So here's the deal: White Knight Chronicles is a decent game. Not great, but decent. Despite what you've probably heard, there's a decent gaming experience to be had here, with some original battle ideas and fun online options.
What happened was that our review code got held up, and I received it a bit later than most of our peers. While I was just getting into the game, others were finishing up and running reviews. These reviews surprised me at how negative they were. I knew that some of this relates to how unnecessarily cynical some internet game writers are, but I kind of felt alone in somewhat enjoying the game, as it seemed like pretty low scores across the board. Was I the only one that was not hating White Knight Chronicles?
I felt better after hearing the opinions of non-press gamers out there that got their game around launch date, like I did. Most of the people I spoke with are enjoying the game. Even some Destructoid readers reached out to say that they are also digging Level 5's PS3 RPG. That's a relief. I'm not crazy.
White Knight Chronicles (PS3)
First off, and not to give the bad reviews any credit, but White Knight Chronicles does make an easy target. It's an even bigger target considering that its launch hits just right before Final Fantasy XIII's release. So what's bad? Chronicles is short, kind of ugly in places, has really poor lip synchronization in cutscenes, and was released years later than the Japanese version. Worse than that, the main story has you saving a kidnapped princess. Seriously. It's also slow-paced in sections and confusing in others. Enemies can attack through walls and at crazy distances and damage dealt/received is so inconsistent that it feels like you're rolling the dice sometimes. Enemies are a bit too easy to take down, too. The boot-up takes far too long (58 seconds, I timed it) and saving takes almost as long. I got caught in walls and saw enemies walk through them. The camera is really bad in the Knight fighting sections. Worse than all of this, the game froze 11 times during my 30-some odd hours of play. And that's not all...
After all of that, you're probably wondering why I enjoyed WKC. I said it was alright, not great. The story started out being painfully cliched, but warmed up with a couple of plot twists. Watch out for that foreshadowing, though -- it drops like a ton of bricks in places. While the main characters' looks were maybe not up to current generation role-playing levels, some of the set pieces were fantastic. Sprawling, imaginative and varied vistas came alive, and almost all of them were set to beautiful music. I don't know if the glass is half full, but there's something in there.
White Knight Chronicles tells the story of a boy named Leonard, who somehow goes from part-time job worker to the "chosen one," able to transform into the ancient and powerful weapon known as the White Knight. The princess was kidnapped and Leonard gets stuck with the task of saving her and the kingdom. Just about everything that happens in the first five hours you've likely seen before. To be honest, there's almost nothing to like of the story starting out. When it gets into it you might enjoy it more. Me? I enjoyed the fighting more than I did the story.
While the battle system had a few flaws (like the previously mentioned attack range), I liked where Level 5 was headed with it. Imagine a loose MMO-inspired scheme where you'll encounter enemies out in the open. You'll engage and fight in real time, though you'll have to wait for your circular action gauge to refill before attacking. Along the bottom of the screen lies a horizontal menu that you'll populate with your choice of attacks and spells. You'll be able to freely chose from your available powers, going as far as to create your own combos and save them into move sets. It's all pretty open-ended, and that makes it hard to appreciate at first. Once the game becomes more involved, you'll start to appreciate the flexibility of being able to create move sets for every character in your party as well as the ability to instantly to change to another character mid-battle.
Of course, you'll also battle in your White Knight and one other similar being in this game. You're able to summon this Knight power at any time during any battle. As the Knight, your onscreen display and battle options are mostly the same as in human form, though you'll eventually have access to more impressive attacks and finishers. I was disappointed to see that my human combos were doing more damage than this mythical, all-powerful world-saving Knight did, though.
Level 5 was bold in including so many customization options in White Knight Chronicles, and this turns out to be one of the game's greatest assets. There's countless options for weapons and armor, which are all reflected visually for each playable character. There's also in-depth item modification, enabling you to assign more power or elemental attacks to items. Even beyond this is the leveling system, which lets you assign points for each character into just about any job, with few restrictions. You're mostly free to customize each of your playable characters in whatever way you wish. Just for fun, I had one female character wear hotpants and only cast healing spells for about half the game. She died often.
The game is divided in zones that represent different parts of the world, and you'll mostly be running across these zones to complete certain quests, taking down common monsters until you encounter that final boss. Again, this is all much like a MMO game. I found these segments to be enjoyable coming from a MMO mindset, though I could understand how they might be disappointing for someone used to a more active JRPG style battle system. Realize that you only control one character at a time, while your other two party members are on auto-pilot. You do have some control over their actions, though. Pressing in L3 cycles through command sets that change their behavior. Mostly, they were so smart that they made battles easy. I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I watched one boss battle where my two party members did all the work. Well, not really embarrassed -- they're not real people.
Speaking of people, there's an interesting cast in this game. Some of them come off as likable. It's a shame they didn't spend more time on character design, or if they did, it's a shame that the didn't translate well from paper to screen. Luckily, some surprisingly strong voice acting makes up for that. If you can get over the poor lip synch, there's some well acted dialogue in WKC, and in the end I found myself appreciating these deep characters. Mind you, not all characters ended up turning out so well. Some were silly and could have been left out of the story. There were also a couple of secondary parts that weren't as strong. Otherwise, I found myself wanting to know what happens with these characters, despite the game ending very abruptly. Apparently they're saving the good stuff for the sequel. That's annoying, isn't it.
The optional online questing and connectivity was mostly enjoyable. The online "GeoNet" has plenty of quests to go on alongside others that have finished the short game and are looking for more action. You'll be plopped into a functional (but not elegant) online interface to meet others, buy wares, and plan adventures, just like in a MMO. Mind you, none of this has nothing to do with the game's 25-hour story other than re-using some of the game's locales and a character you created in the game's beginning. You'll go on missions to acquire money and items, which you can take and apply/use to the main game. My experience is that you'll get more mileage out of creating your own quests rather than trying to jump into another's. Thankfully, there always seems to be plenty of people online looking for some quest action.
Beyond that, the online Georama function lets you build your own town from scratch. You'll use items you find in the main game and on quests to build your town, and you'll recruit residents to live and work there. It was hard for me to grasp the scope of this starting out, but I've visited other players' massive towns, full of people and NPCS, and came back inspired to work on mine more. I'm currently building an obstacle course and maze on my property to get some visitor appeal. It's quite addicting to build onto your town, though you'll find that finding materials gets to be a bit tedious. No worries: if you've got the money, you can buy outright the set pieces you want for your town from an in-game store. Most items are priced at less than $2.
Yes, White Knight Chronicles has some issues, including an unfinished story and some lack of polish. But there's a decent game here, too. Both the challenge and the story pick up as the game progresses. The hybrid JRPG/MMO battle system shows promise and the character customization options are surprisingly deep. The online modes also add quite a bit of value. Short? Yeah. Rough around the edges? Sure. But it's not a bad game.
Given the short main game length, a lower price point seems like it would have been more appropriate. If you're on the fence, I'd recommend a rental first. This may not be what you're expecting.
Score: 6 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)
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