29th March 2010 - White Knight Chronicles International is the western market’s translation and enhancement to the original White Knight Chronicles released in Japan at the end of December 2008. Developed by Level-5, (who created the JRPGs Dark Cloud series, Rogue Galaxy) they are no means new entrants to the JRPG genre. Although the western translation is a year late, it comes included with the downloadable content that was available for the Japanese market and the much requested voice chat feature. With an untimely Australian release flanked by two second generation JRPGs namely Final Fantasy XIII and Resonance of Fate, does White Knight Chronicles offer something unique to the table?
White Knight Chronicles is a unique JRPG entry in which it combines an offline and online component in one single package. Upon starting the game you are greeted with an avatar customization screen, allowing you to craft your own character for the single player story and will be your main character in the online portions of the game. The vast amount of customization is welcome, giving you plenty of options to change your avatar’s looks.
The offline component of the game, chronicles the journey of the main hero Leonard, as he sets on rescuing the princess of Balandor (the kingdom he lives in) whilst he gathers his band of merry men (and women) along the way and transforming into the powerful White Knight shown on the game cover. In a nutshell, the offline plot is pretty ordinary; it is the usual save the princess from the bad guys who are attempting to conquer the world. There are pre-requisite romantic scenes in the game, the usual backstabbing and betrayals with some plot twists that you probably can guess from a mile away. The dialogue isn’t that fantastic and the lip syncing to the voiced dialogue is decidedly awful. Speaking of the in game translation, there are multiple language tracks on this game but you cannot play with Japanese voices with English subtitles, a seemingly common request of JRPG players these days. One thing to note is that there definitely is a sequel planned since the game ends by introducing more people out of the blue and abruptly ending.
Focusing on the single player experience, you are just moving from one navigation point to another hitting the next checkpoint. Side quests come in the form of guild quests but you cannot use your story characters to participate, either you do it solo or go online to form a party of four. The character skill system is fairly rudimentary, every level you gain four skill points which you can spend in a variety of weapon types, unlocking statistic upgrades and new skills which you can use in custom combos. The higher tier skills consume action chips, which is regenerated in battle through attacking, taking damage or by using items. These action chips also are used for transforming into the White Knight so management of your action chips adds a nice tactical component to the game. I was disappointed that higher tier weapon skills didn’t necessarily translate to increased damage output and you are left to using the basic attack skills to grind back your action chips.
The battle system is in real time, transitioning from exploration to combat smoothly. Performing actions involves waiting for your action circle to fill before you can execute a command. In the offline game you can only have 3 players (plus an occasional NPC guest) while the online game you can have the maximum 4 per party. The battle system involves watching a circular action gauge fill, allowing you to execute a command selected from three lists of possible actions at the bottom of your screen. The time between attacks is long and slows down the action. For some reason, only your attacks have range restrictions, enemies can attack you without range checks.
One positive feature is that you can create your own custom combos; essentially you are given a set amount of slots in which you can chain your attacks together in one turn. Doing so consumes action chips, depending on the relative strength/rank of the attacks you chain together but it doesn’t hide the main issues with battles, there isn’t much strategy or challenge present. In battle you only control the leader with a mediocre AI controlling the rest of the members. Controlling other characters involves opening a menu to switch your character, halting the action. You can assign a variety of “tactics” to each team mate and at best, they heal you before you die and can occasionally cure your status ailments. Their attack patterns are not very smart, often choosing to spam one or two attack commands you have put on their command bars and never execute a custom combo. Towards the end, enemies get bunched closely together and the AI is dumb enough to wander around and proximity aggro other monsters.
The bulk of your playtime will probably be in its multiplayer content, called Geonet in-game; this edition contains all the online quests that were originally paid DLC for the Japanese version, bringing White Knight Chronicles to the realm of Phantasy Star Online. The multiplayer aspect now supports voice chat (a sorely needed feature) and features the town building mini game Georama, (similar to the Dark Cloud series) which involves building your own town and providing a “lobby” for other online players to gather and interact with. The multiplayer component of this game is probably the better half of White Knight Chronicles provided you enjoy the online grind aspects of a typical MMORPG. Online you build up your avatar’s levels, grind for guild ranks (which enable you to tackle harder quests) and grind for items to craft the next tier of amour and weapons. Probably the best thing going for White Knight Chronicles is that there isn’t a PS3 MMORPG yet (until FF XIV later this year) so it’s a good niche to fill till then. Obtaining guild quests involves grinding guild ranks and buying them at the store, while some are unlocked as you progress through story mode and discover new areas.
