White Knight Chronicles: International Edition - Staff Review  

The First Knight... of at Least Two
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

White Knight Chronicles: International Edition
20-40 Hours
+ Great soundtrack
+ Likeable characters
+ Lots of character customization
- What? This is only part one!
- Nonsensical plot points
- Combat drags
Click here for scoring definitions 

   These days, some heavy hitting Japanese companies are doing all they can to cut down on localization time on RPGs for North America. So when a game like White Knight Chronicles: International Edition takes well over a year to cross the sea, one would hope for lots of improvements over the original release. Sadly, the few changes made were merely to supplementary parts of the game. While White Knight Chronicles is full of potential and very solid in a couple areas, it still falls short.

   Anyone still expecting the seemingly highly interactive battles shown in the 2006 Tokyo Game Show teaser will be disappointed, as combat has been scaled down from its overly ambitious initial offering. Players control one character at a time from a party of three. During battle, they must wait for their charge meter to fill before being able to select a command from the combat menu. Once the meter is full, an option from the equipped skill bar must be selected and confirmed. The rate at which the meter fills is based on the current armor and weapons being used. Some are clearly faster than others.

   Each ability requires a specific amount of AC points to be accessible, and a few skills require none, though most advanced abilities and combos require multiple AC. AC fills a little at a time during combat and completely upon leveling up. AC is also needed for transforming into extremely powerful Knights and will drain the bar completely when used. While even some of the hardest bosses can be defeated without changing into Knight form, it does make things much more manageable, so balancing AC usage for skills and combos should be taken into consideration.

   Party member AI is helpful for the most part, though not having direct control over their actions means they are not always as efficient as they should be. Abilities the AI can use are limited by what commands each character has been equipped with. While allies will attempt to keep the team alive with healing spells, they will not always use the most efficient spell. The same goes for attacks. All skills seem to be used haphazardly, giving little thought to affinities. A party member is every bit as likely to cast Fireball on a Fire Elemental as he would be to cast Blizzard. With a lot of behind the scenes tweaking, the AI can be made more efficient, but it gives nowhere near the level of control as something like the gambit system of Final Fantasy XII. Allies can also be given general commands during combat such as "focus on one target" or "spread out and attack," but even these are not always adhered to. All of these things combine together to form a battle system that can best be described as functional, yet restrictive.

slow This will speed up encounters.

   The game also has quite a few interface issues. One of the major issues is with combat in the Knight form. When in Knight form, that form will be maintained until all MP is used up or all enemies in the nearby area are defeated, even if there are enemies just around the next corner. This makes transforming into the Knight for a single tough enemy seem like a complete waste, as the form will be used up and players will have to wait until enough AC is built back up to use it again. Also, if a transformed character levels up while in Knight mode, even if it's at the very end of battle, all AC gained from that level up is gone when reverting back to human form. Another issue is that the skill bar used in combat gives no easy way to see what the skills do. A decent amount of these skills are simple enough to determine from their names, but quite a few could use a way to view a quick description without disengaging the enemy and going into the skill management screen, especially since combat does not pause while going into configuration menus. One other minor irritant is with the inventory management. The only time it is easy to see if a piece of equipment will be an upgrade for a character is when purchasing something from a shop. For items already in inventory, it's a matter of swapping back-and-forth between items while recalling the stats for each. This seems like a small complaint, but it would have been very helpful throughout. On the positive side of things, White Knight offers a nice mini-map along with a full map, complete with a starred indicator as to where to go next.

   The game does have a good deal of variety and customization when it comes to character development. Every character is pretty much a blank slate that players can customize to almost any style they wish. Skill points can be placed into any combination of damage or healing magic and any number of different weapon types. If players want to make one character an archer with fire magic and another one an axe wielding healer, that is possible for the most part. Some characters are not able to use certain weapon types, but that is about the limit to restrictions.

