It’s a pretty epic year of releases for the PS3, with multiple AAA titles from some of the best development studios. While you’ll find games across a range of genres, JRPGs are lacking. This has unfortunately become the pattern for Western PS3 owners. With this in mind, many are considering investing in White Knight Chronicles II, the sequel to 2010's lukewarm White Knight Chronicles. While not everything is bad, only the most diehard RPG fans will want to give this one a look.
After a short introductory sequence which follows a knight named Scardigne, White Knight Chronicles II puts you straight back in control of the heroes from the first game. In the wake of the events of the first game, Leonard and friends reassemble to try to stop the evil Yshrenian Empire… and that’s really all there is to it. It’s a black-and-white, forgettable narrative. It expects you to have played the original, and offers no background. Indeed, the game starts in “Chapter 8” making this game more the second half of the original's story than a story in its own right. The characters are as dry and underdeveloped as in the original, and you’ll have little attachment to the story at all. Your custom character is a silent protagonist, with no connection to the plot. The plot becomes a little more interesting in the final chapter, but it doesn’t really make up for the total lack of pacing and intrigue in the rest of the game.
Just as with the story, the gameplay of White Knight Chronicles II assumes you’ve played the previous entry. You’re thrown straight into the game with no tutorial. You’re given the option to import your save file from the original game, which thankfully is included on the disc, but all your characters will be reset to level 35, and you’ll be able to redistribute their skill points as you as you see fit. I highly recommend that everyone play the original first, as otherwise you’ll have even less connection to the story and characters. The battle system has been sped up some in the first game to match the second, but it still plods slowly along.
Just like the story, the gameplay is very slow. In fact, every part of the game is slow, from leveling to navigating massive dungeon labyrinths. Gameplay in White Knight Chronicles II is almost all about grinding and gathering. In some ways it feels like a slow leveling MMO, as you’ll need a lot of patience to earn better equipment. Standard RPG conventions of leveling, allocating skill points, and learning new abilities return from the first game. There’s a large level of character customization available, allowing you to equip any character with any build. Improved equipment is largely gained through farming the dungeons, and between that and the slow leveling, you’ll be spending a lot of time in said dungeons.
In fact, the majority of the time you spend in the game will be in the dungeons, and sadly the large majority of these are repeated from the first game, and just as confusing and troublesome as ever. Locked doors and blocked passages, completely unmarked on your map, add to the frustration and confusion of navigating these behemoths, and bland art design will make it hard to stay awake. A few new dungeons for the game do stand out however, and offer noticeably improved visuals and atmosphere. It’s sad that these make up the minority of the time you will spend in the game. Compounding the issue, each of these dungeons is filled with only a handful of different enemies, whom you will fight ad nauseum.
Tweaks have been made to the combat system to speed it up, including the ability to launch your fist attack immediately, rather than wait for the initial gauge fill. The game also now varies attack damage based on distance, which gives you something to do in combat while you wait for your gauges to fill. There are a large number of new attacks in the game, which makes the combat a little more interesting visually. As with the first, you’ll enjoy transforming into the giant mech Incorruptus form to do some real damage, and there are more Incorruptus in the game than the last. Difficulty has been increased significantly as well, which makes the combat a good deal more challenging, if cheap at times.
Sadly, even with all these improvements, combat is more frustrating than fun. All the efforts to speed up combat still leave it feeling slow, and the increased difficulty didn’t come with improved partner AI. Your companions still range between mediocre at best and completely incompetent at worst, regardless of how you set your AI tactics. You’ll also once again find yourself spending a large portion of the game wishing your Incorruptus charge was up as you face down giant foes, which are poorly spaced out for the ability’s recharge time. In addition, you’ll still rarely need any real strategy outside of the boss fights.
Outside of progressing the linear story through dungeons, White Knight Chronicles II does offer some a couple distractions. The Georama returns, allowing you to create your own custom town, with a variety of potential themes and arrangements. Though, like most things in the game, it’s slow going. You’ll be spending a lot of time and money on the town before it becomes particularly interesting or useful. However, it is rewarding to see it all come together in the end. Buildings can be placed anywhere, villagers can be recruited for crafting materials, and vendors can be added for easy shopping. Once it’s completed, your town becomes an incredibly useful hub, reachable from save points. Other distractions include crafting and resource gathering, necessary for the best equipment, and bounty missions which let you tackle bosses for big rewards. Sadly, none of this does much to break up the tedious pacing.
Just as with the previous White Knight Chronicles, a huge part of the experience is in the online co-op. Unfortunately, you’ll be required to play through the story mode before you can get access to the vast majority of it, and as discussed above, this is simply not fun. The GeoNet returns with a few changes. You now purchase quests, with availability based on guild rank. Guild rank is improved as you complete multi-player or single-player quests or by running errands from NPCs in the single-player. The latter are generally incredibly boring fetch quests, but you’ll want to do them because they offer lots of guild points.
Again, progression is slow in multi-player, though this isn’t quite as much of an issue with friends. You can play with up to six people, and here the MMO-style gameplay actually feels more comfortable and in its element. Unfortunately, the multi-player is weighed down by the same massive time investment requirement as the single-player, and the most interesting quests won’t be available until you’ve put dozens of hours into raising your guild rank. This is all weighed down further by the fact that your online progression doesn’t benefit your campaign. Better integration between single and multi-player would have done wonders for the game’s variety and fun.
While White Knight Chronicles II isn’t an ugly game, it’s not a pretty one either. The art design remains bland and uninspired, and the music is as forgettable as the repetitive dungeons. This issue is worsened by the fact that the majority of the areas you’ll traverse in the game are actually recycled from the first game. New areas in the second feature significantly improved art direction and visuals, but by the time you’re done with the game you’ll be tired of the visual design. Presentation is further damaged by voice acting which ranges from mediocre to cringe-worthy.
Credit should be given to White Knight Chronicles II for including the full version of the original game with the combat tweaks applied on the disc. There is a ton of content in the game, and you can get hundreds of hours out of the two games’ campaigns and online co-op combined. Unfortunately, so much of this content is repetitive that you’ll have trouble actually seeing it all, and what you do see won’t seem very new. Ironically the repetition and lack of new assets is made even clearer when you play through the first White Knight Chronicles before hopping into the second, as you’ll be immediately greeted with the same dungeons you’ve just played through. In the end, it’s an awesome amount of content, but the length is artificially large due to repeated assets and a slow, grinding pace.
Chances are you’ve already decided whether you think White Knight Chronicles II is worth your money based on your ability (or lack thereof) to enjoy the first game. If you haven’t, let me spell it out for you: White Knight Chronicles II will not improve on your experience in the first game in any significant manner. In fact, it feels more like an expansion than a sequel. Slow pacing and frustratingly repetitive content can drive you crazy before you get to the more enjoyable parts of the co-op. If you’re really desperate for JRPGs on the PS3 (and there are admittedly few choices for us Western gamers) you may want to give the game a look, but be prepared for a long grind for few rewards at the end.