GOONL!NE Review: White Knight Chronicles

Developer: Level-5, SCE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Also on: N/A (PlayStation 3 exclusive)
Format Played On: PlayStation 3
Release Date: Friday February 26th 2010
Age Rating: CERO: B, ESRB: T, PEGI: 16+

Off all the JRPG’s I’ve played, Dragon Quest VIII ranks as the best. Immersive, outstanding to look at and a game that really could make you want to play it for hours on end, it was a triumph. With Level-5 developing White Knight Chronicles my expectations were (with good reason) high and it’s sad to say, White Knight Chronicles is, in the bluntest of terms, a letdown.

The game starts off by letting you create your own player. The depth in the creation process is excellent, letting you tailor your avatar until your heart is content, however spend lots of time going into great lengths to give your character its own personality and you’ll be sorely peeved. Your character is more or less redundant as far as the game goes. The point of letting you customise characters in great depth is that you’re the focus of the story and the lead role, but not here.

The main protagonist is Leonard, your stereotypical JRPG lead. Your character takes side stage to Leonard and is never utilised like it should be, Hell it never speaks or interacts, a baffling choice by Level-5. When playing the game, control defaults to another party members.

Leonard’s story comes from humble beginnings. A winemakers apprentice, the story follows his quest defend the kingdom of Balandor from the attacking Magi forces, which culminates in Leonard finding the White Knight armour and turning him into a kick-ass soldier. From then on the plot follows the typically forgettable save your true love structure you’ll be undoubtedly used to.

As mentioned earlier, the decision to let your tailor your character to your hearts content yet never actually need to is a strange one, and some of the choices Level-5 have taken continue to boggle the mind.

For instance, the interface and HUD are much much too cluttered, taking up valuable screen real estate. Combat occurs in real-time with no random battles or turn-based fighting but it is nowhere near as real time as say a Fallout 3. You have to wait for action gauge to fill up before you can attack or cast any sort of magic which is extremely frustrating and renders fighting to be slow and tedious.Menus too can be a confusing labyrinth of options, with the levelling up of characters, choosing moves in battle and general navigation feeling very convoluted.

The irritations continue as enemies have unlimited range on their weapons. Yes, you read that right, unlimited range. So, you’re fighting someone with a sword and think “Aha, I can just run away” well think again, you can’t. As long as you’re engaged in combat with your opponent, they can hit you from anywhere with anything they like. Hide behind a nice sturdy wall? Nope, no safety there, they’ll still be able to wallop you. It boggles the mind what Level-5 were thinking when they implemented this, especially when you can’t even exact retribution in the same manner.

Still on the topic of combat, transforming into the White Knight (who does look pretty cool) makes you pretty much invincible and you can kill most monsters with relative ease. However after beating all the enemies in the immediate vicinity you immediately revert back into plain old everyday Leonard even if you have enough magic points to sustain the White Knight armour and can see enemies just ahead of you who you’re going to probably engage in the next 20 seconds.

The combo system in White Knight Chronicles does give some interest to battles, as chaining together a range of magic and weapons does look (and feel) rather good, however all you’re really doing is mashing X.

The environments in White Knight Chronicles are expansive and generally quite good to look at, some minor pop-in deters from the experience somewhat but overall it’s quite a pretty place to explore, if a little lacking in things to do. The quality of the audio and music is of a high standard in the game and the dubbed English voices aren’t actually too bad, though some of the lines forced through the characters mouths is woeful, and the lip-syncing can be really off at times.

Cut scenes are despairingly long and boring at times. There were actually moments in the game where heading out to the garage, grabbing a tin of Dulux and throwing it on the wall waiting for it to dry would’ve been more interesting that was going on in the game. Yes, cut scenes can be long if A. they’re relevant and B. are interesting, something Metal Gear Solid has had no problems with yet White Knight Chronicles never mastered.

White Knight Chronicles also has online multiplayer, you and three other players to complete a range of quests, which certainly makes the game a lot more playable by having competent team-mates alongside you, however friends can’t assist you in the main story mode, just side missions, so the co-operative play is somewhat limited.

Final Thoughts: I came to White Knight Chronicles full of hope and optimism but left bitterly disappointed. WKC feels dated with a combat system that is severely lacking and a lacklustre story. The menus are overly complicated and the game overall has a stale feeling about it, the game leaves you feeling the days of the typical JRPG could be numbered.

Somehow Level 5 have sequel commissioned which when I first read it thought it must’ve been a mistake but no, there is another title on the way. Going by the first WKC I feel the damage could already be done and the second game could be doomed before it’s even properly begun.

If you want to know what Level-5 are truly capable of, I urge you to go and grab a copy of Dragon Quest VIII and save yourself from the disappointment that I’m sad to say is White Knight Chronicles. It’s by no means awful, just a lot of wasted potential.

Gameplay: 5  – The fighting mechanics are a major source of irritation and the fact that enemies have unlimited range is a point that cannot be overlooked no matter how lenient you might feel.

Graphics: 6  – The environments look generally great though some textures let the side down. Battle effects look pretty though the lip syncing of character models is poor.

Sound: 7  –Voice acting is good as is the backing music.

Story: 5  – You’ll get the best part of 30 hours out of it, though to say it’s an thoroughly enjoyable 30 hours would be a bit of a white lie about a story which isn’t overly compelling.

Overall: 5/10 – A huge disappointment if you are a fan of Level-5′s other work. Lots of work to do for the coming sequel.