I don’t want to say JRPGs are like buses but come on! In little over a month around now starved console gamers are getting Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Final Fantasy XIII and now the very late in translation PS3 exclusive, White Knight Chronicles. The Wii even got a Final Fantasy game too!
Well enough complaining just book the whole of March off and get stuck-in. RPG fans may be interested to know that this game is from Level 5, the well respected developers of the critically acclaimed Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Dark Cloud and Rogue Galaxy.
The story is a typical save-the-Princess/revenge saga. The only defence I can think of for such simple storylines in many RPGs is that anything too complicated would be hard work to write bearing in mind the many hours between story scenes we spend levelling-up grinding and exploring. FFX-2 being a prime example of ‘what the hell was all that about.’ Even so, we’re not seven! It’s clichéd up to the nines but still managed to suck me right in, eager as I was for a solid RPG and enjoying the momentum of the story and the characters anyway.
WTF! It’s not your turn!
Combat takes place in real-time with you controlling one of three party members. From the screenshots or videos of the combat you may have seen, you’d be forgiven for thinking it looked very similar to the upcoming Final Fantasy XIII. However, the almost identical horizontal command lists are different. Instead of being a series of chained events, they are best thought of as normal vertical menus (a la FFVII) but laid out sideways instead.
When the on-screen Command Circle is full, you perform your chosen command. This refills fairly quickly so you don’t get too annoyed waiting around getting slapped about. You can sometimes evade enemy attacks by putting large distances between yourselves but you’ll generally take damage from a swipe, even from twenty feet away. It still has a slightly turn-based feel.
Unlike most other RPGs, you’re limited to what commands you can have available during battles from the list of attacks, specials, magic and combos that you unlock with Skill Points earned along with Experience Points. You set up these commands through an initially complex series of menus linked to each weapon and magic type.
AI team mates will fight by themselves with a list of commands you can set up beforehand and you can also set how aggressive they act. They don’t tend to experiment much, but they do come through for you as far as healing you when you’re in danger, so no complaints really. You can switch between any of the characters at will, which can be a more reliable way of seeing how effective their current moves and skills are.
All this might sound familiar if you’ve played Final Fantasy XII on the PS2, which uses a similar automatic real-time set-up. If you’re a regular PC RPG/MMORPG player then you’re already way ahead.
You can add your own tailor-made ‘Combos’ to the command list which lets you use two-seven moves in one turn at the cost of extra Action Chips or AC. Action Chips are like a ‘specials bar’ that you use for some special weapon attacks and to link combo moves. You start off being able to hold around seven of them with more available later. You don’t have to be stingy with them as they’re replenished by giving/taking damage.
There are various weapon disciplines with their own list of skills and abilities to unlock. You can choose between swords (which include blades and maces), double-handed swords, bows, staffs and spears, with stronger weapons made available throughout the game. You don’t have to choose one weapon type and stick with it. You can level up skills for any with most characters and even reset some skills at a cost.
The eponymous White Knight of the game is the giant Incorruptus which the main character, Leonard (yes really), can transform into with 7, 10 or 15 ACs. The more ACs, the more attacks at your disposal. It’s massively powerful, maybe a tad too much as even bosses are quick to dispatch with it. Not that it’s not great fun mind.
Anyone seen my glove of doom?
These are all the right ingredients for an RPG fan but there are a few flaws that throw things out of balance. The biggest complaint is the broken inventory system. Like many RPG players I like to swap equipment around between active and non-active members alike. However, it’s a clumsy mess here as you can’t trade equipment from the equip menus, only from the item menus. You can equip them from the item menus but you can’t compare their stats here, for that you have to go back to equip. You get used to it after a while but I found myself only treating everyone to new armour and weapons every other big town or so just because it’s such a hassle. Sometimes I’d bother to spoil one party member if I found something in the field that had a high rating, if only so everyone wasn’t wearing the same armour like an emo-haired, monster slaying, J-pop group.
Minor issues include: not being able to see what a move/attack does from the command menu in battle (where you’d press Select in FF games) and the way going into your menus to tinker around doesn’t pause the game (meaning enemies might sneak up on you after a while). Also, the lip-syncing is way off.
Just one more hour…
Is White Knight Chronicles a long game? Well after three hours of playing, the opening credits turned up! You can expect the game to last 30-40 hours, maybe longer if you want to explore everything. Impressively, I never felt I was being made to do lots of ‘grinding’ levelling up, just taking on enemies as they came, on my way through the story seemed to be enough to keep my party at decent levels. Even unused characters got to keep up as they gain experience despite not being involved in fights.
Graphically WKC is a good looking game, favouring a colourful look with characters favouring a more 3D anime look than going for photo-realism. It’s a hell of a lot better looking than Dragon Age. A mix of epic vistas and busy, well detailed towns make up the game’s expansive environments. Even the deserts look good.
Like the good old PS1 RPG days, you’re occasionally treated to a cut-scene running on a better graphics engine. These are jaw-dropping and just made me think “Wow, that’s HD!” Well worth waiting for.
You can design your own party member too (not a normal haircut to be seen), but he/she is a mute character just tagging along in the story. They’re more for the online components of the game which enable you to team up with friends to take on additional quests, rather than the single player game. It’s very MMORPG territory and Georama returns, where you create your own little town to hang around in with them. The online bits aren’t for everyone but it’s there if you want it. At least your EXP and items earned online come back with you to the single player game which is a decent incentive. If you’ve got the time, there’s plenty of game here for you.
- Well designed environments & characters, awesome FMV sequences
- Lots of depth to character skill customisation
- A friendly way to get into MMORPG style gameplay on/offline
- Absurd equipment management
- Was released over a year ago in Japan
- Current objectives aren’t always clear
The Short Version: While not particularly doing anything thing new, White Knight Chronicles still manages to eat up the days like a good RPG should. The Equip menus are a mess but the depth you’re given to create a party of uniquely skilled warriors saves it. The MMORPG-style combat won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but this is a good game to try it out with.