Level-5 wants you to hate the White Knight Chronicle series. They must do. No developer in their right mind would hide an otherwise solid JRPG experience under so many layers of poor design choices…..there’s just no way. White Knight Chronicles II and its forbearer (which is conveniently included in its entirety on the disc) have all the hallmarks of a very solid JRPG. Its mix of traditional JRPG storytelling and additional MMO missions (for those who wish to take the battle online) sounds like a winner on paper and really should have made the series a more enticing prospect to the now coveted western market. The story, while underwhelming, is solid enough and the customization options throughout are absolutely fantastic. Heck, even the battle system has all the ingredients of a deep involving mix off unique JRPG design choices and MMO real time combat.
Really, White Knight Chronicles II, with its 200+ hours of content and its varied and often beautiful game world, should have been a big hit for the relatively RPG-starved PlayStation 3. But like I said, Level-5 wants you to hate this game. If you jump straight into White Knight Chronicles II (a not unfair assumption considering the name on the box) you’ll be treated to a rather epic cut scene full of the kind of name dropping and game specific terminology that will leave all but the previously initiated feeling somewhat lost at sea. Then comes a by the numbers escort mission made hugely confusing by the fact that your Knight is already pimped out to level 35, complete with a move list and selection of items that is given exactly zero explanation.
It’s at this point that you realise that you aren’t playing a sequel but a glorified expansion pack that literally continues exactly where the last game left off. Despite a brief “story so far” introduction, WKC II drops you in at the deep end with little more than a punctured arm band to keep you afloat. Of course, the other problem with this being nothing more than a full priced, albeit content rich, expansion pack, is that the numerous flaws that dragged down the original are all present and accounted for here. While a few changes have been made (and also updated on the remastered original) this is very much a case of more of the same.
And when I say more of the same, I really mean more of the same. WKC II is the kind of lazy product that will make both fans of the original and newcomers alike enraged. Rather than a new world to explore, WKC II, thanks to a lazily implemented time travel storyline twist, sees you revisiting many of the same places seen in WKC – complete with same bloody enemies and the same town at the end of each field location.
To make matters worse, despite the ability to level each and every character on your team to the nines, due to a lack of an extended skill tree, levelling each character beyond higher HP and MP is all but pointless. Once you’ve updated every move for your character’s chosen role (which can be achieved relatively early within the confines of the game as a whole) levelling other skill group can actually prove detrimental to the group as a whole.
While you can level up a character in any way you see fit, if you decide to upgrade your mage’s attack abilities once you’ve rinsed the magical options, this character is more likely to run into battle head first rather than keep their distance and do what they’re best at. As you only control one character at a time, you are reliant upon the healing abilities and potential ranged attacks of the AI, so the last thing you want is your archer and mage running into battle like they’ve got a mace in their hands.
This removal of the grind carrot in front of your eyes, combined with a recycling of so many locations from the first game makes WKC II a grind without the necessary compensation to make it a worthwhile or enjoyable experience. Sure, there are new armours and weapons to find, but honestly, you’re going to need a better game than this to keep you going right through to the end.
Admittedly, WKC II does get a lot better towards the end of the adventure, it’s just a shame that you have to go through so many hours of relative boredom to get there. There are the MMO-style online missions to keep you entertained, which can now be played with up to five online companions. But despite them playing an even larger part this time around with a slightly more natural implementation, they still feel forced into the more traditional JRPG framework and certainly don’t do enough to warrant the game’s rather hefty price tag.
So, if you’ve already played the original, well, I’m sorry to say that WKC II is going to prove a pretty major disappointment but….and this is a big but (stop tittering at the back please), White Knight Chronicles II, as a complete package, may actually be worth a punt for newcomers to the series. Despite the poor design choices and disappointing sequel/expansion, the inclusion of the superior, remastered original might just make this an intriguing proposition for PS3 owners looking for a bit of JRPG action.
Unlike the sequel, WKC starts off with a slower paced introduction that drip feeds the games options and abilities in a more user friendly manner, with the fact that you’ll be visiting all of the locations for the first time being an obvious added bonus. Although slightly dated graphically, WKC is still home to some pretty impressive vistas and some genuinely impressive enemy design. The majority of the core cast may be little more than a cliché-ridden example of by-the-numbers JRPG characters, but the voice work is decent enough, with the talent on show doing their best with the decidedly suspect script.
Despite the occasional puzzle, most of your time spent with WKC will be spent in battle (when not watching cut-scenes of course) which would be fine if it wasn’t for that fact that the whole system is just so convoluted. Like so much of this game, the battle system probably looked great on paper, what with the wealth of items available, customisable combo system and party swap options. But sadly, it’s all combined to create a system in which you’ll spend more time in the menu than on the actual battlefield.
The actual base mechanics are very solid, with a real-time MMO system in place that keeps things immediate while still maintaining the more measured, tactical approach you would expect from a JRPG. Of course, this is all combined with the game’s unique selling point of being able to turn your character into a giant Knight that can tear through some of the game’s larger enemies. With a combination of magic points and action chips, the choice to unleash an immediately powerful attack or to build up towards a Knight transformation keeps most encounters entertaining, with the potential transformation proving consistently enticing thanks to the customisable options available for each character’s Knight.
If you are the kind of gamer who enjoys an almost unlimited level of customisation, WKC’s battle menu and combo options will probably keep you very happy, but for the majority of gamers, it will more likely prove unwieldy and time consuming. Don’t get me wrong, when I finally got there the battles were fast paced, tactical and entertaining. It’s just a shame that I had to spend so much time trawling through poorly designed menu screens to get the best out of it.
White Knight Chronicles II’s huge amount of content, varied gameworld and unique mix of JRPG and MMO mechanics could (and really should) have made it one of the more interesting prospects on the PlayStation 3. But thanks to a host of poor design choices and a lazily designed sequel, the White Knight Chronicles series will remain an infuriatingly missed opportunity and further proof that the PlayStation’s days as the home of top quality JRPGs are a thing of the past.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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