E3 09: Hands-on with White Knight Chronicles

White Knight Chronicles is the latest game by RPG darlings Level 5. It’s been a while since we’ve seen anything from them, but could this be a welcome return to the spotlight?

It’s difficult to provide hands-on coverage of an RPG that you’ve only been able to tackle for a matter of minutes at a crowded booth, but I can certainly tell you how the combat pans out, and how it looks. Please hit the jump as I go hands-on with White Knight Chronicles.

I cleverly swung by the PlayStation booth while Sony was holding its E3 press conference, meaning the other idiots were all far away and keeping the games clear for my own personal enjoyment. So it was that I easily grabbed a controller and got into White Knight Chronicles, randomly hopping into the middle of a game to try out the combat system.

White Knight Chronicles effectively takes the Final Fantasy-style Active Time Battle system and merges it with realtime gameplay. Those used to realtime RPGs like Star Ocean or the Tales series will be jarred at first by the fact that you don’t simply button mash in order to attack. In a style similar to a turn-based fight, characters only get to perform one action before they have to wait and recharge, although they’re free to move around at this point. It certainly threw me off at first, but once I approached the gameplay as if it were turn-based, I found the whole thing much easier to cope with. 

Battles are initiated simply by pressing the X button to draw your weapon when enemies are spotted. There are no random battles, and there’s a very MMO feel to the patrolling enemies and the way in which battles can be instigated and broken off with a press of the O button. In order to perform actions, you must first equip them from the commands menu. Each character has a number of empty slots at the bottom of the screen, which can be filled with various attacks and magic spells that are often specific to particular weapons. If you lack the right weapon, you can’t perform the attack. For example, you can’t use the “Hack” command with a heavy sword. 

To use an attack, you select it by using the D-Pad to scroll left or right and highlight the available slot. Pressing X will then use that command and a circle onscreen will gradually appear, indicating your recharge time. It’s a simple system, streamlined to make it easy to cope with realtime play. 

Commands can be earned and developed via the menu, although I never got to do any of this with the characters available to me. I was also unable to work out how to use items during a fight. I tried to equip them in the same way I could equip commands, but no such luck. I am obviously retarded. 

Although there was no online co-op enabled, I was able to get a good grasp on how it works. I was joined in the game by an AI partner (who I could control personally at any time), and they followed me around and responded to quickly implemented commands. The suggestion here is that another player can take on that role and fight alongside you. A click of the left stick communicates a quick command to all players, such as “fall back” or “attack.” Unfortunately, you can’t choose which command to make, and have to keep pressing the stick to get the desired one. In-game chat is supported, along with the ability to emote. 

As you’d expect from a Level 5 game, Chronicles looks incredibly good, graphically, with some vast, brightly colored maps and a great artistic style, with enemies that have a very memorable look to them. It’s definitely a looker, but these guys rarely put out an ugly game. 

So far, White Knight Chronicles is looking good. The combat is solid, and although it takes a little getting used to, should prove itself quite interesting, especially when players get to level up and deepen the experience with new attacks. It’s going to be all about the story, however, and sadly you just can’t get the measure of that at a show like E3. RPG fans would do well to keep a tentative eye on it.

Jim Sterling