previewed on PS3
Another traditional JRPG?
Japanese Role Playing Games, or JRPGs as we commonly call them, are an acquired taste. Not everyone can stomach storylines about true love, evil corporations, ambiguous gender classification and gravity defying haircuts. That said, you cannot deny that the genre always had tremendous success. Final Fantasy, the quintessential JRPG, has shaped the contemporary landscape of role playing games and is still today standing strong as the founder and main pillar of the JRPG.
White Knight Chronicles is the next title of the genre that will take a pot shot at the occidental market. The game will be available in North America on February 2nd and in Europe at a yet-to-be-decided date. This Playstation 3 exclusive is a game that is already available in Japan since December 25th 2008. That's right folks, this game is well over a year old. Rest assured that Level-5, the developers responsible for this title and known for their work on titles such as Dark Cloud, Rogue Galaxy and the great DS franchise Professor Layton, haven’t just dusted off something on their shelves in order to make a quick buck overseas.
In White Knight Chronicles, the princess of the Kingdom of Balandor is quietly minding her business and having a party thrown for her (well, maybe not so quiet afterall). Then, the inevitable happens: an evil corporation called Wizard crashes the celebration in order to crush the good spirits of the people. Leonard, a boy that happened to be there, yanks the princess away from the bad guys and gets her to safety in the cellar. That's where he finds the White Knight Armor, a strange suit that gives him the power to fight Wizard and their nefarious plans. From this moment starts the life-changing quest of brave Leonard and his friends to raise some hell in Balandor and (allegedly) overturn the oppressive power of Wizard. Exactly what you're expecting out of a JRPG isn't it?
You play Leonard and embark on a journey to free the kingdom of Balandor but things get a little more interesting than that. Level-5 did a little thinking outside the box and came up with fresh ideas with the inclusion of a new mechanic called the Georama. This online function gives gamers the possibility to forge their own adventure. You get to customize your own hero (you can see the Westernization effort here) which will have the same gear and the same skill level as he does in the story mode. That’s one of the most intriguing features of the game if you ask me. Your customizable online hero is a part of Leonard’s crew in the campaign. This way you can play both modes separately, but if you play both, your experience will be richer. The point of building the game like this, according to developer Yoshiaki Kusuda, was to give the gamers an introductory experience to the online possibilities of the RPG. It is there, but is linked to your story mode in order for the campaign mode buff to keep an eye on the purpose of his quest.
With Georama, players can also create his own virtual town which will be the online lobby where he and his friends will meet in order to play the online quests. A cool feature is that you can 'recruit' non-playing characters from the story mode to live in your Georama town. They each have skills or their own and will occupy jobs while you are out crusading. You have to choose your NPCs wisely in order to maximize the help they can bring to your party.
It is refreshing to have a developer who is not scared to get outside of established clichés of success in order to reach out to a broader audience. I applaud the boldness it took to include an idea like the Georama in the game, its implementation hits the mark because it gives the users a very compelling atmosphere for the discovery of the online gaming possibilities. Best of all, this does away with having to mindlessly grind for levels.
What about that gameplay thing?
White Knight Chronicles is a Turn-based role playing game with a lot of dialogues but here too the developers have made a bold decision to freshen up the standard JRPG gameplay mechanics. The game uses a third person point of view but the combat aspect is going to be a middle ground in between turn-based and real time. This way over-analyzers like me can take their time to dish and avoid damage as effectively as possible.
Battle-mode will be engaged automatically every time that you encounter an enemy on the map. The player will then have the option to enter the battle menu and choose between seven commands for each character. A ‘function palette’ contains these commands and will enable the player to have pre-ordered attacks like in any turn-based RPG. You will even have the possibility to make combos between the members of your party to deal out the maximum punishment to your opponent.
Ben, do you think this game is worth my time?
Absolutely. I know what you think though: Role-Playing Games are a very time-demanding genre and with Final Fantasy XIII around the corner some of you will have to make a choice. But White Knight Chronicles is worth your time. It contains around a hundred hours of action and the core structure of the game allows it to have long-lasting appeal. You can play a few quests with Leonard, go online to rack up levels and items with your own avatar and have him or her come back in the main campaign. If you have any kind of interest for JRPGs, White Knight Chronicles is worth a look.