Following on from the original title which launched last year, White Knight Chronicles II is a direct sequel, though not only in terms of narrative. Players are awkwardly eased back into Level-5’s mystical universe with a lacklustre overview of the first game proceeded by a lengthy introduction sequence. Simply put, Yshrenia is looking to reinstate its tryannical empire is once again, the Archduchy of Faria being their first target. After a brief clash of arms, Farian noble Lady Miu is escorted from the palace by her blade-friendly guardian, Scardigne as the kingdom is slowly overwhelmed.[boxout]At this point players are given their first taste of gameplay as White Knight Chronicles II grants you control of Scardigne during the escape from Faria. However, it is also at this point that you will unearth the game’s first and most flagrant mistake. White Knight Chronicles II makes the bold assumption that players have already championed the first game, hence belligerently forcing the reigns into your hands without so much as a tutorial or even vague hint as to how the game is played. It erects an intimidating barrier to entry that could even deflect the most hardcore RPG fans, and only gets worse as the first half-hour of gameplay swiftly comes to a close.
With Miu on the run, the game switches focuses to White Knight’s existing cast of main characters, Leonard, Yullie, and Eldore, as they travel across the kingdom via airship. Generic in appearance and personality, the game dangles the narrative thread of the original game just out of reach, failing to outline the relationship between these protagonists or what impact they have had on the story. Similar to the opening section of the game, there is also a healthy dose of bewilderment in terms of gameplay mechanics too. Instead of cleaning the slate and starting anew, White Knight Chronicles thrusts a cradle of four, level thirty-five characters into your arms (including your custom character,) each with a stockpile of skills points at their disposal.
Of course, for WKC vets, there is an option to import your data from the previous game, but for newcomers it’s a case of spending almost twenty minutes just to figure out which abilities do what and how to upgrade them. White Knight Chronicles II finally begins to gather pace as both sections of the game merge into one; Leonard and co. encounter Scardigne and Miu as they flee the Red Farian rebels and after a heated battle with civil war instigator, Ban Nanazel, the two parties unite and venture toward Faria to stop the usurpers.[drop2]Trekking through the Lost Forest, the game’s first open environment, players will be able to get comfortable with how the game flows. Adopting a playstyle which combines elements from turn-based RPGs such as Dragon Quest/Final Fantasy, and today’s most popular MMOs, Everquest and World of Warcraft, White Knight Chronicles offers a completely unique experience and one which modernises how JRPGs are perceived. It’s hardly a secret that the once mighty turn-based RPG, a hallmark of Japanese gaming, is beginning to whither under the presence of Western blockbusters.
Level-5 must have taken this into account when developing the original game; White Knight Chronicles offers fast-paced combat, whilst still managing to harbour traditional elements of the JRPG.
From a third person perspective, players will assume the role of one character from their party of three. When in combat, a horizontal UI will appear, presenting a list of all the abilities you have equipped, navigated via the d-pad. Upon making your choice and selecting a target the action is performed in real time, and any HP/MP losses and gains are calculated also resetting your character’s time gauge. This is used to prevent White Knight Chronicles II from treading too far into action RPG territory and works nicely.
Another unique feature the game employs is Action Chips. Whenever you take damage or successfully perform an ability, your AC gage will begin to fill, allowing you to perform customisable combo attacks or even summon the White Knight himself. Sure, bringing an Incorruptus to the field of play looks impressive, though in terms of gameplay its sluggish and lacks diversity, making the White Knight nothing more than a safety net during tough battles.
The user interface is neatly streamlined, but only at the expense of accessibility. Scrolling through dozens of abilities, both vertically and horizontally, can be an absolute nightmare, especially in times of desperation. Accidentally selecting the wrong spell/attack is a common occurrence, and only made more frustrating by the game’s unwilling targetting system. This is exactly the point at which trying to an emulate an MMO becomes a problem; with no hotkeys or a quick method to perform actions, it becomes an unnecessary added level of difficulty.
On the subject of difficulty, there are numerous chokepoints littered throughout the game, usually embodied in the numerous boss encounters, both large and small. In one small area you will be mopping the floor with dozens of opponents to only get wiped out by a boss creature in a few hits. Though you have the option to flee, doing so usually doesn’t get you very far as more and more creatures will latch onto your trail. Upon defeat, you can either return to a given checkpoint or exit to the main menu, which in some cases works out better.
Checkpoints are so few and far between that it won’t take much longer to simply re-load your save file; that way you also manage to avoid the XP penalty, which also doesn’t make much sense. If you are continually whipped around by a boss and then having to walk ten minutes to get back to them, the last thing you would want is having your hard-earned experience points sapped away. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
The same applies to some of the area layouts; usually objective routes are marked out and easy to follow, but in some cases you will be forced to wander around for ages trying to find an alternate path, not helped at all by constant enemy respawns. If Level-5 focused on transferring its Profressor Layton similarities into the narrative instead of design, the game probably wouldn’t take such a critical beating.
White Knight Chronicles II looks pretty much identical to the original; littered with stiff NPC animations and blurred textures, though it isn’t all bad news. Instead of relying solely on engine power, the game focuses on huge detailed monsters and environments which come to life with a vibrant palette of colours. In terms of the technical performance, White Knight Chronicles II also impresses; no matter how many characters there are on screen the frame-rate always manages to keep up with the action.
- Unique gameplay style, striking a balance between MMO and JRPG.
- Insane amount of replay value for those who search for it.
- Plenty of customisation options which carry into online play.
- Graphics are dated, though the art style is fantastic.
- White Knight Chronicles II also includes a copy of the first game.
- Soundtrack resembles the JRPG genre in its prime.
- Interface can feel a little tangled at times.
- Difficulty spikes and sparse checkpoints are infuriating.
- A weak narrative core, dampened by tedious main characters.
- Some customization options have to be paid for. Boo!
- Lack of tutorials where needed.
- Playing as the White Knight lacks a certain degree of pizazz.
It’s a shame really. Considering the mixed reception the first White Knight Chronicles received, we were expecting Level-5 to take this opportunity to refine all of the core elements of the game, making the sequel a much more well-rounded and accessible package. However, the end product is close to being the complete opposite; hair-tugging difficulty spikes and a harsh entry barrier for newcomers are enough to drag White Knight Chronicles II from being a good game into the pool of mediocrity.
These are silly, niggling issues that unlike the narrative of the game, could have easily been remedied, which makes it all the more frustrating. If you loved the first WKC, there’s no doubt you get along just fine with the sequel, however if you’re a little rusty with JRPGs, unless you have a lot a patience, it’s probably best to give this one a miss.
TheSixthAxis was not provided with an online pass to access the multiplayer component in White Knight Chronicles II, hence why we have refrained from discussing online play in our written review.