Why it could have been great: White Knight Chronicles

Level 5′s epic but underwhelming PS3 role-playing game could have rocked our worlds. Edwin investigates the game’s undelivered promise.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, February 5, 2010


I can recall the moment I decided to buy a PlayStation 3 pretty clearly: it was immediately after watching the first trailer for Level 5′s White Knight Chronicles. Everything about the gameplay depicted – that visceral combo system, the cliched but vibrant character designs, the apparent presence of such exciting new features as enemy morale, or WWF-style team moves – set my thumbs a-twitching.

All this, of course, was back in what now increasingly seems the Japanese role-playing game’s prosperous mature period, with diamond after diamond hitting the PlayStation 2: the divisive but incredibly ambitious Final Fantasy XII, Persona 3 and 4, Valkyrie Profile Silmeria, Vanillaware’s compromised but beautiful Odin Sphere and Level 5′s own, gleefully nostalgic Dragon Quest VIII: Journey for the Cursed King.

BioWare and Bethesda were still PC developers, for the most part, with the Knights of the Old Republic and Elder Scrolls games merely hinting at the success the two North American developers would eventually find on high definition boxes, and the console-based role-playing market was accordingly the province of Square Enix and its imitators.

To my lately out-of-university, card-carrying anorak self, White Knight Chronicles was the herald of a still-greater epoch – a golden phase in the evolution of explicitly statistical combat, soaring storylines and richly inlaid worlds.

How time and target footage makes fools of us all. The industry has shifted and expanded over the past decade, the DS, Wii and lately the iPhone bringing about the dominance of a new, detached, impatient, more feminine, more extroverted and less jargon-tolerant breed of consumer. Development costs have gone up, and margins have shrunk under the weight of a global recession.

Major JRPG releases – The Last Remnant, Infinite Undiscovery, Blue Dragon – have floundered. Competition from North American and European role-playing houses has skyrocketed. And White Knight Chronicles, finally shipped to Europe after almost half a decade in the incubator, isn’t the game I bought a PS3 for.

A man would need a heart of stone to look on that face without wishing to slap it.

A man would need a heart of stone to look on that face without wishing to slap it.

Its flaws are those of a lot of JRPGs, but all the worse for the lateness of the hour. Trite, adolescent characterisations. A stagnant save-the-princess plot. Battles which run heavy on attrition and FX but light on actual challenge and tactical thought. Repetitive, redundant town-quest-dungeon progression.

I could go on. I will. There’s the same old tiresome high fantasy aesthetic. Decrepit A-to-B mission structure. An excess of uninteresting “stuff” – weapons with marginally higher attack values, a gazillion different kinds of potion – coupled with shockingly regressive fixed character inventories.

4 Responses to “Why it could have been great: White Knight Chronicles”

  1. forevercloud3000 says:

    Im starting to think everyone who played this game paid little to no attention to the battle tutorials and story. Yes, its true the story is on the generic side, but its not exactly horendous either which is in itself a win with the horrid stories some JRPGs have(SO3, cough).

    The battle system is also not as weak as most reviewers and onlookers make it seem. Why doees no one bring up the fact you can litterally form combos to execute on the fly? I can even name the moves I make, further personalizing my characters.

    And you say that you are forced to go down the pallette list and select “Change Target” but you can just press L2 or R2 to scroll through targets. Enemies have weaknesses to Certain Elements as well as attack types that the game forces you to discover on your own. It is very MMO like, except that it does what many MMO players wish other games did and gives you something to do while your waiting for a Party.

    And as far as the Knight goes, he rocks. Yes, he is a trump card, end all be all ass kicking giant. Yet you also are limited to how much MP u have seeing as every action costs you MP points with the Knight. If you dont time your transformations right you will get decimated. Take the situation for instance where 3 giants were around me and I destroyed them with the Knight. Then I ran a little further and ran into some kind of demon hound and was out of AC and got crushed.

  2. Edwin says:

    Hey cloud, great comment. I did enjoy the combo system, though after a while you realise that every weapon class has more or less the same unlockable abilities – thrusts, lifts, debuffs, stances, etc – so everything gets a bit samey. I don’t think I’ve ever lost a battle while playing Knight in around 20 hours of game time. It got a bit ridiculous during one of the boss fights, the one where the three demon beast things combine into a three-headed dog – I was leathering six shades of sherbet out of all and sundry, but then a cut scene popped up and made it look as if I was losing. MP for the Knight isn’t that hard to come by – just drop a potion or two. You’re right about target changing though – I’d completely missed the shoulder button thing. Will update the article. :)

  3. LocoPuyo says:

    Is this for PS2?

  4. FC says:

    Amen, Cloud. The online portion of this game is fantastic.


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