Despite the success that the role-playing genre had on the Playstation 2–specifically, Japanese RPGs–its successor, the PS3, has seen very few entries that are worth playing, especially when you narrow it down to system exclusives. A few companies are aiming to change that, including Sony themselves, as they are publishing Level 5’s (Professor Layton, Dragon Quest VIII and IX, Rogue Galaxy) latest RPG, White Knight Chronicles.
White Knight Chronicles is a mix of traditional single-player questing as well as a co-op mode that differs from the main story. In both modes you fight with a combination of real-time and turn-based actions, somewhat like Final Fantasy XII, but in my short time with it I felt like the menus and battles flowed more smoothly. Each attack has a cool down period in the sense that your turn needs to come up again before you can once again attack, but you are free to move around the map engaging the foes you wish to fight and avoiding those you do not. You can also use this to your advantage to dodge incoming attacks or attack an enemy from behind, which can be helpful with some of the bigger enemies when you try to set up more powerful attacks.
The characters have a variety of moves, such as regular strikes, jumping slashes, lunging attacks, etc. You will use all of them, and on different enemies, especially since you can target specific areas of an enemy’s body. Taking down a tall creature at the knees so you can lunge and jump slash his head is a satisfying endeavor. If you want to wipe out an enemy with a little style, you can do so, as the game features a combo creator. There are no default combos, as you have to create them on your own. You have a number of action points that you can build up as the game progresses, and you refill them by fighting and defeating enemies. When I picked up the controller, the character I was using had his gauge set to seven of these, so I was able to make a combo that used up to seven action points. You can build this combo using any of the attacks you have at your disposal, so what I essentially did was set the combo to slash, lunge, then jumping slash, and while suspended in mid-air iceballs and fireballs would be shot out before the final blow was delivered. You have to press the attack button at the right time in order to initiate each move, but it’s not difficult to time it, as it works just like your regular attacks, only in succession rather than one at a time broken up by cool down periods. Besides combos, you can also customize your battle menu as well, and save them for future use. While it may require some upkeep, that’s a great addition to have as you can be prepared for whatever comes your way.
The game looks very good–it is already out in Japan, so that is to be expected–but that does not take away from it. The art style is nice and bright, as we should expect from Level 5, and you can customize your main character–referred to as your avatar–to your heart’s content before you begin the game. This is where White Knight Chronicles gets a bit confusing, but hear Level 5 out on this one: your avatar is sort of the main character, but he is not the one who can change into the White Knight. That honor goes to Leonard, who is also sort of the main character. You can only change into the White Knight during the main story, which is where Leonard is available. You use those action points for the White Knight just like you would a combo, simply by scrolling through a menu with the D-pad during battle. Leonard turns into a giant that is the equal in size and strength of some of the larger enemies I saw in my playtime, and he delivers the expected beat down from a knight his size. It’s a neat mechanic, especially since the White Knight has his own move set independent of the combos Leonard utilizes.
Your avatar is still important, even if he’s incapable of turning into the legendary White Knight. That’s because this is the character you will control in the co-op and online portions of the game. Quests, each one an hour long, will be available to play, and even though we have had to wait for a longer time to play than Japan, we will also end up with more quests than them. In the end, I’ll take the extra content over the earlier release. I sadly did not get to test out any of these quests, but there will be tons of them–if you dig the quests, you will spend more time with them than the main story, especially if you have three other friends who want to play with you online.
White Knight Chronicles looks to be a mix of a few different RPG ideas, and from what I have seen, it looks like it is going to be a great entry on the Playstation 3, especially for RPG-starved owners. While traditional turn-based lovers may be turned off at first, you may want to keep an eye on this one, as it blends real-time with turn-based in an effective way. Sadly, you have to keep that eye trained on it for quite a bit, as it is due out in the beginning of 2010. We’ll have more details for you on White Knight Chronicles as they release.