White Knight Chronicles Review (PS3)

Technically speaking, White Knight Chronicles is an old game. It was first released in Japan in 2008 but didn’t arrive on the western shores until 2010. It is a Sony exclusive JRPG put together by the folks at the famed Level 5 Inc. (Dark Cloud, Dragon Quest VIII and IX, Professor Layton series and Rogue Galaxy). White Knight Chronicles is purely a JRPG experience. So if you utterly hate JRPGs this might be the time to stop reading. Otherwise, let me tell you all about this game before we review the second game for you in the near future.

A White Knight for the dark age

White Knight Chronicles sets the stage in the kingdom of Balandor where, surprisingly, a teenage boy became an unexpected hero taking up the important tasks of saving the kingdom’s princess to restore the monarchy against all the evil plots surrounding him. It’s a straight-forward story with a straight-forward main character. Also, he has all the JRPG clichés in him. So no surprises for the main character to vets of the (sub) genre. The main female protagonist is of course, the princess to be saved. The story of these two characters drove me to the edge of madness from time to time. However, the game was saved by a cast of wonderful supporting characters that you would, for most of the time, prefer to use once they joined you.

The most interesting part of White Knight Chronicles starts right from the beginning when you create your own character. The amount of customisation dwarfs other role-playing games and the bonus is that you can change his/her looks mid game when you are sick of his/her face. Your created character will be part of your battle party and will go through the story with you (yes it shows up in the cut-scenes and the story characters interact with him/her). But the main function of this character is to bring your game online and go on quests with your online friends to yield bigger rewards for your comrades in the game. More on this later.

Need some wood for your fireplace?

Level 5 has ditched the random battle system since the Rogue Galaxy era, so it is no surprise that it is nowhere to be found in White Knight Chronicles. Enemies show up in the dungeon and you have the option of sneaking pass them to avoid a battle or go all out to gain experience, money and loot from them. The battle system is something between active and turn based. Once you activate the battle mode, a circle will show up on your screen and start filling up. In the process you choose which command to use and once the circle fills up you can execute that command. You can preset your commands through your command stacks so they are readily available in battles. Command stacks can hold individual commands or combos that you’d set up to deal with more devastating blows. However the use of combos will consume your AC chips that only fill up when you are attacked or landing an attack on your enemies. There are usually three command stacks for you to specialise in different function. For example you can have one stack for attack, one stack for healing / divine magic and one stack for stats boosting magic. The remaining non-customisable stack is reserved for item usage and for the main character to transform themselves into the fearsome White Knight during battles. Transformation eats up a lot of AC chips so you will be very economical about when to use them up.

You can have up to 3 members in the active battle party. Apart from some crucial story battles that the main character has to be involved, you can basically chose whoever you want to be your main party members. However, during battles you only control one character while the others are controlled by AIs. AI settings are quite limited and don’t give you many choices. I ended up using Auto all the time and that’s all. The AI are good in staying alive by healing each other often enough but in terms of attack you will sometimes see them just walking around parrying instead of attacking. Luckily, by pressing R3 on the controller you can actually cue them to attack. That’s what I did most of the time. Another problem with the battle system is that once you killed off your target, sometimes the auto target does not cue to the next nearest enemies. So you ended up having the action circle filled up but cannot attack the enemies nearby because the target went two miles away to another enemy. Although these are just small issues but they can be annoying when you are being attacked by groups of enemies.

A monster of a city - yes it is a city

Your characters gain experience and level up as usual. Non-active characters also level up although at a slower rate. Once you level up you acquire skill points to learn new skills. Each story character can learn some preset weapon skills. Magic skills are available to all though. As for your created character, it is not limited in any set of skills and so provides the most versatility for you. Apart from levelling up and learning new skills, no RPGs will be complete without weapon and armour customisation. This is where White Knight Chronicles shines. You can either enhance your current equipment or buy new pieces. You can also ‘bind’ new pieces once that option is opened up via game progression. That creates a huge range of variety for inventory management as only through experience will you know which piece of item is important for you to gain the next level for your favourite equipment or to bind a new one that cannot be bought from shops. New binding recipes are only available when your binding guild sees you as one of the ‘insiders’. You achieve that by donating stuff to the guild and move your rank up. As you go up in ranks, more recipes will be available. So you are always in a decision of whether you should sell something for cash or donate them to the binding guild. Usually items from binding are more rare and cheaper, but also require you to stock up materials and level up current equipment. Difficult choice, but that is what makes White Knight Chronicles interesting in this aspect.

One thing you’ll notice when you engage in battles in White Knight Chronicles is that it looks extremely similar to battle screens in MMORPGs. This is because the game has a very strong online component that works that way. You can bring your created character online and battle along side your friends to engage in more dangerous quests – and they are dangerous. The online experience is very smooth and streamlined as battle scenes and environment are the same as you saw in the game. You can communicate with your online comrades through gestures and messages and there seems to have no lag in frame rate either. Doing these quest can help you go up in the guild ranks and yield you better weapons and armour that you can’t find inside the game. The faster you finish a quest the higher you progress in the quest rank and in turn the better rewards you will get. This provides huge incentives for players to hone their skills and re-attempt quests again and again just to get a better ranking for better rewards. The online component of White Knight Chronicles doesn’t end here either. You can create your own hometown for your created character and recruit certain people you met in the game to live there to help prosper your town. Developing your hometown is time consuming and the price is steep, but then you will have your shops and armouries available at every save point which makes it very handy if you want to unload your stuff, buy new gears and bind new items. The productivity of your hometown depends on the level of your residents and their jobs. So inviting the right kind of people to your hometown is crucial if you want it to produce products that you want, especially for gear enhancement and binding. You assign residents by placing them into a house. Residents of the same class will have a boost on that class and thus produce better and faster products. Your hometown is not just a place for you to visit. You can upload it to the GeoNet in the game and people will be able to visit your hometown (as you can visit other players). I have been to one of them and it was bustling with people trading and interacting. During the game you can also take pictures and upload them to your hometown profile. The customisation offered in developing your hometown is comparable to any life simulations game in the market.

Let's go comrades!

I mentioned about the GeoNet earlier but the GeoNet is more than just uploading your hometown. You can also leave your adventure blogs on Geonet, show off your trophy collection and send B-mail to your friends to organise an online session with them. It is apparent that Level 5 has really put some thought into the online aspect of the game with a greatly designed online interface and new downloadable contents such as in game items and quests supplied through its server or PlayStation Store.

White Knight Chronicles does not shine in the story but it does shine in its gameplay and beautifully rendered cut scenes and environments. A great score also accompanies the game. It is not without flaws but when you look at JRPGs, White Knight Chronicles has taken a big step forward in terms of incorporating a well-thought and engaging online gameplay with different elements to keep JRPGs alive and more importantly, fun. With the imminent release of its sequel, hopefully Level 5 will have resolved the issues from the first game to deliver a JRPG that truly stands out by itself.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

About the Author

Level up freak. Level 99 is a norm not a goal. Love my JRPGs and RPGs in general. Also love my platformers and puzzle games. Was addicted to Zoo Keeper, Magnetica, Animal Crossing, Disgaea DS, Dragon Quest IX and White Knight Chronicles. Prefer to spend my time away from gaming as an actor although do have a full time job that keeps my mortgage going. But generally love anything creative. And if anyone tells you gaming is a waste of time, tell them you have great eye, hand and brain coordinations that they will never have!