White Knight Chronicles 2
Let’s start this review the same way White Knight Chronicles 2 itself kicks off: with a cold open. WKC2 is simply a run-of-the-mill JRPG that never even tries to go off the beaten track. If you’ve ever played a similar game before, you should know what to expect.
After a long-winded intro sequence, full of ridiculous voice-acting and awkward-sounding proper nouns that will only sound vaguely familiar to die-hard fans of the original game, you’ll gain control over a high-level character whom you’ll guide through a short escort mission. Though it’s intended to be a tutorial, the controls aren’t explained and it’s not clear what you’re supposed to be doing exactly. After a few minutes of aimlessly wandering around and trying things, the “tutorial” ends and the actual game commences. The storyline won’t get any clearer or more interesting, though. In short: the land of Faria is being attacked by lieutenants of baddy-of-the-week Grazel (whom you managed to defeat in the first game, but is now plotting for revenge). And you’re the only one who can save the world. A bit clichéd, wouldn’t you say?
It’s clear Level-5 just assumed everyone has played the original, despite the fact they’ve put the first White Knight Chronicles on the Blu-Ray disc. The ones who actually played through that game (really not that much, judging from the European sales), get the opportunity to import their main character from WKC. The others start with a level 35 party and a whole pile of skill points that can be allotted to your liking. Newbies also get to thoroughly change the appearance of their chosen hero or heroine, right up to the size of their nostrils or the location of their moles.
Though you can only control one character at once, you can fully customize the entire party. There are about eight weapon classes (swords, axes, bows, several types of magic,…) you can assign skill points to. You can turn them all into solid all-rounders, but a team of specialists certainly has an edge. Every class houses over fifty different skills and spells, which gives you unlimited options in tweaking your characters. The freedom WKC offers is its biggest asset. The actual gameplay isn’t nearly as interesting.
The combat system is a flawed cross-over between turn-based and real-time mechanics. Every time you use a skill (downward slash, fireball, whatever), you’ll have to wait a few seconds while a circle is filled, before you can use another skill (you can equip 21 at the same time). The strange thing is that it doesn’t matter how powerful an attack is, since the delay time always stays the same. This leads to continuously spamming your most powerful skills. There’s a small caveat: you’ll need enough magic points (MP) to keep going, but the game is built so you’ll very rarely run out of MP. In most RPGs, your first skills still have a use later in the game, either because they’re very cheap or very fast, but in White Knight Chronicles, they’re obsolete from the get-go. You start at level 35, remember?
While the action circle is filling, you can choose between defending yourself of running away. Not the bravest of tactics, but an effective one nonetheless. Every successful strike also earns you ‘action chips’. You can collect up to fifteen of those, but as soon you have seven, you can summon an Incorruptus. These giant creatures slice and dice normal enemies at a rate that would make the average sushi chef jealous and they’re vital in battles against larger and tougher opponents.
The game tries to benefit form the ongoing MMORPG craze in several ways. Most importantly, White Knight Chronicles 2 lets you team up with other players to fulfill quests. There’s also a very annoying logging screen in both single- and multiplayer that lets you chat with other players and updates you on damage, skills and loot. A feature Level-5 is particularly proud of is ‘georama’. Georama is a tool that lets you create your own virtual city that can be visited by other players. It basically serves a hub for all your online sessions. The added value of all these tacked-on MMO gimmicks is at the very least doubtful.
White Knight Chronicles 2’s presentation won’t turn many heads. The strikingly linear levels look like colourless World of WarCraft knock-offs and the uninspired character models aren’t any better. It’s a good thing the framerate is spotless. I’ve definitely seen uglier games, but Final Fantasy XIII, this ain’t. And it gets worse when we talk about the voice-acting: the actors all read their barren dialogue with the enthusiasm of a recently laid-off Polish housemaid. The music is instantly forgettable and the best thing I can say about the sound effects is that the game actually has sound effects.
White Knight Chronicles 2’s biggest flaw is its striking lack of original ideas, something the anemic JRPG genre in general has been suffering from the last couple of years. It’s not all that bad (the truly terrible audio notwithstanding), but the game really doesn’t stand out in any way. Despite its numerous flaws, Final Fantasy XIII is clearly a superior JRPG, thanks to its fluid combat mechanics, fascinating enemies and gorgeous graphics. Or simply everything WKC2 lacks. That and beautiful women…