I’ll say it now; I’m a sucker for a good JRPG. In an industry seemingly obsessed with moody, brownish settings where story often takes a back seat and game length is getting shorter and shorter, here’s a genre that consistently delivers colourful titles that usually have a bit more focus on plot and a bucket load of content too. Granted, over the years it’s all started to become a bit… samey, but there’s still a lot of love poured into these games.
So despite the lukewarm reception thus far, I was still looking forward to getting my hands on White Knight Chronicles, the Level 5 RPG that I feel like I’ve been hearing about for years now (because I have). After all, this was coming from the people that gave me Dragon Quest VIII and Dark Cloud. The problem is White Knight doesn’t do anything to exceed these PS2 greats, almost like the developer isn’t even trying.
So it’s a lovely day in the kingdom of Balandor, and the royal family is setting up to hold a coming-of-age banquet for Princess Cisna. This is all fine and dandy, but of course, unless you’re Animal Crossing, this isn’t how the rest of the game is going to play out. And so enters Leonard, a strapping young lad that works for the local winery. After delivering a supply of wine to the banquet, our curious young hero sneaks into the party, only to get caught in the middle of a surprise attack that leaves the king dead and the princess captured.
It’s up to Leonard and the friends he meets along the way to – you guessed it – save the princess and discover the reasons behind this attack. Despite the numerous twists and turns, you can’t help feeling the story is just too typical of the genre. Everything, from characters to settings has just been seen before, in just about every other RPG done before.
The biggest crime of all is actually one specific character; you. Leonard may be the main protagonist of this tale, but before you even start playing you’ll have setup your own avatar to join the party. The problem is this avatar is a hopelessly empty vessel, never uttering a word, and hardly ever being spoken to. The inclusion of this character is just completely pointless in anything other than the online component of the game, and honestly after the advances Mass Effect has made with avatars, slightly embarrassing.
But past all that, there’s a game to be played here. White Knight plays out with you running between towns, dungeons, and vast plains. You’ll do the usual assortment of boss fights, item fetching, and level grinding, but there are thankfully a few changes to mix things up.
One of the best things for me at least is the way fights can be approached. Random battles are thing of the past here; as you travel across the land your enemies will be in plain sight. You can choose to run up and get stabby with them, or simply keep on walking. A few will pick a fight with you every now and again, but it’s a simple case of tapping X and fighting. There’s no transition from the world map to a battle arena, it all plays out in one smooth sequence that makes this a game that flows quite well.
The battle system also has its fair share of interesting bits. This isn’t a brain melting slog of you hit then I hit; it is turn based, but you have complete control over your character’s movement and actions at any time. You wait for your action meter, a ring in the bottom right of the screen, to fill up and then you can execute your move. As you fight, you build up action chips that you can use to pull off more advanced attacks, or transform Leonard into the White Knight, a massive suit of armour that pulls off even bigger moves. Action chips don’t carry over battles, so you don’t want to waste them, but it does also kind of turn every fight into simply waiting to get the ‘win move’.
As such, this isn’t an especially challenging game. This cuts down on the standard genre road bumps like level grinding, but also dilutes the need for tactics. It’s a shame, because the skill points you spend when a character levels up can turn your party into an interesting, if unspectacular mix of sword play and wizardry, but you can simply get by without investing much time into thoughtful levelling.
The biggest mix up the game offers is the intriguing online mode. 4 players can team up to take on a bunch of side quests. It’s fun for sure, and one of the game’s strongest points, but it matters so little to the main quest that I kind of wish it had seen a more important position. Had this mode played a part in the story, there’d probably be a lot more to say about White Knight Chronicles. As it stands, it’s an amusing diversion, but don’t expect any of the item rewards to be crucial.
It sure is a pretty game though, boasting the usual range of bright colours and crazy Japanese monsters that could have come straight from pokemon. The textures are pretty last gen, but character models are crisp, if stiffly animated. It’s a shame the ugly HUD blocks of a lot of the sights though, especially the actions menu that makes the game constantly look like it’s in debug mode. Voice work gets the usual JRPG treatment, providing a few laughs throughout, but never intentionally.
White Knight Chronicles is a JRPG from Level 5, and that’s about that. It is nearly completely devoid of innovation in a genre that’s really starting to need something fresh. A smooth battle system saves it from complete damnation, but I can’t recommend this title, especially on a system that already has the vastly superior Valkyria Chronicles or Demon’s Souls. And seeing as there’s a certain Fantasy right around the corner, there’s really no need to buy this game. Let’s hope things get a much needed shake up for the sequel.
+ The battle system is interesting, and provides a little bit of a change from the most standard JRPGs.
+ The online mode is a great addition, and adds a lot to an already lengthy game.
+ Has all the pretty graphics and character designs of a high profile JRPG.
– Unoriginal in almost every way, offers pretty much everything a DS RPG offers.
– Online should have been more important, as it’s the only serious addition.
– Your avatar’s presence in the main story is pointless.