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

Imagine if those two “biographies” were in competition, so to speak. Imagine if the personality forged during your online adventures were mapped back onto the single player, perhaps making your character more disposed to intervene in disputes between major cast members, to pick the left door rather than the right door, to fight with an axe rather than a longsword. Imagine that the whole balance of the drama was tethered to your multiplayer exploits.

Of course, most JRPG developers would sooner sacrifice their offspring to Satan than indulge such curiously Western notions as branching narrative paths, and throw their grandmothers in for good measure before they’d grant a multiplayer component such sway over the storyline. That doesn’t make these ideas any less interesting, though.

The city of Grede is definitely the highlight of the game's landmarks.

The city of Grede is definitely the highlight of the game's landmarks.

There’s scope, then, for some provocative storytelling manoeuvres in White Knight Chronicles, but regrettably the game refuses to acknowledge the genies it conjures from its mishmash of tropes. Player characters remain mere screen furniture throughout the campaign, smirking vacantly in the corner of every cut scene, and crossover with the online mode occurs only on a mundane level, in the transfer of items and experience points.

On the battlefield

The second and less pretentious potential stroke of brilliance is the battle system. It’s very appealing on paper: a heavily action-oriented interpretation of Final Fantasy XII’s free-roaming, MMO-influenced combat, swapping out the latter’s programmable if/then AI templates for some rather tasty customisable combos.

The results are far from a disappointment, but the interface is rather cumbersome for a quasi-real-time game. To use items, for instance, you must flip down several menus with the stick, open a list and scroll to the one you want. This might have been excusable had there been something in the way of an auto-attack, as in FFXII, letting players browse options at leisure while the character in hand takes care of the cut-and-thrust.

Do you see this sword? Because I can see your face.

Do you see this sword? Because I can see your face.

Of course, the most eye-catching aspect of conflict in White Knight Chronicles is the Knight himself. Leonard acquires the ability to morph into this building-sized doomsday device early on (see also: “unsuspected mystical heritage”), trading a handful of AC points for shoulders you could park a bus across and a blade that would give Ron Jeremy the shivers. Boss encounters often invite (and sometimes require) you to don the Knight’s mighty chestplate, as the game’s villains reveal super-sizing capabilities of their own.

As a mechanic, the Knight is quite hilariously over-powered. Regular enemies can be dispatched in one hit, and bosses aren’t all that sturdier. It’s the JRPG equivalent of Modern Warfare 2′s tactical nuke.

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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