Sunday, October 2, 2011

Review: White Knight Chronicles 2 (PS3)

White Knight Chronicles was a fascinating case study in the challenges the JRPG genre faces in the modern gaming world. It was a steadfastly traditional JRPG, complete with slow paced, tactical battle system and a linear, epic quest.

For this, the critics labelled it as “generic” rather than “traditional,” and thus the problem that the JPRG, such a traditional genre, faces; how do developers modernise the genre and innovate while not pushing the envelope too far? As we saw with the backlash against Final Fantasy XIII what happens if developers stray too far away from the established norm, I don’t think modernising the JRPG is what people really do want when it comes time to be honest.

But that discussion is for another time, because White Knight Chronicles 2 does a lot of things well, but innovative is most definitely not what it is. It’s as traditional as the original game, which means of course that it’s also as “generic” as the first if you weren’t a fan last time.

That’s not to say it’s an exact repeat of the original game, as there have been some improvements to the core engine that help streamline the game. Combat is the big one, and this time around it’s a lot faster. It's still not a game that requires reflexes, of course, but now you’re also not going to be sitting around waiting for stuff to happen after you’ve made your decisions. Level-5 have clearly been working hard at this, and if we’re being honest, there’s fewer examples of a better, more balanced “active turn-based” combat system out there.

That makes the occasional battle more difficult, as you don’t have quite as much time to react. However, like the original game, White Knight Chronicles 2 is a game to be experienced and not to challenge you. And for those occasional difficult battles, grinding up a few extra levels is much less of a daunting task thanks to the increased battle speed.

Check out my awesome bow
Also streamlined is the material gathering. Where in the original you’d be button mashing to try and get your avatar to quickly go through the motions multiple times to tap out a vein of ore or forage around a tree for various bits of ore, this time around the character will gather everything at that point in one go. Given how important collecting those materials are for forging the better equipment, and how much time was devoted to gathering materials, this is a very welcome development indeed. Heck, we hope Capcom takes note of this for the next few Monster Hunter games, to save us spending an hour trying to find ten bloody mushrooms.

Otherwise, White Knight 2 is much the same as its predecessor; it still largely feels like a single player MMO with a bar of skills and spells at the bottom of the screen to select between. There’s a reasonably-sized cast of characters to choose between, with the main character, Leonard, teaming up with a player-created avatar (which serves as your online play character), and a group of other named characters. You’ll have three characters out there battling at any one time, and while you only have direct control over one, the AI is very robust, and it’s easy to swap between characters if you feel the need to take direct control.

The big, exciting part of the game is the ability to transform Leonard into the White Knight, a hulking brute that, Power Rangers style, slaughters everything he runs into. The White Knight makes the game a bit easy in the boss battles, but hey, it’s fun.

White Knight Chronicles 2 is, like the first game, utterly gorgeous on the eyes and ears. Level-5 are the true mavericks of video game art, with the likes of Professor Layton, and Ni No Kuni behind them, White Knight Chronicle’s fantasy world is perhaps the most ambitious of all.

You can only hope this is magic at work
Now for the downsides. Jumping into the sequel without playing the original is hugely confusing. Jumping into the sequel without having played the PSP offshoot is somewhat confusing. Both previous games provide critical backstory and context for the sequel, and playing them out of order is like trying to make sense of Lord of the Rings from reading the books backwards. The game does its best to encourage players to play the game through in order – there’s the ability to transfer loot from the PSP game into the new game, the ability to transfer a save game from the original, and there’s a fully remastered version of the original game contained on the disc for people who didn’t get around to playing the original.

I recommend people take Level-5 up on its not-so-subtle advice, and indeed I recommend people replay all three games in order if necessary to get the full experience because, as traditional as it is, White Knight Chronicles, its sequel and PSP offshoot are all about the story, and you want to enjoy that part of the game.

And if you weren’t a fan of the original – don’t bother with this one. It’s a pity that you can’t get into the game though, since this is what Final Fantasy I through to VI would have been were they released on the PS3 – relentlessly traditional JRPGs. Anyone who complains about this game for what it is are clearly not from the same crowd that claims that the JRPG is dead.

Personally, I can’t wait for White Knight Chronicles 3.

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