White Knight Chronicles delivers single player role-playing and online co-operative questing. Neither is pretty, but it gets the job done.
- Nifty customizable villages
- Challenging online quests
- Compelling crafting
- Dull-as-dirt plot, characters and design
- Feature-rich social tools make co-op complicated
- Your character takes a back seat to the hero
Level-5’s White Knight Chronicles straddles the line between single and multiplayer RPG, but doesn’t manage to accomplish the daring feat with anything close to resembling Jean Claude Van Damme-like prowess. This clumsy, bland and mostly uninspired role-player struggles to stretch both legs across the chasm of immersive solo questing and co-operative online play; however, the game splits its pants in the effort.
The game’s opening hours are rife with cliché. A princess is kidnapped by a sneering mustachioed villain and a foreboding evil knight in outlandish armor. The hero, Leonard (who looks like Ron Weasley in Lord of the Rings cosplay) decides to rescue the damsel even though his only adventuring experience came in the game’s first quest -- defending a wine shipment from monsters. White Knight Chronicles, predictably, unfolds as most JRPGs do: Leonard chases after his princess while meeting and recruiting adventurers to aid him in his journey.
Gameplay unfolds as follows: you and your crew hit a town, you talk to people until you’ve got an idea where to go and then you head there, entering a maze-like area where you have to claw your way past monsters to get from Point A to Point B. Combat is reminiscent of Final Fantasy XII, in the sense that you can see enemies before an encounter rather than getting blindsided by random encounters. You simply waltz over to them and start whacking away. However, your attacks are on a timer, so you can’t just button mash your way to victory. The game throws the requisite gear upgrades at you and gives you the ability to customize each character to a very fine degree. Also, points can be thrown into weapon and magic skills at will, making them extremely flexible.
Things get interesting when you realize that amidst all of this combat, you’re actually part of the supporting cast – the character you create at the beginning of the game is one of those adventurers recruited by Leonard. Having your hand-crafted character kept away from calling the shots as the game’s lead is weird at first, but later on, you discover why. Leonard eventually gains the ability to transform into a giant, super-powerful knight. The best way to navigate the game is to take Leonard’s reigns and allow your sidekick to offer support, so that the many giants, dragons and other hulking enemies between you and the end of the single player plot aren’t just gonna roll over for you.
Like Farmville With Boss Battles
At first, the fights in White Knight Chronicles feel overly simplistic, but the real-time brawls begin to bear fruit as the game progresses. Once you log into PSN, the combat becomes slightly more interesting. That’s because along the journey towards the game’s predictable ending, there are a bunch of side quests that players can tackle with friends. These fights accommodate up to four and throw difficult boss battles at players – go solo at the quest’s recommended level and you’ll surely die.
The player’s robust action bars (which feel mostly useless in the early game) make more sense when you’re playing with others, working to coordinate attacks, kick off custom combos and provide support spells. There’s a fairly complicated system of lobbies, chat rooms and message boards between the game’s main quest and its social side; however, the reward for engaging this online stuff is great. ??The coolest perk is the ability to build and customize your own village – a home base that generates supplies for you and provides a place to shop, craft and socialize with other players. Characters you encounter in towns and villages along your journey can be recruited to your town where they’ll work, buffing your burg’s ability to generate goodies and providing powerful motivation to chat up the mostly-boring NPCs who populate the castles, markets and villages you visit. If you don’t intend to play White Knight Chronicles online, you’re going to get a very different, weaker and even compromised experience. The single player story feels light and even unfinished without the interesting complications of online play.
Bland But Effective
Given Level-5’s pedigree with great titles like Dragon Quest VIII, Dark Cloud, and Jeanne D’Arc, White Knight Chronicles is a lukewarm effort from a developer that has done role-playing much better in the past. While their games aren’t always revolutionary, you can depend on them to feel unified and to nail the play and the plot. White Knight Chronicles doesn’t come close to capturing the triumphant hybridization and game-changing challenge we saw recently in games like Demon’s Souls. No, this game is too steeped in classic role-playing tropes to be that interesting. All of the game’s adherence to the JRPG scripture would be fine if the proceedings were imbued with even an ounce of originality. However, the game’s bland characters, world and plot betray an inherent cowardice. White Knight Chronicles has nothing new to say, so it hides within the spreadsheets and mechanics of role-play. It’s easy to get lost within those dungeons, becoming wrapped up in the grind of conquest and the diversions of crafting. Sometimes that kind of RPG busy work is more than enough to keep questers questing. In White Knight Chronicles, it’s just barely enough.