The Knight Is Coming!
June 4, 2009 – One of the games I was most looking forward to at E3 this year was White Knight Chronicles. This JRPG is set in a fantastical world where a princess has been kidnapped and a major company wages war to try and overthrow the monarchy. The game’s main character is a young man named Leonard who has recently come into possession of a magical suit of armor which magically transforms him into the mythical White Knight.
During E3 we got to play one of the game’s early levels in the game’s story mode. Our character’s stats were all maxed out, but the Sony rep guiding us through the demo assured us that the difficulty level would be increased in the full game. We started playing with a party of four, and tried out the game’s battle system with little difficulty.
Although the game’s battle system is completely active, you will still use in-game menus in order to access your attack roster, much like the Kingdom Hearts series. When your character engages in battle, you will see a small icon appear letting you know that enemies are available to be targeted. You then press the X button to pull up your battle menu. The bottom of the screen shows various actions, and you can select them by highlighting them with the left/right buttons and then pressing the X button again to engage them.
In addition to standard attacks, you can load your battle menu with special combos that you create. Since all of the characters’ abilities were unlocked for us, we got to really get into the deep aspects of the editor. Basically, your character will have a certain set of basic attacks and skills that can be chained together. The combo editor will assist you the whole way, by highlighting moves that would make sense in the combo you are creating as well as elemental attacks that can be used with basic moves to create even more devastating attacks.
There is an incredible sense of freedom with the combo creator, and the sheer amount of moves that we were able to chain together was ridiculous. Creating and trying out special moves was plenty of fun, and there are enough individual moves and features to keep you working towards your individual best combos.
Although this battle system does take a little getting used to, it works well after you play with it a little bit. The menu is fully customizable, and I find it works best to put your standard attack in the first slot, followed by some healing magic and then your custom attacks in the final slots (since these will often be your strongest).
We only got to try the single-player battle experience, but while we were at Sony’s both, I also picked their brain about changes for the localization as well as the multiplayer aspect of the game that we’ve been hearing so much about. When the game came out in Japan last year, it was certainly a best-seller, but one of the main criticisms of it was that it was too easy, and hardcore RPG fans complained that this made the experience a little too short. Luckily, during the localization process, the White Knight team is going in and adding more elements to the gameplay to make it more challenging for the US market.
As far as the multiplayer is concerned, it will be firmly tied to the single-player experience but not required to complete the story mode. At the beginning of the story mode, you create your own character to join the party of established main characters. Although you can play as every character in your party in story mode, when you take your game online, you can only play as your created character. You keep all your current stats and levels from the game, and based on these facets, you will be assigned a guild. Other people with similar stats will join you, and you’ll be able to take part in multiplayer quests that are completely independent of your progress in the story.
The multiplayer component is completely optional, but the Sony rep I talked to stressed that there will definitely be benefits to taking time out of the story to complete multiplayer quests, such as bonus items and equipment rewards. These items and equipment cannot be found in the linear story, and they will be completely transferable between both modes.
Our time with White Knight Chronicles was fairly brief, but the taste of the battle system that we got, as well as the combo customization system were definitely impressive. This is looking like the first really great PS3-exclusive JRPG this generation, and I am very excited for its North American debut next year.
Not Your Everyday Knight!
January 27, 2009 – White Knight Chronicles is a huge hit in Japan. As one of the best-selling titles of the year, this game is credited with moving more PS3s than Metal Gear Solid 4, which is quite a feat. And now that the title has been confirmed to be localized for North America, there is considerable excitement surrounding its release later this year. So, what can we expect from this title?
The plot in White knight Chronicles looks to blend conventional fantasy elements with a sprinkling of modern science fiction. It involves a princess who is nearly kidnapped during her coming-of-age celebrations by an evil corporation named Wizard trying to overthrow the royal family. However, the princess is miraculously saved by a young man named Leonard, who whisks her away to her castle’s deep cellars. In these cellars, our young hero finds a magical suit of armor that transforms into a giant White Knight. As you progress though the game, you learn more about Wizard, including the fact that the head of this company can change into our hero’s main nemesis, the Black Knight.
Although White Knight Chronicles’s genre-bending plotline is very interesting, it is White Knight Chronicles’s much-touted battle system that has garnered this title the most buzz. White Knight Chronicles uses a tactical-based system that relies on a “function palette,” which is a collection of seven actions your character can take in-game. You can save several of these palettes, which will make it easy to switch between tactics styles. But what makes the function palette even more interesting is that certain actions can be linked together within a certain palette to form combo moves. These combos can be unleashed using quick-time events, which will each represent an individual “link” in the function palette. So, if you have three actions linked together in your function palette, you will have to go through three quick-time events for the overall move to be successful.
Unlike some other RPGs, White Knight Chronicles will have a limited control mechanism, which will only give you control over the actions of the single character during battle. However, in an interesting twist, you will be able to change your active character to maximize certain abilities. As you might expect, the game also uses a class-based system to unlock attacks to use in the palette, and there will be a total of eight different classes available including mage and soldier classes.
In addition to White Knight Chronicles’ single-player mode, this title will be one of the first to incorporate an online co-op mode. This mode will be completely separate from the single-player mode and involve a character you create in the single-player mode. This character will be able to go on free-roaming quests with parties of up to four in these special online-only levels. These levels will have a similar battle system to the main modes, but they will feature an independent leveling-up mechanic, which will be much like how an MMORPG will use data from your online campaigns to determine your player stats. However, you will have access to some of your characters’ items from the single-player mode in the online mode.
