White Knight Chronicles II – The PS3 Attitude Review
In February 2010, the international version of the PS3-exclusive JRPG White Knight Chronicles was released, over a year after the game first appeared on store shelves in Japan. Despite selling well in its native country, the title failed to truly strike a chord with critics and gamers in the West, due to its lacklustre story, disappointing online mode, and several other issues.
White Knight Chronicles II came out a few weeks ago in Europe, this time only eleven months after it originally released in Japan (unfortunately North America is still waiting for a firm release date, but the title is finally expected to arrive in September). So, the question is, has developer Level-5 improved upon the shortcomings of the game’s predecessor?
Please note that PS3 Attitude was not provided with an online pass for White Knight Chronicles II, so this review will deal solely with the single player portion of the game.
Choose ‘New Game’ from the main menu and you’ll get a choice between playing White Knight Chronicles II or the first WKC. If you already have a completed save for the original then you can import it into either game and keep your custom avatar. You can also import data from WKCII’s sister PSP game, White Knight Chronicles: Origins, which will allow you to access extra items.
As the two stories are so closely linked, with largely the same characters, it’s probably a good idea to start with the first game if you haven’t already played it, but for the purposes of this review let’s jump straight into the second. The opening cutscene serves as a reminder of the events of the original WKC, to bring everyone up to speed with the story.
The beginning of White Knight Chronicles II takes place in the Archduchy of Faria, a new location for the series. Following the assassination of Archduke Daram, his granddaughter Miu (who should now rightfully be the Archduchess) and her protector General Scardigne become caught up in the Farian Civil War and are nearly killed, but are rescued by Leonard and his friends.
From there, Leonard and his allies embark on a mission to finally defeat Grazel, the leader of the mysterious Magi cult, who returns from the first game and now has his sights set on world domination. Much of the story is typical JRPG fluff, but there are just enough twists and shocks to keep the suspense high and maintain the player’s interest.
When you’re not watching one of the game’s many cutscenes, you’ll most likely be fighting enemies. Whilst aspects of the combat system have been slightly upgraded, it is largely the same as it was in the original game. If you’re a fan of old school RPG combat then you’ll probably get on with it quite well, but it might feel a bit slow for those accustomed to more modern RPGs.
The combat isn’t turn-based, but you have to wait for the Command Circle to fill before you can attack. This gives a strategic element to battles, because as the Command Circle fills, your opponent is presented with an opportunity to attack whilst you cannot retaliate (you can still move however, so normally a good tactic is to simply run away until you can attack again).
The good news is that your party starts at level 35 in White Knight Chronicles II, so you’ll have a healthy amount of skill points to dish out to each character at the beginning of the game, which should keep battles interesting. Consequentially, the opening sections of WKCII do not feel quite as slow-paced or tedious as they did in the first game.
There is a ridiculous amount of skills in the game, to the extent that combat can be very intimidating to a new player; another reason why it is a good idea to play the first game before starting the second. Due to the huge number of abilities, it is important to decide which weapon you want each character to concentrate on, be it sword, bow, magic, or one of the many other skill sets.
Leonard still has the ability to transform into the giant White Knight, but it’s still nowhere near as epic or helpful as it should be, because he never sticks around long enough to be of any real use. This is disappointing considering this character is the namesake of the series, but Level-5 doesn’t give the player any real reason to take advantage of this power, because it is so short-lived.
The graphics are also very similar to the first game, in that they are functional but never come close to seriously impressing. We wouldn’t describe it as a bad looking game, it’s just not taking advantage of the PS3’s hardware in the way it could. Sure, not all JRPGs can look as good as Final Fantasy XIII, but Square Enix’s epic genuinely makes White Knight Chronicles II look like an upscaled PS2 game.
On the other hand, although the graphics themselves aren’t great, the game’s art style has a charm to it that is missing in many similar titles. The game is dominated by bright shades of blues, greens and yellows, which is a refreshing change compared to most games’ monochrome visuals. Many of the characters and enemies look awesome too, and have their own unique style.
While the art direction is a highlight, the rest of the game’s visual presentation is disappointing. The user interface and menus are exactly the same as the first White Knight Chronicles, which is not a good thing, as they are still brown, uninteresting, and can be difficult to navigate. Menu lists are always a sticking point in RPGs, but have somehow been taken to a whole new level of bore in WKC.
Without a doubt, the game’s saving grace is its sound design, with nice effects and competent voice-acting during cutscenes. As with the original game, the international version of White Knight Chronicles II doesn’t include an option to switch to the Japanese voice-overs. The English-language voice actors generally do a good job though, especially compared to certain other JRPGs.
Something else this title has in common with the first White Knight Chronicles is that the music is some of the best you’re likely to hear in a game this year, and is easily one of the best things about the title. It’s very Japanese (like pretty much everything else about WKC), but the game is genuinely almost worth playing just to hear the music; and we don’t say that very often.
White Knight Chronicles II is a decent game, but it’s not the major improvement over the first WKC we were all hoping for. In some respects it is better than its predecessor, but there are still several lingering issues that hold it back from being as good as it could be. However, the inclusion of the entire first game is an undeniably fantastic bonus, as the player gets two games for the price of one.
Across the two games, you’ll likely get around 60 hours of playtime with the single player story, and potentially hundreds more out of the online mode (although it’s unlikely you’ll get quite that hooked). That kind of value for money is very hard to argue with, so if you’re a White Knight Chronicles fan or a hardcore JRPG fan who missed the first game, the sequel is at least worth a try.