White Knight Chronicles II Review
From Level 5 comes White Knight Chronicles II, the sequel to (you guessed it) White Knight Chronicles I. This JRPG fills the need of the hardcore adventurer, because as with the previous title, this is a game that doesn’t pull its punches. It can be punishing, often requiring a bit of grinding, lots of random encounters and numerous game over screens. But that’s why we play these titles.
The story continues a year from where WKCI left off, with the villains defeated but a new threat from the rebuilt Yshrenia Empire spreading its evil tentacles across the land with thoughts of world domination. Our hero Leonard must take his small band of loyal comrades and drive iniquity from the Kingdom of Balandor once again.
For those RPG fans that managed to complete the first game (and quite a feat that is), it’s possible to import your characters along with their skills, weapons and levels giving you a step-up advantage for the sequel. For those new to the title there’s the option of playing through the first game (as it’s included on the disc) or starting WKCII with level thirty characters. Before any adventuring can begin however, it’s necessary to create an in-game avatar.
The setup process can take a while as there are a lot of different options to play with and will be very familiar to fans of the series, given it seems identical. Its developers, Level 5, have mostly been working on the story of the title it would appear, as much of it, combat system, levelling-up, and soundtrack will all be recognised by the veterans. Game newbies might feel a little dropped in the deep-end as things can seem a little overwhelming at first. If that’s the case, it’s probably worthwhile taking the option of playing through the first tale, however, there are lengthy text-based tutorials that will teach the basics and get you going.
What is very important before entering the vast world of White Knight Chronicles, is sorting out character skills. The game indicates that all skills need to be reassigned, and if you dismiss the notifications without fully reading them, you will end up entering battle unprepared, and die, a lot.
The character development system is lifted straight out of the first game. There is a massive array of skills to choose from, and with level thirty characters, a large number of skill points to assign. Abilities are based around weapon types and magic – there are skill trees for single and double-handed swords, axes, bows, maces, healing magic and offensive magic. Pay attention to the weapons your characters are carrying and pick the skills that suit them best, as going down the wrong path will leave you with a bunch of undeveloped heroes and you’ll die again.
The first couple of hours of the game introduce the story, with plenty of well animated cut-scenes to watch. It also gives an opportunity to adjust to the how the combat works and the associated skills and tactics that will be needed to beat both random encounters and boss fights. Given it’s possible to see enemies on the mini-map it might be believed that it’s possible to avoid random encounters; however this is not the case. Trying to skip around enemies usually ends up with a parade of nastiness following the party, which will then surround your team and you’ll die. Fights need to be taken on carefully, making sure to re-energise magic and heal when necessary.
The player is able to control one character directly at a time, but it’s possible to switch characters via a menu selection – this can be a little awkward and unwieldy, especially when you’re getting beaten down and need to think quickly. Thankfully the combat system is fairly fluid, allowing skills to be added to one of three ability-bars as desired, allowing for a quick and easy selection method. Some might find the combat a touch on the unfulfilling side – it can at times feel like it’s a matter of waiting for your turn to strike. Other characters in the team can be set to follow a specific behaviour when being controlled by the AI, from all-out attacks to concentrating on healing. It is possible to set-up skill combos, but the game doesn’t have the clever macro system seen in some of the recent Final Fantasy games. Enemy targeting is still a bit of a problem, with the game declaring targets lost, frustratingly meaning you cannot enact the selected attacks at times. It’s a minor niggle though, so doesn’t inadvertently affect combat too much. It won’t be to everyone’s taste though, considering some of the more successful action oriented Western RPGs of late (think Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age).
After the first few hours have passed, and the player has adjusted to the way things work, the game opens up quite a bit. Upon acquisition of a key object, characters find themselves back in familiar times and places, but seeing things from different perspectives. It’s possible to pick up errands for the numerous characters in towns and villages, and go crafting with loot dropped from the various monster encounters experienced. Customisation is something WNKII isn’t lacking, and players can spend an age tinkering with setups, eking the most from the equipment and skills their party has. Exploration is rewarded as taking the time to tread the little used path often reveals treasure chests, though with the familiar locales earlier in the game, players might feel somewhat cheated in this aspect; the game isn’t completely devoid of new locations, but it’s a few hours before they’re seen.
Unusually for an RPG of this type, WNCII, like its sibling, introduces a multi-player aspect to the game in the form of GeoNet. This is a gateway to finding fellow adventurers, forming parties and going on different quests for loot and experience points. Note that this time around GeoNet requires a once use code in order to access it, so if you’re planning to pick this up second-hand, the entry fee will cost £8 – there are also some cheeky penny-pinching aspects to this side of the game, such as paid for avatar items and complete skills resets requiring a small fee. However, there’s the ability to create your own village and have other gamers visit it, and the experience is very MMO like, which works well if you can find the right group of people, now up to six in a squad. A headset is pretty much essential though should you want to organise parties properly, to ensure that there are tanks, healers and buffs in the right quantities, especially for the higher-level foes.
White Knight Chronicles II does represent good value for money; the single player game is huge, with plenty of side-quests to complete along with the main story. Adding GeoNet to this with the multiplayer quests extends things further again. It’s not a classic RPG though, or one for the weak willed. Boss fights in particular can frustrate with the need to retry a couple of times often required. Some gamers will find the combat a little on the dull side and the level of customisation just a tad too much; tinkering and perseverance is definitely required to get the most out of WNKII.
Level 5 have once again created a vast and competent RPG, but it has failed to reach the upper echelons the best in the genre achieve, being more slow-and-steady rather than thrill-a-minute. JRPGs have fallen out of favour recently, so buyers need be aware that this is very much JRPG-centric. There’s plenty of content to keep fans of this type of RPG happy, but it certainly won’t appeal to everyone.