for an extremely long period of time. There is one quest in particular that you can do in a matter of minutes and it provides sufficient amounts of Guild Points. The grind is monotonous and multitasking will help you keep your sanity. Luckily, the rewards for going through all this tedium pays off in the end.
Once you reach level 50 you have the ability to reincarnate your avatar. The rebirth process resets all of your allocated skills and drops you down to level 35. However, you are given an extra 40 skill points to use in any way that you desire. You can continuously reincarnate your character as many times as you want, but you won’t gain the extra skill points after the fourth rebirth. Reincarnating allows you to learn more abilities at once for multiple class types, and it’s extremely beneficial when questing online.
My character has reincarnated once, and I have mastered Elemental magic, Divine magic, and I have tons of staff skills that help boost my stats. Needless to say, I’m quite a powerful mage. The best part about a rebirth is that it resets your skills so that you can start any class with a clean slate. If you messed up early on by spreading out your skills between too many classes, you can fix those mistakes by focusing on what you know works. Unfortunately, only your creation has the ability to reincarnate. If you don’t like the way the story characters turned out, you are out of luck.
So what’s the verdict?
White Knight Chronicles is not a bad game. It’s disappointing that Level-5 did not create an absolute epic, but it’s still a competent RPG with tons of replay value. Once you get past that almost never ending grind, the game changes completely and requires more thought in order to succeed. I have clocked in over 100 hours already, and I am in no position to stop playing. I just scratched the surface of what my character is capable of and I have tons of quests left to do.
White Knight Chronicles is not for everyone. Try it for yourself and you might be pleasantly surprised. The community is great, the online quests actually pose a challenge, and leveling up is rewarding. It’s just a shame that the whole product isn’t as fulfilling as it should have been. If you are a fan of Role Playing Games, chances are you will find that White Knight Chronicles is an enjoyable, albeit cliché experience.
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