The supremacy of the Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) has long since come to an end. The good ol' SNES days where every JRPG was a huge game are over. Mass Effect and Fallout along with several others have shown that the west can make superb RPGs, leaving the east with a lot of catching up to do. Unless you've been living in a cave without net access you will know that the new Final Fantasy game lands in the UK soon, but it isn't the only JRPG to try and satisfy western gamers. The company that worked on Dark Cloud (an excellent RPG) bring us White Knight Chronicles in an attempt to show us that west ain't best.
Upon starting the game you get to create your own character who, whilst always silent, will assist the other party members throughout their adventures. I was immediately impressed with the customisation options the game had to offer. Starting with a template you get to tweak every aspect of your characters appearance. Brow height, nose length and width jaw depth, all of the aspects you would expect to have access to are found here.
The games story does start out quite well. The main character is a simple guy named Leonard who works for a wine company. The game starts on a day where the princess will be shown to the world and the company Leonard works for are supplying the wine. A travelling circus (who are actually the bad guys in disguise) attack the royal family and as Leonard is delivering the wine he gets caught up in the whole mess. Along the way he finds a magic suit of armour which allows him to transform in to the titular White Knight. A giant, well, White Knight. I quite enjoyed the start of the story and had quite high hopes for it, whilst there was an amount cliché thrown in, I had high hopes for the whole narrative. Sadly, after the almost intriguing start it all goes down hill. The story is weak throughout and the characters can be described as weak at best (along with forgettable music and budget voice acting). As all you role players will know, the story in an RPG game is absolutely essential and this weak story really prevents the player getting involved or attached to the game.
The core of any role playing game always has to be the combat as this is what you spend most of your time doing. WKC is a semi real time combat game. A circle appears on the screen as you enter combat which fairly quickly fills, once full you can activate an ability. You can move your character freely at all times. Despite a wide range of skills the combat is probably the games biggest failing. The combat isn't very engaging and seems to lack depth. Compared to many previous RPG games the combat seems shallow and uninspired. There is little strategy involved and I often found myself relying on a very small handful of skills. I feel that the developers should have moved to either full on action or full real-time, this compromise simply doesn't work. As well as being a lacklustre affair the combat also felt buggy, I still do not understand how the ranges work when fighting enemies. When I do a melee attack I must be right up close to the enemy whereas when the enemy does a melee attack they seem to be able to hit me from a massive range. If this is intentional it is a very poorly thought out mechanic.
Character advancement is fairly freeform. When you level you gain skill points, these are used to purchase skills in a wide range of categories, such as sword or staff skills. The game is far more open than other RPG's in that you are not forced down one route and you can really push your characters advancement in whatever direction you please. This may be overwhelming for players new to the genre but more seasoned gamers may prefer the lack of restriction. It's just a huge shame that all of the work that has gone into character advancement has such a small impact on combat itself, as the lack of strategy in combat means the best planned range of characters will show little difference to a mishmash experiment of skills.
I have been highly critical of the game so far though to be fair to the game it is not a complete loss. Like all RPG's there is some reward to playing the game and the game has some addictive qualities, though nowhere near as strong as its' peers. The main issue is other games on the market (even those that are a few years old) do it better than WKC does and the game fails to shine in any area other than customisation. The role player in me got me involved in the game but it was really the games reviewer in me forcing me to really stick with the game. Apparently there is a sequel on the cards, lets hope that the developers can learn from their many mistakes.
I could go into more detail about the games multiplayer mode a pseudo MMO style mode and other elements such as the georama, a town building distraction, but I think at this point in the review you will have already made your mind up as to whether the game is for you. Gamers looking for a dose of JRPG and can look past cliché, sub standard gameplay mechanics and a generally poor gaming experience may enjoy the game, but there is far better even in the clearance section of most game shops.