Review / White Knight Chronicles: Origins (PSP)

Hang on, this isn’t right. This is a White Knight Chronicles game, how has it actually managed to be, dare I say it, fun?

Indeed, unlike its home console brethren, White Knight Chronicles: Origins actually stands out as a strong addition to the Sony line-up thanks to some key changes in both gameplay and format. Now on PSP, this JRPG admittedly faces stronger competition than if it had stuck to the bigger system, but it also makes a stronger case for fans to pick up and play.

The improvements are obvious from the off. Starting a new game brought up the traditional groan of the character creation screen, but instead of having a new avatar as a pointless, hollow figure in the background like in the console games, he actually takes centre stage in Origins. Unfortunately he still has to dress like a bit of a girl, but there’s a much greater presence for him this time around, serving as the main playable character and the main protagonist in the plot.

At the start of the game you’ll have to flee a city under siege, answering odd questions about your personality along the way. The answers you give shape your play style for the rest of the adventure, though it feels a bit forced to answer questions about what you would do if you were to hypothetically attack the enemy when the enemy is actually attacking right there and then.

Having made a not-so-grand escape, the game sets up its basic structure. Rather than running out into a big open world and fighting endless enemies until your eyes glaze over, Origins gives you a base in the form of a military train and then simply presents main quests and side-quests for you to tackle one at a time. This manageable structure is ideal for quick sessions on the PSP, and makes the game feel like less of a trudging effort. Five minute quests are refreshingly snappy for a series that so often requires you to sink in hours at a time.

Taking things from HD to portable does mean a few sacrifices however; there’s no voice work, and the waves of information shown during battles are harder to read. But while the fighting system is comparable to the one found in the main series, the quest structure helps combat flow.

Essentially combat is always a button press away. While out on a quest, swords are always drawn and the four characters don’t need to make any awkward transitions to get ready to fight. As such, the series’ blend of turn-based and real time action feels much smoother. A mildly easier difficulty also means fights are now enjoyable romps instead of slow, HP-chipping slogs.

While the White Knight does show up in the prequel, transforming also takes a new twist. The character and his team transform into four different modes that boost specific stats like attack power or magic. It’s built up on the same action chip system, making them ideal to unleash on end of level bosses. Power Rangers are always what first comes to mind when trying to describe the feature, as your team all transform into uniformed warriors of death. While not the defining feature of the game, it helps give the combat a bit of a kick to speed up the longer battles.

Sadly Origins still really fails to tell a compelling tale despite the gameplay improvements. It’s the same thing as last week’s White Knight Chronicles II review; boring fluff filled with the usual JRPG claptrap. A few hours in and you’re forgetting all the ridiculous names of characters and kingdoms and just wondering why the main villain decided to cross dress between a sheep and Monty Python’s Black Knight. If Origins gives the series a much needed boost in terms of gameplay, then it’s an even greater shame to see the story stick to the same head-scratching, cringe-worthy structure.

Two steps forward, one step back so far, but here comes co-op to save the day. Admittedly finding people to play with on PSP for a relatively unknown JRPG is more of a struggle than I’d like it to be, but if you can find a friend to sit down and tackle the short, sharp missions with then the game has extra legs to go on. It’s not a scratch on the likes of Peace Walker, but it’s definitely a compelling multiplayer option for a system that lacks just that.

Obviously, Origins can’t push the PS3’s stylised visuals and smooth curves in the graphical department, but it certainly does its best with the PSP hardware. This is a colourful game with that will please upon first sight. Eventually the barren environments do take their toll though, and as solid as character models are, they all still look like they had a fight with a fancy dress store and lost.

Origins is just what the White Knight series needed; an abridged version. It casts out the features that make the console games so bland and in doing so becomes a refreshingly snappy JRPG that can see you sink either minutes or hours into it at a time. As one of the PSP’s last notable games, it does well to redeem one of Sony’s lesser loved franchises.

+ Gameplay is streamlined to great effect
+ Co-op still highlights the package
+ Solid presentation

– Environments are barren and tiresome
– Story doesn’t live up to other improvements
– Character design. Nuff’ said.