   White Knight Chronicles features a rather interesting and diverse cast of characters; however, they are tossed into a very convoluted and cliché heavy story with so much foreshadowing that it wouldn't be difficult to predict what's going to be in the next installment. Another issue is that anyone who follows Japanese RPG news likely has heard that there is going to be a second game, but what many will be shocked to find out is that it looks as if it's merely the second half to this installment. Without spoiling anything specific, let's just say that while White Knight Chronicles doesn't leave on a cliff hanger or anything. It does cut off before all the issues have been resolved. Looking back at the 2007 trailer for the game, this game was clearly split into two parts. The half of the game here is difficult to judge. On one hand, the characters are fairly interesting, diverse, and most importantly likeable. Even though the avatar players create at the beginning of the game has next to no interaction with the story and is merely a hardly-ever-seen-and-never-talked-to bystander throughout the game. The plot is just thrown together in a way that certain parts of it are completely unbelievable, even by Japanese RPG standards, which makes the whole thing seem like a mess at times. It's not all bad, but the few rough parts are generally explained away in a nonsensical manner.

voyeurAnd why are you trying to look down my dress?

   White Knight does present itself quite well. The visuals are very impressive throughout, though there is a clear lack of variety in terms of enemies. Many foes are not even recycled palette swaps; they are merely the exact same enemy in a stronger form. However, the game's cutscenes are breathtaking, and character and Knight designs are highly polished. The fact that characters show all equipment changes, even in cutscenes, is even more enjoyable. Further complimenting the game's presentation is the impressive soundtrack. There are several tracks throughout that are very memorable, and few, if any, that are outright deplorable. On the other side of the sound coin is the game's voice acting. This area hits both ends of the scale as it ranges from top quality for some characters to downright trite with others. Overall, most of the voice acting fits within the game's over-the-top style, so it's hard to find a ton of fault with it.

   The one area of the game where players can actually take full advantage of their avatar is in the game's online questing mode. Since players did go through all of the time to create a unique avatar, complete with the option to increase the character's bust size to back-breaking levels, it is only fitting that this character is the only option for online play, especially since the main single player quest has been cut down to only around twenty hours. These online quests can be played with other players, but the whole process to do this is very disconnected. If players have friends at the ready to play, the process can be rather entertaining, very MMO-lite, as the team ventures around an area to complete a quest within a set amount of time. Players attempting to jump into others' quests or those waiting for players to join them will find varying degrees of enjoyment. Sadly, out of the game's fifty or so quests, most are just harder versions of the same quest, so the variety is quite limited. Online questing is a nice addition that I have trouble complaining about, considering it is not the sole focus of the game, but it is far from efficient.

   Sony and Level-5 did add some new features such as Georama, an online area of land where players can build their own little town, as well as voice chat for online quests. Georama is a neat addition, though it's not the most accessible or easy to use feature. Thankfully, the game offers a tutorial for use, but much like the online quests, there is such a disconnect that it will likely turn away many. Voice chat is a very useful new function for questing online, but sadly the PlayStation 3 setup is not the most convenient for this, since headsets for the PS3 don't come standard with any systems. And while this version of White Knight contains all the updates the Japanese version has received since launch, it still has technical issues such as the game completely freezing during action. During my trek through the final area, the game completely froze up in four different locations, two occurring far enough after a save point that I lost significant progress. For a game that's been out since 2008 and has had over a year for quality assurance, these kinds of issues are very frustrating.

   Considering how long the first White Knight took to make it to North America, who knows when (or if) White Knight Chronicles 2 will make it. There are clearly some issues with the game. The pacing of combat and dungeons is too slow at times. The story is cliché, saved only by interesting characters. The interface needs fine-tuning, and the game needs to be free of bugs. The game's online questing interface could use some tweaks to make it more accessible for those looking for a quick online adventure. Despite the problems I had with the game, it still had a certain appeal and charm at moments that made me want to play more. I would actually be very interested to see if Level-5 could do some major changes for part two of this adventure; however, my fears are a quick turnaround for the second game using the same foundation already in place for part one. This foundation is shaky at best, so White Knight Chronicles needs some work.

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