Over the years the concept of a role playing game has graced our consoles and PC's for many years. Each gives us what the developers hope, is an engaging story that will have the player coming back for more and see the tale through. Emulating an RPG on a console has always been a tricky affair compared to a table top game. It's not only the dice and paper that have been absent, but also the chance to make moral choices that will affect the outcome of the story. That issue however, has been addressed with the likes of Fable, Mass Effect, and Knights of the Old Republic where actions swing your character from being a good two shoes, to an out and out rogue, or you can try and juggle things so your character becomes a neutral protagonist.
Even action games like InFamous 2 give you those moral choices to make along the way, and that's no bad thing if you ask me. So it came as a bit of a surprise to see that White Knight Chronicles is a throwback (and I don't mean this as an insult) to the 'good old days' of earlier classics like the final fantasy series or Zelda. But hang on I'm getting ahead of myself here, so let's slam on the brakes, stick this review into reverse and take things back to the beginning.
Our story starts with our hero, who goes by the manly name of Leonard (Yeah you heard me!) being given the task of collecting a wagon of wine from a local brewery to celebrate the princess's birthday. It's made clear to Leonard that he has to get the shipment back to the castle by nightfall or there will be trouble. Leonard is an experienced sort and as he collects the wagon to go and pick up the wine, he is told that an apprentice will be going with him. When you first meet this apprentice, he has a name that can be changed and this is where you, as a player come in. Once you have dabbled with his looks and clothing, you will set off on your journey, just as a strange and slightly suspect looking carnival rolls into town.
But being excited about the celebrations coming that night Leonard is just anxious to get going. During this part of the game, we learn that the princess hasn't spoken a word since she was a child after she witnessed the death of her brother. So Leonard sets off to get the wine, unaware that all sorts of chaos will break whilst he's away. But he'll have problems of his own as various critters will obstruct the journey. The little ones are no problem at all, but when a Troll emerges and attacks the wagon on the way back, it becomes clear that Leonard isn't going to be back on time.
But in the City things have also taken a turn for the worst. The carnival is a cover for an invading force and after a battle and an attack by a savage beast, the princess (in true final fantasy fashion) is abducted! So begins an epic journey to rescue the young maiden. That is just the tip of the iceberg.
A year later more problems arise as on an island, a general with ambitions to resurrect an evil empire draws his plans and once more, the dark clouds of war start to gather. Now I know what you are thinking, why is there a sudden leap forward a whole year? It's because this is actually two games in one. White Knight Chronicles 2 has White Knight Chronicles 1 bundled into the same package. This is a tick in the 'win' column for me. So let's delve a little deeper into the game itself. Brace yourself; this is going to take some time!
First of all this game will remind you of Final Fantasy 12, as the landscape stretches into the distance ahead of you and you can see the critters ahead. There are no random encounters as such here, but areas will repopulate very quickly after using a logic stone which are the in game save points. Make a note of where these are as they serve as a multi function tool. Touching a stone heals the party but when touched; a sub menu of options will open up. These include access to the world map, a weapon repair function (it costs an amount of gold, but this is a very useful function indeed) and it gives you the chance to change battle orders and commands, and equip players.
A menu can be accessed that allows you to log in commands related to your skills and equipment. This includes different melee attacks with sword, axe or staff, ranged attacks with bows and of course the magic spells you know. This is easy enough to do. Open the menu by pressing the triangle button, use the shoulder buttons to scroll through attack modes, and allocate a skill to a slot with a press of the X button. In a fight you can scroll through the options for battle and queue in a set of commands. So when you have targeted an enemy, a circle will appear around the target and as the circle becomes white, you can select another attack option. So as soon as one strike goes in, the next one in the list will kick in. Bear in mind though that if you have skills for an axe and you don't carry one, you'll put away your current weapon and stand there doing nothing. So buy all the gear you can as soon as possible!
It looks complicated but you'll soon get to grips with it. As you gain experience and level up, you will gain skill points that can be allocated to each weapons and spells. These when allocated, will open up other useful enhancements to your attacks. Fire tip for instance adds an incendiary effect to your arrows, aerial strike delivers an attack with a blade that will send your opponent skywards and leave it vulnerable to other high attacks. You can also create your own combos that can mix melee with magic, or add magic to your bow shots. Weapons can be augmented as well as armour, so extra damage can be added to attacks with elemental effects added, or to the armour so you can be protected from fire, ice, poison etc. Feel free to experiment to your heart's content.
One other thing to remember is that Leonard came across a suit of armour that is unlocked by the princess. This means that Leonard can transform into the incorruptus, a giant suited form. This armour can also and should be augmented as you progress, as well as its weapons.
