Review: White Knight Chronicles II

Review: White Knight Chronicles II

When the original White Knight Chronicles finally came out in North America back in February 2010, I was pretty excited and remained that way through the course of the game. The game wasn’t great, but it was decent and I didn’t think people gave it enough credit, especially at a time when JRPGs were just starting to blossom again on the PlayStation 3.

Now here we are, 20 months later, and the sequel is out, fully localized for us by D3 Publisher (as opposed to Sony Computer Entertainment of America, which localized the first title). There are some subtle improvements, but is it really enough to take the game to the next level and get people to really see the potential I saw two years ago when the first title was released? I guess you’ll have to read on to find out.

White Knight Chronicles II takes place about a year after the end of the original game. This sounds pretty standard, right? It’s all well and good until you realize how awkward the game makes it to get up to speed. However, you do have options. First off, through the magic of BluRay, the entirety of the first game is on the disc. So, if you haven’t played White Knight Chronicles, you can do so. This is, frankly, the best option. The original game has been re-mastered with slightly higher resolution textures, a battle system revamp to match the second game and the like. Your second option is to import your original WKC save file and gain your party’s levels and gold. This is a good option if you’ve played the original game recently. Your party remains the same at the beginning of the second game as it was at the end of the first one.

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The last option – which is the one I was forced to partake in for various reasons (lost WKC clear file, not enough time to play through both games, etc.) – is to basically “start from scratch” with a level 35 party. You know what that means? You have 35 levels of skill points to use. No, that’s not a good thing.

Okay, allow me to be blunt here. Starting the second game without having a clear file from the first is quite annoying. Some people may like fiddling around with skill points and character progression – and I’m one of them. However, to dump all that on a player right from the beginning without explaining the slightest bit of how everything works (you know, the tutorials in the first game) is just downright cruel. I’m confused as to how the developers expect to bring new players into the fold with this huge brick wall in front of them.

That, my friends, is only the beginning.

I quite enjoyed the story of the first game, and it makes sense to make these two titles flow together – from a story and character perspective. The game does do a great job of getting you up to speed with the basics from the first title in a movie sequence near the beginning of WKCII. It would still, however, be beneficial if you had played the first game in the past, otherwise you know nothing about these characters and at the beginning of WKCII you’re immediately thrust into the game with no connection whatsoever to the original cast.

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Initially, you’re introduced to a couple new characters, and because that’s their introduction, I felt more drawn to them than I did any of the characters from the original cast. Note here that I played the first game, but it was two years ago, and that connection has been lost. Unfortunately, building some back story is a necessity in these types of games, regardless if it’s a sequel or not. There was some throughout the course of the game, don’t get me wrong, but I felt dragged around and unsure exactly how to relate to most of these characters the entire game – and that’s a big issue for me, being the heavy story and character person that I am.

What this all comes down to is that I wish they had started WKCII as a brand new game, instead of seemingly forcing it to continue right from the previous title. You even start WKCII in Act 7, instead of Act 1. No, Act 1 was in the first game. I don’t mean the story can’t pick up at that point or contain the same characters, by any means. What I mean is that it feels like the two games should be linked into one title (which they sort of do on this disc), but it isn’t treated as one, and it’s confusing and a bit off-putting to jump into the second game with it feeling like you’re in the middle of something epic instead of at the beginning of it.

But, moving on, there have been some improvements overall, especially in the battle system. Things flow a bit more smoothly this time around, although they still have that unpleasant “chaotic” feel that sometimes showed up in the first title. I think some of this comes from the sharp difficulty curve at the beginning of WKCII, because things do smooth out later on. At points during the first several hours I was wondering if Level 5 had consorted with Dark Souls developer From Software to test the patience of gamers. The first game had a much better difficulty curve. That curve in WKCII is so horribly out of shape that I actually wouldn’t be surprised if many people are turned off by it.

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Unfortunately for WKCII, I was also recently playing Final Fantasy XII again. The idea behind the battle systems are similar, and I can’t help but think that WKCII is just a faint glimmer of the greatness that was the similar battle system in another title. Everything about it – even with the improvements – gives you that “almost, but not quite” feeling.

