(http://www.us.playstation.com/PS3/Games/White_Knight_Chronicles) Rated Teen by ESRB. Following its popularity in Japan back in December 2008, White Knight Chronicles is finally brought over to the States. The developer Level 5 had already built up plenty of RPG-making experience from being the makers of the Dark Cloud series and partners with SquareEnix in creation of Dragon Quest VIII and IX. With loads and loads of contents, White Knight Chronicles is an ambitious project to bring online elements into traditional RPG play. But despite being a console title, it is easily evident that plenty of creative juice had gone into this unique online RPG experience since it does not feel trivial even when compared to many PC-based MMORPGs.
In White Knight’s vibrant and colorful world lies a legend of ancient super weapons, the Knights, which are gigantic suits of armor transformed from their chosen Pactmakers. At the time when the story begins, these Knights are sealed away inside their Arks, an item that functions as the transformation device. The story starts unremarkably with a birthday ball of the 18 years old Princess Cisna of Balandor Kingdom. As a Princess in a videogame, of course she gets kidnapped at an important rite of passage. But fortunately the predictability does not last and it even has plot development that leads to the absence of a party member, which many recent RPG titles shy away from.
The player character is more or less of a double-edged sword to this game. On one hand, the 9-pages long customization allows for limitless avatar creation. On the other hand, it also pushes the player away from immerging into game world by making the mute player avatar a mindless tag-along to the hero in his quest to save the princess. The story is driven by the numerous and sometimes lengthy cutscenes, and the characters keep the journey lively by having conversations among themselves even if it is occasionally repetitive. While the interactions can be intriguing at times, the characters themselves all appear to have their own motivations. This goes to show the efforts that made the story captivating.
The graphics have its impressive moments. The photo realistic CG movies can hardly be differentiated from a HD film if not for its not-of-this-world landscape and creatures. The in-game world contains many environmental details such as grass and sand, with no noticeable slow-down. But after all, the game was first released back in 2008, and so it can’t be helped that the in-game engine is slightly dated.
The designs however are visually pleasing, the Knights and the larger creatures all stand many times over the other characters. The Knights in particular are an interesting blend of medieval armor and giant mecha, controlling such a creature always appeals to the boy in us all, regardless of age and even gender.
The music is reminiscent of many other Japanese RPGs, but not in a cliché manner. The majestically orchestrated soundtrack is down to earth, and fitting to each and every area as well as situation. The similar choices in instruments across the many tracks also help to keep the whole game cohesive. The voice acting did not impress as much as the music, largely due to the hero keeps saying “Cisna” over and over again. Though other than that, they are believable without a hint of exaggeration even through the more predictable parts of the story.
White Knight Chronicles is like 3 games rolled into a single package, but each have elements that affect the others. The most basic of the three is following the story typical of an RPG. And typical of RPGs, it has combat and a leveling system. Combat wise, the player can clearly spot the monster on the field and may choose to avoid combat; otherwise it seamlessly switches over to its real-time combat system soon as the player arms the controlled character with their weapon. With 3 command bars holding up to 7 selectable commands each, even the mages will have no trouble pulling off their huge arsenal of spells at the press of a button. There is more to combat than using single attack or spell commands with its combo system, in which the player can pre-set chains of up to 7 attacks into a single massively damaging combo. The player may control any character in the party, with the other 2 combatants controlled by AI. While the AI is superior to many reckless AIs of other titles, the player still needs to understand their basic pattern in the various tactical modes and adapt to it. Furthermore, the player can limit the AI’s action by changing the command bars of those characters. But despite all these conveniences, the game manages to stay challenging through well-implemented limitations. The leveling system allows the player develop freely among its eight weapon-based skill trees.
Another portion of White Knight Chronicles is meeting others and playing with them through GeoNet. Although some of the game’s 60+ quests can be played solo, the harder ones become more manageable with 3 other players. Community features of GeoNet include an in-game bulletin board, a private message system, and player-owned hometowns called Georama. One of the disappointments of the online features is the inability to use the messaging system at all whenever the player isn’t in the GeoNet menu. However, that and the short connection and load time during online play keep the online questing continual.
There are many creative features in White Knight Chronicles, with Georama being the largest of them all. The player hometown can be purchased from a NPC fairly early on. At that state, it’s mostly a blank piece of land. To improve the hometown, the player needs to raise money, gather material from different lands and monsters. In return, a more developed hometown raises the occurrence of rare material in addition to providing some gathering spots. Besides improving the town, materials can also be used in making new weapons, items, armor, and accessories.
White Knight chronicles will easily lasts 100+ hours between the online and offline components. As mentioned before, gathering resources and designing the layout of the hometown is one the focuses besides the main story. And it’s even more motivating since the player may upload their personal Georama onto GeoNet as a meeting place, to show off to friends. Since it will take many monsters to gather all the necessary materials, the player avatar development is tailored so that the player may continue to gain skill points after reaching the level limit. Eventually, the player avatar is capable of learning all the available skills and spells, making it the most powerful character amongst the characters from the story.
When approached with a relaxed attitude, White Knight Chronicles far exceeds all expectations. There are so many features one just can’t help but be distracted from saving the princess, which in turn decreases the urgency and drive of the main plot. The single player story is further weakened by the mute and unimportant player avatar, only if the avatar has a more significant relationship to the story. But by the same token, the current design guarantees many hours of entertainment if not an MMORPG-esque addiction.