The first game concerns itself with the story of a chap called Leonard (and if you just happened to create an avatar called Leonard, then note that it’s a different Leonard, not your Leonard). At the birthday celebration of the princess Cisna, Leonard finds himself rescuing the princess from an attack on the castle. In the ensuing chaos, he manages to bond with a suit of gigantic magical armor: the titular “White Knight”. The princess, as is her role, gets kidnapped, and Leonard and his friends travel around through various locales to save her. The plot of the second game takes place a year after the first, and suffice to say that the princess has been saved, and now Leonard and company must save the world.
The assumption that goes along with playing WKC2 is that you have first played WKC1 and become familiar with the characters and the game system. I assure you that dropping into WKC2 without a clue will make for a terrible experience and a heavy learning curve (as happened to another reviewer at another site). This is one of the reasons that the first game was included on the disc. The other reason is that the Japanese release had no option of starting a WKC2 game without a WKC1 save: you HAD to have the first game done with. The game’s character system works on a points basis, which you can use to learn abilities in any of the eight larger skill groups (which include swords, big swords, bows, axes, and offense magic). These abilities must be placed into an action bar if you want to use it, and you get three action bars of seven actions. Furthermore, you can group actions together into combos, and assign the combo to the action bar as well.
Battles are conducted by getting close to an enemy, going into fight mode, and then selecting an action from one the three possible action bar. A fourth special action bar allows you to use items, defend, etc. Most abilities use MP as part of their cost, but combos require another metric, called action chips (AC). The fun thing is that no matter the cumulative MP cost of the combo, it only uses as many AC as there are actions in that combo, leaving you free to use the MP for other attacks. Transforming Leonard into the White Knight also takes up AC, so bear this in mind when going into any boss battles.
The supporting characters in the party are controlled by the AI during battles, but you can quickly take control of any one of the active characters (maximum three) and use their abilities. What I found is that, given the sheer configurability of the characters in terms of skills, there was no compelling reason to favor one character over another. Almost every character can lean just about anything. Furthermore, if you don’t like the way your character’s skills are assigned, you can suck them all back in, and reassign at will. As it turns out, this is not necessarily a great idea, because nothing makes a character stand out than having a skill no other character has. Why is this? World of sodding Warcraft again.
Let me get the whole “MMO, but not quite” bit out the way, since it’s tangling up the whole review and making me dodge around the issue of what precisely is wrong with the WKC series. At essence, what Level 5 wanted with WKC was the best of both MMORPG and single-player RPG, and I can tell you now that trying to do two things at once makes you twice as likely to fail at both of them. Spectacularly, Level 5 has not really failed as such, but managed to make something fantastically mediocre, so doubtful kudos for at least not creating a disaster of monumental, interplanetary proportions. Still, the MMO influences are everywhere, from the little ticker in the top left corner letting you know how much damage you took, to the worthless damnable avatar that you have to create, to the MMO quests that your avatar can take. Ah yes, let us discuss the reason you went through the process of creating the glorified battle mannkin: WKC features a set of side quests that can only be undertaken by your avatar. You can have up to five friends join you in these quests that have absolutely nothing to do with the main story. The quests are highly mundane, and probably appeal only to the most MMO-besotted gamer, so I ended up avoiding most of them.
You can also create a little town of your own, called Georama, and this is where the Dark Cloud influence comes in. As you go around the quests in the storyline, you can try and convince NPCs to become citizens of your town. The town becomes not only a place to stock up on equipment whilst in the middle of a dungeon crawl, but also a hub for online gatherings. If you were lucky enough to buy WKC2 brand new, incidentally, you get a free multiplayer pass code. Those of you buying it second-hand will have to fork out some cash to play online with friends.
Despite all the game’s flaws, despite the plot holes wide enough to fly the Normandy through, and despite the cursed MMO features, I really wanted to like this game. To a large degree, I felt that this is what Final Fantasy 13 should have been closer to. The characters start off cheesy enough, but the banter and interplay between them actually becomes enjoyable once the story gets settled in for the long haul. The battle system is definitely not broken, but it could still use some refinement. And the MMO features, while not overly annoying, are still fun to play if you have friends who are willing to quest with you. Despite all this, I find myself incredibly frustrated. I can see the glimmerings of the DQ8 and Rogue Galaxy legacies gleaming through the MMO moss. I can see the wonder that this game might have become if only. The random character banter from Rogue Galaxy that I loved so much makes an appearance here. The level design and layout can almost be from DQ8. In fact, you could probably sum up the game like this: imagine Dragon Quest 8, Rogue Galaxy, and Dark Cloud somehow conceived a child, but in the midst of that conception, World of Leeroy Warcraft came along and buggered up the genetics by tiddling in the test tube. The resultant offspring, which could have been something akin to a messiah, is now sadly locked in a tower with a titanium mask welded to its face, all its potential hidden away, but still shining at the windows as if calling to be rescued.
I feel so strongly about this issue because I know the game could have been something so much more, so much greater. White Knight Chronicles attempts at blending two RPG staples without really succeeding at either. I’m not going to deny that the game is fun to play, but it brings nothing new to either table. The storyline is jarringly loopy, and what breaks both WKC2 and the remastered WKC1 is just the sheer “what could have been”-ness of them. In the end, Level 5’s attempt to grasp both the RPG wand and the MMO sword has resulted in a game that is still stuck at Level 1.
Score: A sad 5½ prawns (seafood loss for just plain mediocrity.)