I do, however, appreciate the depth of the character progression, as well as the variety of attacks and abilities. Sometimes it can be a tad overwhelming, having multiple action bars with many different sets of abilities and combos for any given situation. As mentioned earlier, once I actually got into the game, I quite enjoyed the micro management of the characters, distributing the skill points and all that jazz.

I really enjoyed the integration of transforming your characters into the giant knights, or Incorruptus, this time around, though. It felt epic and it felt like doing so or not could make or break certain battles. These transformations are akin to summons in other fantasy-based RPGs, and sometimes those tend to fall by the wayside and not be very useful in most situations. Not here – assuming you have the action points available to summon it, it’s rather helpful, especially during boss fights. There are also many fights where you need to summon your characters’ Incorruptus abilities to survive. Period.

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Of course, it wasn’t to the point where it felt gimmicky, or that you had to use it in the majority of situations, but it was useful enough to add another element of strategy to the battle system and using it is an actual tactical choice instead of just pulling out the Incorruptus card “because it looks cool”.

For those who wish to play through the first WKC, the smoother, updated battle system is used in the original game on this disc, as well. If you do choose to play the games together, there won’t be any transition at all from one to the next as far as getting used to combat goes.

Continuing the 50/50 trend I see in this game are the visuals, as well. The good part is that they really look good, if you don’t look too close at the character models, which feel a bit outdated and sometimes bland. The environments are gorgeous, the animations and pizzaz in battles are great and the framerate is fluid and never jittery, even when there’s a lot going on. The downside is that, because this kind of continues the original game, there are a lot of recycled assets. Many areas from the first game are revisited, so some things can seem repetitive. This is especially true of the recycled enemy skins.

The audio isn’t anything super cool, but it’s decent, and appropriate. The voice acting, however, could use some work. It, again, runs right down the middle of the line, with some characters being pretty good, and some being downright cloying.

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There is, however, a TON of content, just in the second game alone. My play-through clocked in at 48 hours, and somehow I feel like I just scratched the surface of all there is to do, especially in the side quest department. Mind you, I didn’t even come close to getting all the trophies, either. There’s also the online portion of the game, where you can team up with up to five other players and tackle optional side quests and missions. This adds another huge chunk of content, as well. I haven’t even mentioned all the content from the first game that is also part of the second – if you don’t import a character, all the quests available in the first game are in the second, as well, and all unlocked from the beginning. Have fun spending nearly as long as you do with the main story just going through the plethora of additional content. The package is well worth the asking price for die-hard genre fans.

Speaking of the multiplayer – you create an avatar for use in this portion of the game at the beginning, but it always slips my mind to mention it then, because that’s all I use the avatar for – the multiplayer. In reality, they can tag along with you on your quest during the single-player part, and even join your party and level up there. But, the main use for it is in the multiplayer, which is, arguably, the best part of the game. While I don’t agree with people who may claim Level 5 should have dropped the single player and just left the multiplayer game, I do feel that it is a great asset to this game given the somewhat lackluster story and troubling continuity between the first and the second title. Yet, at the same time I feel like having both single and multiplayer together in the same game causes each aspect to not shine as bright as it could alone (this went for the first game, too).

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Overall, what I think White Knight Chronicles II comes down to is what I’ve hinted at several times in this review – it feels like it should be part of the first game. Both games should be played together to get a better overall experience. Played separately from the first, the second game falls pretty flat in a lot of ways – difficulty curve, confusion in regards to skill point distribution, lack of connection to the characters and a general feel like you were just dropped into the middle of something epic. It definitely has its perks – the battle system is pretty decent and being a huge knight is incredibly fun and strategic. The visuals are generally pretty awesome, as well, if that’s what floats your boat.

My suggestion is that if you’re a JRPG fan who has not played the first game, it’s certainly worth looking into picking up the package deal that is having both a re-mastered White Knight Chronicles and new White Knight Chronicles II on the same disc. If you haven’t played the first game and have aspirations of picking up the second and jumping right in, it might be a bit rough around the edges. It’s a decent game, don’t get me wrong, it just feels like it could have been so much more. I adore the guys at Level 5, but some more attention to detail and a smoother introductory experience to the second game, the story and its characters would have been preferable here. Your mileage may vary.