The guild quests themselves however aren’t that fun. While they often have sub goals to complete, it is mostly a race against the clock to complete the quest to gain S rank (for the best rewards and guild rank point reward). Most of them can range from 5 minutes to almost an hour (or more) to complete and the higher the rank you go, the more complex it can get to obtain S rank. I found guild quests were similar to doing instance runs in any MMORPG, you get put into a map, there are lots of monsters, you do a few objectives (i.e. picking up items from certain spots) then you fight mini bosses or a quest end boss for loot/random drops.
This game looks like a first generation Playstation 3 JRPG, at times the character modeling isn’t as detailed and looks similar to Enchanted Arms or Infinite Undiscovery. The vast environments are rendered beautifully, there is a good variety of environments, from green plains, caverns, dungeons and even a scorching desert but it is nothing compared to the graphical splendor of its current JRPG generation rival, Final Fantasy XIII. There are occasionally CGI scenes at major plot points and they look very nice but are too different visually you really can tell the difference unlike FF 13 which transitioned between the two very gracefully. Character animations in combat are fluid and a nice touch is that their appearance changes depending on the equipment they wear. Spell effects are not that spectacular, akin to most spell effects in MMORPGs and the transformation scenes to the Ark Knights don’t take too much time.
Cut scenes are thankfully skippable though in online mode you cannot skip them because they are used to synchronize all the players back to the location where the event will take place. The various cities and towns are grand in scope, littered with a lot of NPCs, the majority you can interact with and read their idle chatter while loading times between town transitions and maps are prompt and minimal. The slowest part I’ve found was actually saving the game, it needs to write out your save data then saves the system data as well and that takes a good 30 seconds to a minute usually.
The background music sets up a good mood, being delivered through Dolby Digital 5.1 and comprises of mostly higher quality synthesized tunes, no orchestral soundtrack here unfortunately. Your party talks amongst themselves as you traverse the environment with most of their banter sensitive to the current plot developments but can start repeating themselves, especially in the longer end game dungeons. The battle music kicks in forcefully once you switch to combat mode. The quality of the voice acting is mostly passable. Thankfully there isn’t the pre-requisite cutesy high pitched female character this time around (perhaps Princess Cisna might be a contender) and besides a few grunts and groans, your player avatar is a mute during the single player experience. Even your player avatar’s facial expressions looks painted on.
The single player experience should take roughly 30-35 hours of game time to complete but it is the online component that delivers the value for money. For those with a penchant and patience for a heavy MMORPG type grind, you can easily sink in another 40+ hours because you can level cap four times over (each time gaining more and more skill points to create a character that can max out 4 different skill trees) and grinding random drops for armor and weapon creation is always a hit with people. Georama also presents another type of grind as you grind money to build up your own town and the Geonet online functionality provides in-game friend lists, message boards and lobbies to meet up with fellow White Knight players. For people looking for a similar online game to Phantasy Star Online for the Playstation 3, White Knight Chronicles should deliver that kind of experience. You are recommended to find a steady party of 4 so you can start tackling the harder guild rank quests.
Ultimately, White Knight Chronicles is let down by its fairly middling single player experience. The core JRPG offline game on offer does not stand up to the stellar story telling experience of other JRPGs such as Tales of Vesperia or Final Fantasy 13. The battle system on offer is a bit of a snooze fest and not that exciting to watch or engage with. It doesn’t provide anything revolutionary or exciting (like Magna Carta 2’s chain break system) or provide the fast pace real time battles like Star Ocean 4. Being released in the busy Q1 period of 2010 means it will need to contend with recently launched JRPGs, Star Ocean The Last Hope International, FF XIII, Resonance of Fate and the upcoming Tales of Vesperia for PS3, all which feature much better graphics and stronger single player experience.
White Knight Chronicle’s shining light is its online aspect, something that’s unique and guaranteed to provide hours of gameplay for those gamers patient enough to grind through. I’d only recommend this game for those looking to engage with its multiplayer aspect but non-JRPG fans can probably give this one a miss.
AAG SCORE: 7.0/10
+ Online functionality provides easy matchmaking services and lag is a non-issue
+ Character customization is fully feature and appearance can be changed with armor/weapons
+ You can build your own town and recruit town people and get other online people to visit it
- Combat system is not exciting and no reason to use a variety of skills
- Single player story is lacking and a sequel is obviously in mind
- Enemies can attack you from across the map
Reviewed and Written By Danny Yee