Review: White Knight Chronicles

White Knight Chronicles

The heart of gameplay is of course the combat system. Level 5 have done a very good job here in making a flexible and engaging gameplay mechanic. Once you’ve trained some skills onto your characters, each party member has a command bar with three sets of 10 buttons which you can assign actions to and scroll through to use as you play, along with a 4th row for using items, changing equipment while fighting and a few other special functions. You can also make combos (macros) of certain action groups. The play is loosely turn-based so you select the action you want to perform while a circle indicator fills up; once filled you can press X and the action is performed. You can move around while waiting for the next turn. Using items and changing equipment counts as a turn. Each character has their own turn timer including the mobs so the timer is more like a re-cast timer that’s the same for every action rather than each entity on the battlefield taking turns one after another (in other words, it’s like an MMORPG with the additional need to wait a few seconds between actions). The speed the circle fills up is mostly dependent on what type of armour you’re wearing, although the armour weights aren’t specified in-game so you’ll need to work them out for yourself.

If you’re not used to it, this style of gameplay is extremely confusing at first. It is not at all clear when starting out when you can perform an action, nor that you can pre-select, nor when you have actually started an action, because the on-screen battle animations are slightly lagged due to casting times etc. Figuring out the real-time combat mechanic was probably the hardest part of the learning curve. Early on in the game you will frequently believe you can put in one more offensive hit before healing, only to discover it took longer than you expected and you’re killed. However, within a couple of hours you will have soon got to grips with this and be flying through the menus and toolbars with ease.

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Aside from the real-time aspect of the combat, you can tell your AI party members what tactics to use (heal first, conserve mana, go all out etc.) and this works reasonably well: while the AI generally follows the set tactics, and uses spells that are just strong enough but not too strong for the job, it does tend to behave poorly when it comes to exploiting a mob’s weakness, eg. If fighting a fire dragon, the correct selections are ice weapons and spells, but the AI will happily sit there throwing out fire spells instead. It also never buffs your party members and rarely de-buffs mobs. However when it comes to removing your own negative status effects and healing, it does an excellent job.

You can of course change the active character during combat, although it is a little frustrating that you have to go into a small menu to do this; I would have preferred a one-touch toggle button. A couple of other elements which make the combat interesting are that using L3 you can cycle your party’s attack pattern: fall back, spread out, concentrate on one target, fight as they see fit. With R3 you can call to one party member for immediate assistance – if you need a heal for example – and they will immediately cast the appropriate spell at the expense of their turn.

The game’s main character Leonard is a so-called pact-maker: one who can wield the power of an ancient Knight. When Sisna is kidnapped at the start, we are to suppose that the Black Knight is responsible. Leonard, of course, is the pact-maker of the White Knight, and so one of his special combat functions is to transform into said knight during a battle. The huge, heavy, clunky White Knight with his epic swords and devastating spells is quite satisfying to watch as he takes chunks out of a tough mob’s health gauge, and while you can’t train his skills or alter his command bar, you can change his equipment.

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