Level 5 know a thing or three about RPGs. Their Dark Cloud titles were very well received, and Rogue Galaxy wasn’t half bad either.
Their latest offering is White Knight Chronicles - which was actually released in Japan in 2008 but has only recently reached our shores. It has been touted as the “first true RPG on PS3” and accompanied by much hyperbole, so we were hoping it would rock our world.
The storyline is fairly standard: set against a backdrop of two kingdoms thrown into turmoil by a nefarious organisation, a young, love struck zero-to-hero and his mixed bag of companions set out to rescue a kidnapped princess from the clutches of the aforementioned bad guys. White Knight Chronicles is unashamedly classic JRPG: you watch loads of melodramatic cut scenes, engage in numerous battles, gain XP and level up, kit out your party with better gear and skills, rinse and repeat many times until you reach the end boss and a final dose of cinematics for good measure. It’s a long, repetitious haul from start to finish, but fans of the genre love that kind of stuff.
The nine step character creation stage is incredibly detailed – excessively so, considering your avatar is merely a sidekick and not the central character. Sure, it’s nice to have some degree of freedom when it comes to customising one’s appearance, but 40-odd different eye shapes to choose from is major overkill. We rebelled by creating the most hideously deformed player character ever seen in an RPG. Initial entertainment over, it was time to get on with the business of princess rescuing.
Pop up tutorials offer guidance as required, so we can only assume the game manual does too (our review copy arrived devoid of any helpful documentation). There is plenty to learn, although seasoned RP gamers will find most of it is fairly intuitive. Newcomers to the genre may find the learning curve intimidating. The strategy guide (available separately) is a handy reference for gamers who don’t want to miss a single thing.
We did experience some minor frustrations with the interface – particularly during combat, when timing is more critical. Also, the analogue stick proved a bit twitchy at times, making selection actions tricky (or perhaps we were just being heavy handed). While the main storyline is linear, there are opportunities to take on secondary quests and get in a little sightseeing while you’re at it. If you really want to be the tourist you can take some snapshots with your nifty crystal camera.
Within the game there’s a plethora of weapons, items, skills and spells on offer, providing the player with plenty of choices when it comes to individual character development, and building up a team that will fight most effectively. The combat system has a very similar feel to Final Fantasy XIII, being a blend of turn-based and real time. Every action costs points, and characters must wait until their Command Ring is full - approximately six seconds, before they can perform the action. As your characters gain levels they can customise their attacks, combining certain actions to create devastating combos. The party can field active three characters at a time, and AI is generally good. Since enemies are visible from a distance you can select party members to your best advantage.
White Knight Chronicles features some extremely large and dangerous creatures – the kind that any sensible party would run away from, as fast as their plate mail armour would allow. However our hero has unlocked the power of an ancient war machine in the form of a giant white knight, which can lay down some serious hurt on such beasties. Watching two oversized opponents duke it out is quite a spectacle, and a definite highlight of the game.
We spent a bit of time exploring Geonet, the game’s online component. From here you can go on quests with other players, explore user-created towns or invite others to visit your own HomeTown. This interesting feature will see you clocking up a few more playing hours, which adds value to the game as a whole. One downside for us was the lengthy save time, which was somewhere in the region of 25 seconds – not quite long enough for a trip to the bathroom, but damn near!
Neither sound nor graphics are cutting edge, but they’re of a high standard. The outdoor environments are especially great viewing. The soundtrack comprises adventuring music that is easy on the ears and situation appropriate, switching smoothly between the various scenarios. Likewise voice acting, apart from oft repeated random comments from your companions, is of a pretty decent standard. Dialogue is the stuff of soap operas, which is par for the course in this type of game. Despite being heavy on doe-eyed, quirky anime characters, the game is not suitable for younger players. For example, the hapless princess witnesses the murder of both her parents, and there is the occasional use of strong (but not offensive) language.
Level 5 has chosen to follow a tried and true formula, rather than risking anything radically different. We can safely say White Knight Chronicles will appeal more to JRPG fans than mainstream gamers. With dozens of hours of playing time and some genuinely interesting creatures to fight, it’s definitely worth considering for those long, dreary winter months ahead.