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

The craftsman-like attention to detail in which the whole project is steeped only emphasises the misguidedness of its conception. This game is a relic, the all but proverbial ancient magical weapon of which RPG writers are so fond, an exquisite antique typewriter in an age of multi-touch tablet computers and voice recognition software.

But in the midst of these deficiencies, there’s the odd glimmer of interest. White Knight Chronicles needn’t have been forgettable. In two ways at least, this game had the potential to be rather unique.

Thanks to that brilliant ambient chat feature, you needn't wait till the cut scenes to work out that you hate everybody.

Thanks to that brilliant ambient chat feature, you needn't wait till the cut scenes to work out that you hate everybody.


The campaign takes off with a fantastic initial twist, as it transpires that the character you’ve pieced together from the customisation screen’s copious sliders, palettes and checkboxes is not, in fact, the hero or heroine of the game’s rescue story cum save-the-world yarn. That honour falls to Leonard, a beardless Skywalker clone with the usual unsuspected mystical heritage, who bumps into your created character while working at his adopted dad’s wineshop.

To unpack the implications of this without resorting to pseudo-academic guff is difficult, but the effect, in short, is to yank players out of the detached, securely impersonal guiding role we’re so accustomed to. We see ourselves, or at least how we’ve chosen to represent ourselves, as participants in the story.

One characteristic of what is loosely called “modernist” or (even more loosely) “post-modernist” cinema is the violation of the spectator’s sanctity: films like Trainspotting and Synecdoche, New York refuse to let you “sit back” from what you’re seeing, insist that you consider yourself in relation to rather than independently of their dramatis personae.

A tussle with the obligatory Darth-Vader-in-all-but-name.

A tussle with the obligatory Darth-Vader-in-all-but-name.

Many games developers are wise to this trick, offhandedly termed “fourth-wall breaking”: think of the famous controller swap in the battle against Metal Gear Solid’s Cyber Mantis, in which the game abruptly peers beyond the confines of its own fiction, or Nariko’s skin-tingling attempts to engage the player in dialogue during certain cutscenes in Heavenly Sword. Level 5′s embodied, participatory player personas are in good company.

There’s another angle to this. The character you create is also your multiplayer avatar, the conduit through which you communicate with other players. He or she thus has two “biographies”, in a sense, the set-in-stone bio from the single player campaign, and the living history you gradually assemble through your success and failures online.

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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