Review / White Knight Chronicles II (PS3)

JRPG fans look away; this isn’t going to be pretty.

Playing White Knight Chronicles II has brought about something of a revelation; I’m not a sucker for a JRPG anymore. As I started my review of the original game just 12 months ago I wrote about how I was still in love with the genre. And now I’m not. Playing the sequel, it first made me think I was way too easy on the first game. In the year that’s passed since the last entry in this rather plain franchise I have completely forgotten about all of the characters, the baloney-filled story and the uneventful combat. And then it all came back in one wave. It was about the moment that the team all bands together for the first time, that I saw a glimpse of my pointless avatar, that I sort of realized this type of game just wasn’t for me, or indeed for many gamers any more.

Many hours and a criminal lack of trophies later and here I am, having gained absolutely nothing out of a perfectly playable, but disappointingly lazy JRPG. White Knight Chronicles II simply doesn’t push the boundaries of the genre. It’s the RPG equivalent of your Army of Twos and such; shooters that play fine, but are just completely ordinary.

The story sees main hero Leonard return to combat the evils that survived the last game along with a new threat that opens the game by invading the kingdom of [insert silly name here]. It’s the usual fluff expected of this genre; for some reason everyone has to wear a skirt and the costume design sees ‘gritty war’ transform into a laughing stock as two sides, both with antlers on their head, do battle with a parrot-themed knight leading the charge. And that’s just the start.

Having met up with parrot-man and a princess that everyone wants to capture (marks for originality there), Leonard and his crew from the last game set out on a quest to right the wrongs between the opposing kingdoms, mostly by killing thousands upon thousands of their men. Plot threads from the last game do eventually find their way back into the sequel but unless you really haven’t had enough of JRPG conventions, you’ll find nothing special here.

It’s the gameplay that’s been touted as the most improved part of White Knight Chronicles II. The original game saw turn-based combat try and meet standard real-time actions game half way with a battle system that had characters wait to charge up attacks instead of simply taking turns trading blows with the enemy. While developer Level-5 has indeed made tweaks for the better, the system still fails to evoke any real tactics, making each battle simply a bit of a wait until you can call out the White Knight via stored action chips and get things cleaned up a bit sharper. Smaller tweaks like faster charging between attacks do help the system flow, but it was always functional, it was just never much fun. We’re thinking evolution over revolution if another game in the franchise is to grab our attention.

Levelling up sticks to the skill points that give you a good amount of freedom over how your characters progress, but it goes to waste when the combat presents the MMO-like HUD that completely loses you in endless information and boring presentation. A sea of white text makes me feel more like I should be sitting there taking notes than anything else.

Only the most devoted JRPG fan could get past the completely bland gameplay to take Chronicles II all the way to the end. It provides a lengthy quest and plenty of side missions, but it all boils down to that the same kind of content we’ve been seeing long before the Final Fantasy series came to the original PlayStation. However now some would argue that even the latest incarnations of that once most popular of franchises has fallen to similar levels as this title. Indeed, carrying the Fantasy banner might have been all White Knight needed to carry to gain higher praise from some outlets.

Taking the game online still proves to be the most original part of the White Knight Chronicles experience and the highlight of the sequel. Six friends can tackle online missions that will help you level up and gain equipment for the single-player quest. It’s a shame that the online interaction isn’t carried across the whole game, as the simple company of another player improves the experience quite a bit. It does something that the majority of the game fails to; it innovates. Sure, the gameplay remains the same, but the idea of sharing a whole JRPG experience with another friend is something near completely untouched.

The game makes a few improvements on the visual side. It’s not pushing any kind of technical prowess but character models do look a bit sharper. Environments are packed full of rich colours and pleasing landscapes, though it all goes to waste in a game like this. Perhaps setting is one of the few things JRPGs still have going for them in the current industry, as popular Western RPGs have you running around brown looking for something grey.

In this day and age, I’d be happy to try out a really bad JRPG as along as it was trying something new. White Knight Chronicles II is something worse than that; it works, it’s just plain. The JRPG-loving community may well cry out at the game’s lukewarm reception, but this simply isn’t going to grab anyone else. It’s a lesson to the genre as much as it is the developers; these games need a serious shot in the arm.

Avoid then, unless you simply must get that crazy Eastern fix.

+ Definite tweaks and improvements made to the combat system
+ Online is still fun and improved with more players
+ Visually pleasing

– Completely devoid of any innovation in a dying genre
– Combat system is completely dull and uninspired
– Story is… well just a load of tosh