A half empty canteen of water in the PS3’s RPG drought.
Publisher: Level 5
Release Date: February 2, 2010
Players: 1 (up to 4 online)
The Playstation 3 has been hurting for RPG’s, especially exclusives, being few and far in-between. Even though I’ve had a launch console in my living room, I’ve always shyed away from it because there wasn’t anything current to pop in, and despite the nostalgia of playing the myriad RPG’s from PS1 and PS2, the flair just wasn’t there for me. Any RPG’s that did come out in the past few years either found their way to my Xbox 360, or my handhelds, leaving my PS3 to collect dust.
Now in 2010, the dawn of a maelstrom of high profile RPG’s, White Knight Chronicles has finally come to the States. The International Edition is Level 5’s way of apologizing for being really late to the party, and its extra content is extra icing on a nice appetizer before the main course.
As a traditional JRPG, the plot was picked out of the box of clichés. Leonard is an average young man living in an average kingdom, who is drawn to Princess Cisna because she was kind to him when they were children. Needless to say, when her righteous kingdom is under attack by the Magi, she is taken away and Leonard is granted the power of the White Knight instead of his hardened, more mature companion Eldore. The image of Vaan stepping on Basch’s head as the leading man of Final Fantasy 12 comes to mind. Luckily if you’re tired of the same old story with similar wording, The single player mode clocks in at about 30+ hours, so the plot moves to each locale rather quickly, and doesn’t linger in one place for too long.
The Character Creation component is pretty robust. Even though a character of your own can be created, he or she simply serves as a silent bystander in the story mode – since Leonard is the one who is granted the powers of the White Knight, he’s the obvious focus of the main campaign. The reasoning behind this is that you’ll be playing as your Avatar whenever you jump online to play on Geonet, the online portion of WKC, and to do quests with other people. Any progress made on Geonet is brought back to single player, so if you play online often, your Avatar will surpass the main party rather quickly. Still, I found it to be counter productive when you expect the character you created to be up front and center, but is relegated to expressing him/herself with a couple facial expressions and gestures on the sidelines, or creeping behind the group out of the spotlight, during a cutscene.
If you’re familiar with the battle system of Final Fantasy 11, you’ll be right at home here. White Knight Chronicles draws some inspiration from the MMO giant, and has interesting concepts of its own. Waiting to charge your attacks like its contemporary is still as slow as ever. You can assign up to 7 actions (attacks, magic spells, combos, etc) on 3 different palettes. The interface is really streamlined, with a row of your available actions bordering the bottom of your screen and message box with combat results flowing from the top. Your actions take place in real-time, but it takes an upwards of six seconds before you can strike again, depending on your weapon type. It may seem like a minor detail here on paper, but in the heat of battle, the one thing you don’t want to be doing is waiting to trade blows like you’re playing cards. Combos can be created by stringing together a number of individual attacks to execute them in succession. To use a combo, a certain amount of Action Chips are used. After building up enough Action Chips by performing basic attacks or taking damage, you can expend them on these combos or transforming to the White Knight itself. The types of combos you can create are immense, with an upwards of thirty basic skills for each weapon type to unlock and use. Even with all of this variety, the basic attacks can’t be differentiated from one another – a lunging pierce move that took a couple of skill points to unlock does the same damage as the basic slash attack you started with. If it happens to deal a lot of damage, that single attack most likely just cost you some Action Chips to use. Combos make the battles a lot more interesting, but having to build up more AC to make combat exciting again is a letdown.
The monotony of fighting on foot can be broken up by transforming into a Knight, where each powerful attack consumes MP instead of those ridiculous-to-replenish Action Chips, but combat remains the same. Random battles become too easy when you call in the Knight, and some boss battles are impossible, or are dreadfully long and drawn out without it’s muscle.
When stacked up with the other incoming RPG’s this year, WKC shows it’s age visually, but it still gets the job done. On a decent TV, the game isn’t an eyesore, but it’s not much of a treat anymore in 2010. On the other hand, any equipment you put on reflects the appearance of each character, and its nice to see that type of attention to detail. A new suit of armor and a badass weapon makes your characters fresh to look at again. Other than the rousing opening theme (sans the vocals), the music is simply typical generic RPG fare.
WKC’s environments are pretty huge. If I wasn’t paying attention, I would have thought it was taking a page or two from an MMORPG. Each area is pretty vast, but like many MMO’s, they prove to be uninteresting after exploring them up and down at least once. The mini map at the lower end of the screen is so small that if you want to get to the next destination (thankfully is always marked by a star) in a reasonable amount of time , its expected that you’ll be navigating with the larger area map, which you’ll be constantly shifting around. A simple map zooming feature could have helped a lot here. The levels are clustered with enemies like sesame seeds on a bun, so if you like grinding, you’ll be in heaven.
Whenever Leonard becomes too unbearable, it’s a good time to check out Geonet with your Avatar. While online, you have the option of constructing your own town, organize and run quests with other players, post on a message board, or even keep a log of your adventures! With 50 quests available on disk, there’s a ton to get started with from day one. Quests have an hour long time limit to complete, and are the typical fetch quest, or Point A to Point B circuit around the map with a boss fight at the end. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. With the amount of backtracking in a given mission, 1 hour isn’t as generous as you might think. Mics and keyboards are supported too, but go for a mic if you can – typed messages will be quickly flooded by combat information during battle. Despite that, Geonet is sure to add a lot playtime after the main quest is over.
White Knight Chronicles doesn’t bring anything extraordinary to the table. It’s a solid RPG for sure, and going online with your Avatar will be the reason to why you would still be playing after the story mode is finished. Aside from Geonet’s thoughtful interface and the exciting, but shortchanged combo system, it tries to be a MMO from the mid 2000’s. I’d like to think we’ve evolved from slow combat and lifeless quests. By haphazardly relying on the innovations of games in the past, White Knight Chronicles ultimately fails to set itself apart from the pack.