White Knight Chronicles PlayStation 3
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by: Level 5
When a developer of the quality of Level 5 announces a new game, you have to sit up and take notice. Over the years they've been responsible for some great titles such as the Dark Cloud series and more recently the Professor Layton games. They are certainly no strangers to creating quality RPG titles and when it was announced they were working on White Knight Chronicles for the PlayStation 3 it instantly went down as a game I had to play as soon as it became available. Having spent a couple of weeks with the game however, I have to say that it's not quite the RPG experience I was hoping for.
You'll begin White Knight Chronicles by creating your character with a wide range of customisation options at your disposal. This custom character doesn't really serve any purpose in the single-player game aside from being a non-talking character that you can add to your party. You will be able to use this character when playing the multiplayer portions of the game however. Having one bland character in the game is no bad thing if the other characters in the game help to make up for it. However, unusually for a Level 5 game, White Knight Chronicles is rather short on memorable characters. In fact, the characters in the game are all rather bland and lack the qualities that help you to become attached to them.
The game's storyline revolves around a princess of Balandor, named Cisna. Ten years prior to the events of the game's storyline she witnessed the murder of her mother and hasn't spoken a word since. The kingdom of Faria, who was responsible for the murder of Cisna's mother, is now on the verge of signing a peace treaty with Balandor. All does not go well however and Balandor's King, Cisna's father, is murdered and Cisna, who finally speaks again upon seeing the death of her father, is taken as hostage. The duty of rescuing Cisna falls to Leonard, a young man who early in the game acquired the ability to change into a gigantic and powerful knight during a battle, and his small band of companions of which your custom created character is part of. The storyline, which isn't bad but never truly grips you at any point, doesn't come to a satisfactory conclusion and there's definitely room here for a sequel.
The quality of the combat in any RPG is a key part of the experience, especially when you have to grind through hundreds of battles to level-up your character. The combat in White Knight Chronicles, which is turn-based, is actually quite decent but unfortunately, it's not as entertaining as it could be. You can freely move about between turns but you'll have to wait for the circular Action Gauge to fill before you can carry out your attack or other action. The real problem is that the battles are all extremely easy. Yes, you will be fighting some absolutely huge beasts that have an almighty amount of HP, so much in fact that battles can take rather too long. The beasts don't pose much of a threat by themselves but problems can arise if you manage to end up alerting several of these giant beasts, as having to deal with multiples of them can be a pain.
We've just mentioned that you are free to move about during a battle. In most battle systems such as this you're given the ability to hit an enemy and then run out of range to avoid being hit. In White Knight Chronicles it doesn't matter how much distance you put between yourself and your enemy because they still manage to hit you (even with melee attacks) which just seems all wrong and completely nullifies the ability to move around. To make matter worse, you have to be right next to an enemy in order to hit them which makes the whole battle system feel unfair.
As your party members level-up, they will earn skill points and these can be used to purchase new skills. These skills (some of which are weapon specific) can then be slotted into one of the available slots on the command bar for quick access during a battle. Whilst you can only control one character at a time during a battle, you can issue directives, such as Gang Up, Spread Out, Fall Back and Hands Off, to your companions. You can also preconfigure tactics which set instructions such as Go All Out, Conserve, Stay Safe and Heal First. The system works well although it doesn't give you the degree of control that was found in the Gambit system in Final Fantasy XII. It has to be said that the AI characters do a good job of carrying out orders you give them and providing they've learned a healing spell, will mostly do a good job of keeping themselves alive during a battle.
Playing through the single-player game will allow you to unlock quite a lot of quests that you can participate in with up to three friends or, if you prefer, you can take part in them by yourself. They are definitely more fun when you're teaming up with others but quite a few of the quests require you to have a specific guild rank and you'll need to play through some of the easier ones several times in order to grind your level up to meet the requirements of the more challenging quests and this can be rather tedious. In these quests you can only play as your custom created character and as a result you won't be able to change into the super powerful knight, which is a little disappointing. Other online features include the ability to build your own town and take pictures during the game and send them to your friends.
The graphical quality of White Knight Chronicles is actually quite impressive. The character designs are a bit of a mixed bag but the designs for the various beasts and creatures in the game are actually very impressive. The environments are a mix of stunning and slightly ugly. The game has a few frame rate and screen tearing issues and it's a little unsightly the way that creatures just pop into view. On the PlayStation 2 this would have been understandable but on the PlayStation 3 it's very disappointing.
It's great to see that White Knight Chronicles is subtitled and as a result you'll be able to follow the game's storyline (which lasts around thirty hours or so). The subtitling is about as basic as it could be with no character names or portraits accompanying the cut scene dialogue. Some comments are not subtitled. The comments that Leonard makes when you're exploring are not subtitled. Comments made during the course of a battle are also not subtitled. None of these omissions are problematic but they are disappointing nevertheless. Tutorial messages are relayed via text and pictures and you can read them at your own pace. Messages can also be recalled from the Help option on the Systems menu. The game does support voice communications which can make online play tricky for deaf gamers but thankfully text communications are also supported too and the game does support the use of a USB keyboard. There is support for a range of preconfigured messages, and the ability to add twenty custom messages, that can be used if you don't want to type. Communication logs can be recalled at any time too.
White Knight Chronicles is one of those games where opinion will be split right down the middle. Whilst it's great that a fairly enjoyable multiplayer experience has been provided, it's a shame that the single-player experience feels so average in many respects. Most of the characters in the game are bland and feel as though they've been pulled from a stockpile of stock Japanese RPG characters. Yes there are a lot of RPG's where this is also the case but Level 5 have a history of creating games with strong characters and to see such a nondescript cast in one of their games is extremely disappointing. It's far from being a bad game but it never rises above being mediocre, thanks to a disappointing battle system and a storyline that could have been much more interesting, and as such it's a game that's tough to recommend. There are better alternatives for those who just want a quality single-player RPG experience on the PlayStation 3.