A princess is coming of age, two once-warring kingdoms are in the blissful arms of peace, and a young adventurer is off to deliver wine to add fuel to these celebratory fires. What should be a roaring affair of jubilance will sound instead, at least to seasoned fans of Japanese RPGs, like a recipe for disaster ringing across the land.
Before everything comes inevitably crashing down, though, the player is introduced to the game via a character customization tree. This has more in common with a lot of Western RPGs, and allows for similar freedom in crafting your in-game avatar. However, this isn’t going to be the hero that ultimately saves the day, but his faithful sidekick; the newbie mute delivery boy created after your very own image. Hey, we can’t all be valiant knights.
From there, you meet Leonard. Now this is a hero. Young and brash while still valuing responsibility and dedication to his work. The journey to pick up a wino’s dream stash of booze is a rocky one, and serves to introduce the player to combat, which is one of White Knight Chronicles initial standout features. Rather than running across fields and zapping into random, turn-based encounters, White Knight‘s world is, well, open. Enemies are always in plain sight, and engaging them seamlessly brings up real-time combat options that are more reminiscent of Massively Multiplayer Online games than your traditional JRPG. Much like the opening character creation moment, the heart of the matter here is customization.
These fledgling battles against small woodland fodder give but a taste of the action to come, and even the mildly imposing pseudo boss battle can be surmounted with just a base understanding of how White Knight really works. The more burning matter at hand is what’s going on in the kingdom of Balandor, and what awaits Leonard and co. upon returning to the castle.
Unfortunately for everyone, the traveling circus that requested to be present at the Princess’s coming of age celebration is a fraudulent and terrifying one, and they unleash hell before the castle gates in the form of a flame-tipped gigantic beast and a pair of nefarious villains searching for something hidden. As Leonard rushes to shield the princess from danger, he happens upon what that something is: a massive set of armor more fit for Ultraman than your average knight.
This is where things get interesting and, long story short, Leonard unleashes the power to wield the armor and take down even the largest of foes. The princess is still captured, but now Leonard and his expanding party actually have a means of saving her. Thus the journey begins, and as the newest and most experienced member of your party, Eldore, grimly utters, “It’s going to be long one.”
At this point in my game-playing career, that statement might actually make me groan. A healthy majority of Japanese RPGs have been bogged down by their own history, not wanting to advance and, frankly, it’s unclear if some fans of the genre even want them to advance. This is not the case with White Knight Chronicles, and along with the combat system, one of the major pushes behind this is the aforementioned customizability of the experience.
It extends beyond telling members of the party what strategies they should use in battle—fan out, focus on a single enemy, etc.—and becomes more crucial once you start experimenting with crafting the perfect combo from scratch, each hit an attack taken from a set of moves you choose to assign points toward. This is something I wasn’t fully immersed in during that initial trek, but it becomes essential as the battles get tougher and the enemies get much, much larger.
Thankfully, the titular armor also helps out in those larger than life fights, acting as another unique aspect to the adventure. Nothing gets my kaiju-fighting blood pumping more than busting out a set of armor and going all Destroy All Monsters on some of the more fantastically designed creatures in the game. Playing as the White Knight is similar to the rest of the action, only on a larger scale, and with a hell of a lot more power at hand.
White Knight Chronicles isn’t without fault; its story, along with its all-too-dastardly villains, are pretty much what we’ve come to expect from your average RPG yarn. There are, naturally, some compelling truths to unravel, but the setup is as tried and true as they come. The game also features an online mode that I wasn’t able to dig deep enough into to fully evaluate, including town creation via the Georama system and the cooperative tackling of various subquests. The fact that these bonuses exist atop a thick single-player quest is a frightening prospect, indeed.
The occasional caveat is teetered off balance by what matters most in the type of game that could run you up to 100 hours and beyond: world design. Director Akihiro Hino and his team at Level-5 have crafted a world that’s fit for exploration, and their hard work—from audio to the environments to the design of the smallest foe—is evident. White Knight Chronicles is going to take up a lot of your time, and that’s not a bad thing. Consider it a healthy investment.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
System: Playstation 3
Available: February, 2010
Head to Sony’s official White Knight Chronicles website for more info and screens!