White Knight Chronicles II has been out in Japan for nearly a year and finally the English speaking continents finally get a go at this highly anticipated RPG sequel. As with this style of game there is a very limited but loyal fan base so for those of you who have already played the first game you really do not need to read this, just save your time and buy it, this review is more for the newcomers to the franchise, like myself.
White Knight Chronicles II is an RPG with a difference, offering an interesting mix of role playing, MMO and hack and slash action, making it a game that stands out from the usual crowd and a lot more accessible to newcomers to the scene.
With the evil Magi from the first game still up to their old tricks the game starts you off with a semi tutorial with a well trodden tale of you controlling a knight charged with protecting a princess and escaping a city to get help, which comes in the form of returning hero Leonard, his crew and of course his huge White Knight; there are some issues with how the story unfolds but more on that later. The game then builds with more and more meetings offering plenty of side quests, collecting to create even more powerful weapons and then eventually sees you helping to save the world. Though the presentation is luscious it does not have the overall finish of the more recent Final Fantasy games and the story is extremely linear, put it this way, there are lots of invisible barriers blocking the way until you speak to a certain character, then the barriers just magically disappear.
At the very start of the game you are required to create an in-game avatar from a very in depth customization screen, don’t get too attached though as you are not the main protagonist but more of a supporting role, however fear not as your avatar and the rest of the characters that join you are fully playable during battles plus the avatar comes into its own during online play. All of the characters can be moulded into any type of warrior you wish using a very extensive skill set that allows you to spend as many experience points as you wish on any area available. From swords to longswords, elemental magic to divine magic, axes to bows and spears to staff, there are loads of powers and weapons to use, each one with a fully upgradable skill set.
The action is an interesting blend of menu flipping and real time fighting. You can if you wish just rush head first into fights, with a circle in the bottom right of the screen indicating when in range which charges up each time you attack. Along the bottom of the screen you have three tiers of moves plus an items list that can be selected using the d-pad, so mid fight you can go from a simple slash to a more powerful uppercut to take out aerial monsters very quickly. Along with simple one button attacks you can also create and use custom combos; via the games many menu screens you can place any skills you have unlocked and line them up for one killer run so if you find yourself in a snowy forest against a huge frost cerebus then quickly create a combo full of fire moves and toast that poochy. The combos are very simple to pull off, just wait for the X to flash on the attack circle and mash away, leaving you to get ready for your next set of moves.
Each character has a completely customisable move set for you to tinker with, sadly it’s the menu’s where the game really gets it wrong, with the feeling that you are constantly going around in circles looking for a certain screen you know you found earlier. There is, if you can find it, a help system, but does not offer help in some critical areas, leaving you to old fashioned trail and error.
After a few hours of play it becomes apparent that White Knight Chronicles II is more akin to an MMO, albeit offline. If you set up your team right you can easily have a long range healer to keep you all topped up and revive you when knocked down plus a few heavy hitters and a Mage to cast spells to inflict elemental damage to assist. The outstanding variety of enemies on offer also lean towards an MMO game with plenty of small creatures to beat up along with some huge beasts that take a while to dispose off, all helped by some pretty decent AI team work. In fact the AI is so attentive to your needs it feels like you are playing in the best clan raid ever created.
My main problem is that this is not a pick up and play title for new gamers, with your characters already ranked in their 30′s and having a full set of powers and skills to use up from the start it does feel a little strange. It’s also hard work manaouvering through the many menus, making sure your current team is fully kitted out while also getting your head around the hundreds of moves on offer. However my whinging is very short lived as the first game White Knight Chronicles is also on disc as an updated version (takes elements of the sequel and retrofits them) so newcomers are able to start afresh and get a better grasp on the bigger picture and make more sense of the story; plus for those that have already played the first game you can transfer your old save data over, allowing you to continue your story with familiar items and weapons.
On top of the huge single player experience, online games are also available by selecting the GeoNet service from the pause menu (redeemable with a free code with the game or £7.99 if you purchase pre-owned). Lack of an instruction booklet (the bane of the reviewer) meant a lot of head scratching to get a game started but thankfully once in a room there are plenty of helpful people to ask. It’s here that your created avatar takes a life of it’s own. The idea is to create a village (room) or join one. From here you can either join in with other players on their quests or purchase your own from the local guilds. Creating groups and chatting to other players can be a pain so make sure you have a keyboard or mic to hand. The missions on offer vary wildly from simple collection missions and bounties to the more difficult dragon slaying, with all of the same action and team work found in the single player game without the hassle of tending to the other satellite characters. The free for all structure let’s this area down a little as a more structured story and queing system would have made this an awesome console MMO.
So two games on one disc plus a great online mode, pretty good for the price of one game, which is sadly spoiled by the inclusion of the PSN Store. Why is it that in every game I have played on a console for the past 20 odd years, if I wanted to change my looks I would go to a barber or clothes shop, but here I find myself being asked to pay £2.39 to change my characters body type. I am all for additional content but to pay for this service! how do I put this politely, jog on Sony.
White Knight Chronicles is a great title but is enhanced by playing the first game, which is handily on the same disc, however since you are going to put hours into this game both on and offline so doing this will be worth your time and money. If the turn based action of other RPGs puts you off then White Knight Chronicles II is the RPG for you.
Rating: Good Review policy
You can order White Knight Chronicles II here.