Level 5 returns
If you are a Playstation 2 RPG fan, you have probably been waiting for the next release from Level 5 Inc. For those of you who don't know the developers from before, they produced one of the most critically-acclaimed RPGs for the console: Dark Cloud. With unprecedented content and an immersive story, many thought that the independent developer/publisher had peaked early. Well, as always, that remains to be seen, as Level 5 has just released their first US title for the Playstation 3, White Knight Chronicles. Does it live up to the expectations put forth almost nine years ago?
The prologue places you in the shoes of Leonard, as well as your created avatar (which we'll touch on later). He's an orphaned, young adult, in the kingdom of Balandor, who is tasked to fetch a shipment of wine from the next town over, to supply the princess of the kingdom's coming-of-age celebration. Once your party returns with the shipment, the characters find that the evil corporation, Magi, under the guise of a group of traveling circus performers, have gone nuts in trying to pull off the trifecta of terrorism - Murder, Kidnapping and Theft. They sought to kill the king, kidnap the princess and steal the armor of Incorruptus, which Leonard soon comes to find is the armor of the White Knight. They accomplish all but the last part, as the protagonist, Leonard, is able to merge with the White Knight and use its power to ward off the evildoers. The evildoers are able to escape with the princess, Cisna, however, forcing your party, now joined by your standard bad-ass (hey, every RPG has one), Eldore, to follow in search of the new ruler of Balandor.
You are joined throughout your journey, as has become an RPG staple, by characters of many differing fighting styles and personalities. The main story will engulf you for over 30 hours, though you will find yourself experience grinding for many more, as well as playing online with your created avatar. Many beautifully drawn enemies will stand in your way as you run around in search of Cisna.
The story in general will remind you of Level 5's Dark Cloud, but that is not necessarily its downfall. The average RPG will entail a character, an enemy and a love interest or kingdom (or in this case, both) which you are inclined to save. White Knight Chronicles does not break any ground in its story, though the format has become cliche for a reason: it pulls you in and therefore you feel inclined to see the story to its end.
This is where Level 5 shines bright in its first next-gen release. Battle mechanics fuse turn-based games, such as Final Fantasy, with real-time games, like Dark Cloud and the Zelda franchise. At first, the battle system is frustrating. When you engage an enemy, you are presented with a selection of moves at the bottom of your screen. You can edit this menu, as not every separate move necessarily has to take up one of your allotted attacks. In the menu, you are able to combine your moves to create your own combos, which will take up one slot. Once you strike your enemy for the first time, a round timer begins to cycle to your right. This is the time you must wait until your next action, be it an attack or a status change. This is where the frustration I mentioned begins. Since this is all happening in real-time, your instincts tell you to swing, swing, run, swing. However, if you run, you will be hit anyway, even if you're 20 feet away. This is because of the turn-based nature of the game.
The game is Final Fantasy-esque at heart, but strays from the negative aspects of that franchise. No longer will you be so rudely interrupted by a battle sequence, on a screen completely separate from that which you were just traveling. You will inherit the same turn-based rules, but the enemies are free-roaming and present on the map on which you travel, enabling you to fight and keep moving, not having to wait for the screen to change and a battle to begin. Once you realize that you are in a strict, turn-based system, but with a touch of freedom and convenience, you will begin to fall in love with the gameplay. It is everything that a turn-based RPG should and shouldn't be, without straying too far from the family and becoming a complete real-time system, such as Dragon Age:Origins.
Unprecedented online content, Conceivably unlimited game time, Immersive fighting system
Been-there, done-that plot, Visually a year behind the pack, Dreadful lip syncing