Although some speculate that the JRPG genre is all out of ideas, White Knight Chronicles is definitely proof that this genre is capable of growing and evolving. With a promising story, intriguing battle system, and immersive online capability, White Knight Chronicles is shaping up to be the JRPG to watch for this year. Although no firm US release date has been set, White Knight Chronicles is expected to arrive sometime in 2009, most likely just in time for a holiday release!
March 17, 2008 – A few years ago if you were to ask who Level-5 was, I would’ve scratched my head and stared at you awkwardly. A seemingly unknown developer that originated in the mid-nineties, Level-5 is currently on the rise in the video game world. From their start with unappreciated role-playing games like Dark Cloud and Rogue Galaxy, to popular niche titles like the innovative Professor Layton, Level-5 is probably the “freshest” developer currently on the market.
Taking a slightly different approach this time around, Sony is working with Level-5 to make a truly outstanding RPG for the PlayStation 3; its name is White Knight Chronicles. Though the game has been a bundle of secrets over the last couple of months, more and more information continues to be unveiled as we dip further into 2008. What is White Knight Chronicles? How is it different from your average everyday role playing game? Why am I asking you all these questions? Just see for yourself what Level-5 has in store for gamers later this year.
What is strange about the revelations of White Knight Chronicles thus far is that the story has yet to be divulged. Usually a developer will reveal their game’s plot before introducing other elements such as gameplay, visuals, and mechanics. What we do know is that the premise follows the tried and true “damsel in distress” formula that we have seen countless times. Level-5 has mentioned that the plot will be deep and contain several twists and turns throughout. Hey, it wouldn’t be a Level-5 game if there wasn’t some kind of interesting story turn, would it? The game takes place in a fictional fantasy world similar to that of Oblivion. Just as with the previously mentioned title, you can instantly teleport to any area that you have previously traveled, thus cutting tedious travel time. Now if only Morrowind had that feature.
Differentiating itself from traditional RPGs like Final Fantasy, White Knight Chronicles looks to bring about the real-time battle system seen in games like Grandia III and Tales of Symphonia. Yet what is unique about this combat system is that there is no battle transition to an instanced battle field. Instead, when you see an enemy, the battle will begin right then and there without any scene change. This is probably the game’s most exciting feature because it takes advantage of the title’s natural visuals rather than full motion video.
Another notable feature is the “Function Palette,” which acts as your menu screen and tactical guide. Within this palette, you will choose up to seven commands for each individual character. Based on your selection, your team will be able to choose a variety of attack and defense options. This element introduces some strategy into the mix, forcing you to constantly reconfigure your characters based on the type of conflict you will engage in; so far, so good.
The battle system is probably the most unique combat setup that I’ve seen in an RPG to date. Mixing a real time battle system with turn based menu mechanics, White Knight Chronicles is the first game to utilize a menu oriented, chain-combo system.
For instance, before you establish combat with an opponent, you can set up a particular character with a number of learnable moves. These can range from magical spells like fire or blizzard to a variety of weapon techniques. Once you initiate the battle, the game zooms in right to that particular land base, and you maintain full control of the character, similar to the style seen in Kingdom Hearts. Pressing the attack command will then allow you to start off with whatever attack you set first in your palette. After a small recharge period, you can then press the attack button again to launch your second assault. This can be repeated up to seven times, but all in all it is the attribute stats themselves that will determine how much damage you do and how well the respective enemy defends or evades. This is a combat system that we really should be seeing more of in role playing games these days, and is a welcome change from the stale turn-to-turn formula.
You can’t complete the package without a solid presentation, and White Knight Chronicles doesn’t look to disappoint on that front. Though the title is still in its earliest stage, the character models and environments look very smooth and appropriate. Battle actions seem a bit jerky, but with time, Level-5 should be able to smooth out the frame-rate. The user interface, on the other hand, is simple to make out, with the seven palette options showing vibrantly on the bottom of the screen. To be honest, most of the menu features look to be similar to that of Final Fantasy XIII, which looks to follow a sequence based combo system as well, though perhaps not quite the same as the one seen in White Knight Chronicles. On another note, character designs look like a convincing fusion between the art seen in Grandia III and Star Ocean, with emphasis placed on realistic models with a small touch of anime. Rounding out the aesthetics is the audio, which looks to have its own orchestrated soundtrack and voice-overs, quite impressive for a game without “Final Fantasy” in the title.
So what is it about White Knight Chronicles that seems to have every PlayStation 3 owner bouncing up and down with excitement? Could it be the unique and intriguing battle system? Perhaps the mysterious story that has yet to be elaborated upon? No, it is simply because the PS3 has yet to see any solid role playing games. Sure Final Fantasy XIII is on the way, but 2009 seems likely at this point. Persona 3 is also a candidate, but the early impressions left me feeling like I was watching a PlayStation 2 game rather than a next generation one. White Knight Chronicles has all the ingredients to create one fine main course, perhaps even tastier than Square-Enix’s next entry. What the genre needs right now is a turn around, some innovation to bring it out of its own tedious loop. Countless turn-based role playing games with generic plots have emerged over the last couple of years and little has been done to break the cycle. Just as Super Mario Galaxy reinvented the platformer, White Knight Chronicles could possibly be the tonic that the tired role-playing genre needs to get back on its feet. Only time will tell.