Each attack and action costs an action chip. These are displayed in the bottom left hand corner of the screen. Simple attacks will only use one or two, the more powerful attacks will use more obviously. Should you run out, you should step back as they will replenish themselves, and provided you have given your team mates the right orders, they can protect and heal you as the fight goes on.
As you delve into the game, you will find that there is more to this than levelling up and killing monsters. The game has an online Guild facility where items can be exchanged and guilds can join forces to take on the bigger and nastier quests on offer. You can also unlock a mode where you can design and then build your own town! There is a lot to do here and I do mean a lot, and all of the above options are not changed in either game so when you have played the first game, you won't have to relearn the mechanics of the second one.
White Knight Chronicles two allows you to play with the team starting at level 35, or indeed, import the characters from White Knight One into the game with all of their skills and items intact. Other games have done this before (Hack. And Hack Two: Infection comes to mind) and unlike others will not unduly punish you if you have not imported characters. Just don't forget to spend those skill points!
Though not to the standard of Final Fantasy thirteen, they are bright, clear and well detailed. Cut scenes are well animated indeed. Grass and trees etc. are well rendered and textures are pleasing to the eye. Creature and character movement is smooth and well realised indeed. There's no frame lag or drop out or drop in that I have noticed.
The game music is dramatic when needed and the soundtrack matches the action on screen very well indeed. It does lack the atmospheric feel of other games I have to say. Whereas the music of Lost Odyssey or indeed the FF series is sweeping and melodramatic, or sweet and soothing, the soundtrack lacks a bit of muscle. That's a shame, but at least it doesn't have the electronic rock beats of some soundtracks that I feel sometimes don't quite fit the genre. (The Witcher does this but manages to carry it off)
Lip syncing is of a high calibre and the vocal talent won't win any acting awards, but they are not hammy and convey the emotions of the story very well.
Targeting in combat can be a problem. There are times when you should feel safely out of range of a melee attack but the hit still connects and vice versa. This is a slight marring of the enjoyment, but to be honest it doesn't happen that often so I can forgive it for this. The biggest oops must be reserved for some ranged attacks. That's the point behind a ranged attack, you should be able to stand well back and unleash an arrow, so I do not understand why the target lock doesn't turn the circle around the enemy, until you have gotten a little closer. Not a problem per say with the small creatures, but you'll want to keep your snipers out of the reach of larger beasts such as trolls and Treants or they get clubbed or squashed underfoot, so bear that in mind. However you can when prompted target areas of the enemies body to inflict damage to sensitive areas like the head or vulnerable areas like the legs. Augmentation of bows can add range to your attacks so augment the power of the ranged weapon as often as you can, but there are still times when you have to move in closer than perhaps you would have liked.
Sadly this seems to be a game that is slipping under the radar which is why sites like this are so valuable! Lobbies were empty every time I logged in which is a crying shame as the ability to trade, help each other out and I think (Note I say only think, as it's hinted at but I could not explore to find out) fight each other in friendly duels was just non-existent. This I just know, would add so much more to every gamers experiences and is more than welcome on Demon's Souls, so come on guys and gals, get on line and start using the functions on offer please! I feel that this will be worth the effort to say the least.
You are getting TWO games for the price of one here. Neither game will be finished in a hurry, and offer a large and varied landscape to explore. It is a tactical game too, not just a case of wandering around and levelling up, and with the added bonus of being able to design and build your own town as well, this should also have some appeal to the fan of the RTS style game.
The targeting of ranged attacks and melee combat does mar the game. There are also times when the character you have lovingly created (there are enough options here to rival the CAW functions on Smackdown vs. Raw!) is left out of the actions as brave Leonard goes off to rescue the princess and develop his relationship with her. This does alas; mean you sometimes feel like a passenger or a mere observer to the story. Surely it would have been better if Leonard was the character you controlled for the main part of the story?
But I can overlook that as what we have on offer, is a long and immersive tale indeed, and should fill the time nicely whilst we wait for Final Fantasy Thirteen chapter two. And unlike FF 13, it does not get bogged down with an extremely long tutorial section. The game play is intuitive and you'll soon get to grips with it.
This title may just slip under the radar of most players out there. I hope not as the guild functions on offer are surely worth exploring and I hope my friends on the PSN Network take the plunge and get this title so we can see what it has to offer in that respect. I'd be happy to add to this review if the need arises on that score.
I recommend that people at least give this a rental. I feel there are more than a few of you out there will soon be offering to buy this from your online rental company. A good solid effort and although its unlikely to topple Final Fantasy or Mass Effect off their thrones, it will provide many an hour's diversion and engage you in a two part fantasy epic.
The kingdom awaits you Sir Leonard!