Level 5’s first offering of the current console generation is stuck between traditional eastern RPG and MMORPG. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Final Fantasy XII was my favorite RPG of 2006, and it straddled the two genres quite a bit. So where does White Knight Chronicles go wrong? It is simultaneously aimed at casual RPG players and devoted MMO players, but neither group is going to be happy with the complete package.
As White Knight Chronicles opens you’ll need to create your character. This is typical in MMOs and not uncommon in other RPGs. Oddly though, your created character is not the hero. He or she is the least important part of the single-player story and is not even present in the game’s cutscenes. Your created character makes sense in the White Knight Chronicles‘ online component, but that really only serves to divorce the single player from the multiplayer even further. It doesn’t make any sense for your summarily ignored character from the single player to suddenly be important enough to ignore the transformative abilities of the main characters in the online portion.
Regardless of whether the player-created character is the protagonist an RPG lives or dies by its battle system and story. White Knight Chronicles, sadly, features a story that leans on cliché from its tired “save the princess” opening leading straight into her predictable capture by the chief bad guy.
Even with a ho-hum story an RPG can be fun if the battle system is well thought-out. White Knight Chronicles stumbles here as well, though. Fights happen in real-time, and each party member has a charge time before another move can be executed. You can have three people on the field at any one time which is normal for the genre, but a bother nonetheless. If I have five people on the menu screen then why can’t I use them all at once? Balance the combat for five party members – just don’t make me bench two of them for no good reason. For a game with heavy MMO influences there sure aren’t very many people on my side at any given time. Combat balance is already a problem as normal encounters are terribly easy when you summon the titular white knight while boss fights are impossible without it.
Further, enemies don’t follow the same rules for combat as the player does. This is to be expected a little bit in order to ensure that the player is challenged, but that usually means that enemies have shorter charge times or access to abilities that you won’t see for several more levels. Enemies in White Knight Chronicles, though, just get to disregard the laws of nature. Their melee attacks land from across the room while yours are unavailable until you’re within the proper range, and their ranged attacks land even when you’re not technically in combat (at which time you can’t attack them).
White Knight Chronicles doesn’t really hit its stride until you take it online. Each player has a town to customize and call their own, and from the message board you can find a pick-up-group to take down monster, collect loot, and level up your created character. In the off chance you aren’t turned off by the single-player your experience and items transfer between the two so you have the opportunity to slant combat in your favor all the more by spending time playing online and then using your created character throughout the narrative.
At the end of the day, White Knight Chronicles doesn’t offer enough to warrant picking it up a year after Japan has already played it and a month before Final Fantasy XIII will be available. The narrative is predictable, the combat is unbalanced, and the story feels tacked on to what was supposed to be an online-only game. Unless you are really hurting for a Japanese RPG take a pass on White Knight Chronicles.
Plays Like: Final Fantasy XII without gambits
Pros: Online town customization, created character transfers between story and online
Cons: Unbalanced combat, cliché story