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March 29, 2010
White Knight Chronicles - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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White Knight Chronicles is out now on PS3.
The past couple of months have seen a wide variety of RPGs released onto the PS3; from the blockbuster title that is Final Fantasy XIII, to the solid Star Ocean: The Last Hope, to the undeniably quirky Resonance of Fate. And now, thrown into the suddenly crowded RPG market comes another title vying for your hard-earned dollars – White Knight Chronicles, from Level 5, the company behind Dragon Quest VIII and Rogue Galaxy on PS2. With so many alternative options out there at the moment, is this a title that RPG fans simply must have?

The story begins when the lead character Leonard (and you, his side-kick – more on that later) is sent to procure some wine for the Princess' coming of age festival. This task is easily completed, but upon delivering the wine to the castle Leonard and his friends get caught up in the Magi's evil plot to assassinate the two kings in attendance at the festival, as well as loot a precious piece of armour from the castle treasury. Leonard has other plans though, and he saves the princess from death and flees further into the castle with her, stumbling across the very same armour the Magi are searching for. The Magi then corner Leonard and the princess, only for the princess' secret abilities surface rendering the armour, which has heretofore been inaccessible to all, accessible to Leonard who quickly commandeers it. The armour or "incorruptus" as it is referred to in the game, is roughly thirty-feet tall and is tough as old boots, giving Leonard the strength he needs to overcome the Magi's defences. Unfortunately, in the ensuing battle the Magi who realise the incorruptus is now out of their reach, settle for kidnapping the princess instead. And so for the rest of the game Leonard and his friends set out to rescue her and foil the Magi's evil plot.

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Taking part in a WKC battle...
There are two distinct yet interlaced components to White Knight Chronicles – first there is the main quest in which Leonard is the hero and which plays like a standard RPG title, and second there is the online component where your created character takes centre-stage and plays more like and MMORPG. It's certainly a strange feeling to go through the character creation process at the beginning of the game, only to realise that your character plays a very minor role in the main game. Your character is always present in the main game, but never talks or gets right into the thick of the story. On the other hand, during the online missions Leonard and the rest of your party are nowhere to be seen – it's just you and any other online characters (up to four in total) you care to team up with.

There are an abundance (over fifty according to the back of the pack) of quests to undertake online, each with their own character and guild-level requirements to unlock. Just like in the main game any experience earned fighting enemies is shared between the number of people in your party, so whilst a four-member party certainly makes quests more achievable there is also less experience to be had. Any experience gained during online quests is carried over to your created character in the main game; even if you die, so this can be a good way to level up your character.

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Level-5 have impressed with WKC's visuals.
As well as undertaking quests online, you can also build your very own town which becomes your online lobby that you can show off to your mates. During the main game you will come across NPC's that you can recruit in order to populate and build your town, and developing it in this way will gain access to some of the rarer items in the game which can be used to create high-quality weapons and armour. The one caveat to this is that the cost of building your town is extremely high, and will thus only appeal to players who are thoroughly invested in the game.

Like most RPGs a large portion of the game is spent fighting enemies. Here the enemies are clearly visible on the world map, and once you get within range of them you hit a button to enter into combat-mode. Combat is entirely turn-based and your character can only perform an action once the 'Command Circle' is full. During battle you control only one member of your party, with the others acting based on whatever orders you have given them. As your character levels up you'll be rewarded with skill points which can be used to buy new skills. It's important to note that these skills are specific to a weapon type, so if you change from a regular sword to a long-sword, none of the skills you have purchased for the regular sword can be used with your new weapon; you'll have to level its skills from the beginning. This reality lends itself to specialising your characters into one particular weapon type and sticking with it – initially at least.

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Now that's one massive enemy!
Once skills have been purchased you're not yet able to use them at your leisure, first they must be allocated to your action palette which is displayed at the bottom of the screen. The action palette has space for twenty-one different actions of any type, such as regular attacks, magic or combos. Combos can be created at any time once you have more than one skill unlocked for a particular weapon type. In theory to actually pull off a combo you need to hit a button at the correct time between attacks to ensure that each attack executes in turn. However the reality is that you can simply spam the button until all attacks are executed, rather than rely on precise timing.

Whether executing a regular attack or a combo, players only have to wait for the Command Circle to charge once. As such it would seem that combos would be the most effective way to go, however executing combos comes with an associated action chip (AC) cost, which increases as the number of attacks in the combo grows. AC is gained just about every time a regular attack is used, so the more you fight, the more AC you are likely to build up. Leonard (and some other characters later in the game) is also able to transform into their Knight (or incorruptus as they are called in-game) forms if they save up enough AC. Leonard's incorruptus is the White Knight of the title, and his massive size and strength make regular enemies a breeze. Conversely, there are many enemies just as big as the Knight's of the game which present more of a challenge to your party. The Knights can still make short work of these massive enemies by attacking them directly to the head, but the remainder of your party must attack their knees or other weak point which takes much longer.

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Head East to save the princess folks!
Although a lot of these elements sound like fun, they are unfortunately let down by poor execution. The combat system is reasonable but suffers in three major ways. Firstly I found setting up new combos for each party member and each equipped weapon to be a bit of a chore. New skills are unlocked so often that combos quickly become redundant as superior skills become available, especially early on. Furthermore, combat is so easy that combos become largely irrelevant anyway, making the time spent on them a bit of a waste. Secondly, as much fun as it sounds to be transforming into Knight form and smashing enemies into oblivion, combat remains exactly the same as it is when not in Night form. So while the Knights look cool and deal more damage, the gameplay remains fundamentally unchanged when they make an appearance which is a little disappointing. A slightly more dynamic method of combat in Knight form would have made the experience much more exciting. And thirdly, and definitely most strangely, enemy melee attacks will always hit you regardless of how far away from them you are; provided you are still in combat-mode you will be hit. In contrast your party's melee attacks have a much smaller range, requiring you to stand right up close to your enemy which makes sense, but seems unfair in lieu of your enemies' limitless range. It's funny and disconcerting on occasions when you get a significant distance between yourself and your opponent, only to be dealt damage by something like a headbutt...

Level design is also a major pain. For the majority of the game your map has a big star on it which indicates where you need to go next in order to advance the story. However during many of the dungeon missions this star is notably absent, and with no clear in-game direction you are left wandering the dungeons in the hope of stumbling across the correct path. This wouldn't be so bad if the dungeons were somewhat linear, but White Knight Chronicles has maze-like dungeons which will have you wandering all over the place before eventually lucking your way out of them. The fact that enemies re-spawn will exacerbate this problem as you come across the same enemies you defeated mere minutes ago when you backtrack through the dungeon. There's not much worse than finding yourself running in circles and being forced to do the same battle over and over to boot.

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Leonard is about to take on a Phantom.
One other issue I had with the game is that when equipping gear or weapons it's not always clear which item is better; the one currently equipped or the one you're about to replace it with. When purchasing a weapon from a store there is an up or down arrow to indicate if its attack is superior, but this information is irrelevant for staff weapons. Meanwhile, when equipping either a weapon or piece of gear from your inventory there is no arrow at all, making choosing the right gear more painful than necessary.

Graphically the game has its highs and lows. For the most part the outside world is a beautiful place; whether you are wandering through a verdant meadow or wind-swept desert the game looks bright and appealing. The flip-side of this is that a lot of your time is spent underground in dungeons or ruins, and these environments are quite bland. It's probably quite hard to make rock walls or sewers visually appealing, but it won't be long until you're pining for the outside world again. The bigger monster enemies, the Magi villains, the Knights, and the different races you come across on your travels are for the most part colourful and well animated, which makes exploring the world a lot of fun. The first time you come across trolls they can be quite intimidating, while the Don's mistress is quite humorous and the Magi's two lead villains are distinctive and menacing.

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White Knight Chronicles is available now.
As mentioned in the Star Ocean review last month, RPG music can often be repetitive and thus a bit tiresome, but the orchestral score in White Knight Chronicles is actually quite good. The voice-acting suits the game too, with a good natured feel permeating both the storyline and delivery throughout. One of the characters sounds suspiciously like Mr Sheffield from 'The Nanny' which is jarring, seeing as that character is the party's battle veteran. The lip-synching is quite poor, and will be frustrating for anyone who pays particular attention to it (though I found myself following the subtitles rather than the onscreen action during many cut-scenes).

White Knight Chronicles then is an interesting, but fatally flawed title that attempts to merge a standard JRPG game with the increasingly popular MMORPG genre. The main game is far too easy, features combat that becomes repetitive, as well as frustrating dungeons that will have you walking in circles with no clear end in sight. The online component can be fun for a while, but given that combat is the same in both modes there's a good chance you'll tire of it quickly. Despite these issues, White Knight Chronicles can still be fun to play in patches; the characters are likeable enough, the storyline may be clichéd but it's also charming and easy-going which encourages you to keep going. The game is probably better suited to a younger, less discerning audience then, as older players will likely grow tired of it quickly. Not a must have RPG in anyone's language, but with a sequel already in the works, there is enough promise here to hope that Level 5 can build on these ideas and create the game we all hoped this might be.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSThere are some beautiful environments and great-looking characters and enemies in this game, but there is also a lot of dull-looking dungeon crawling.
SOUNDThe orchestral score is not wonderful by any stretch, but it's never annoying either. The voice-acting is almost entirely suitable (Mr Sheffield the warrior?), but also unremarkable.
GAMEPLAYCombat is flawed and far too easy for the most part, while some of the dungeons are downright frustrating. Knights look cool but add little to the gameplay experience.
VALUEThere is some depth here, but the game is easy enough that you may never explore all it has to offer. The 50+ online co-op missions will definitely add some longevity if that's your cup of tea.
OVERALLWhite Knight Chronicles is an interesting attempt to combine two previously separate genres, but is let down by repetitive combat and lack of challenge. There are plenty of good ideas to build on for the sequel, but for now this is probably one to hire, or pass on completely.

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