White Knight Chronicles II Review
Role-playing fans have been waiting for White Knight Chronicles II. Boasting a combat mechanic that some may view as old-fashioned, a quintessential Japanese flair, and an intriguing and innovative blend of campaign depth and online adventuring, this production has plenty to offer. It isn’t without its flaws but provided the avid fan gets involved in the fluid and engaging battle, many of those flaws either diminish or disappear entirely. The story isn’t great and things can start to feel a little tedious and even frustrating, but the RPG goodness shines through.
Visually, WKCII features a lot of fantastic animations and colorful imagery, even if it can’t compete with the most graphically accomplished titles currently on store shelves. Many of the environments are beautifully drawn and the character and enemy detail is impressive. It just lacks that level of refinement and gloss we commonly see these days, so if you’re used to the best of the best, you might be disappointed. However, from a comparison standpoint, the sequel surpasses the original in terms of technical accomplishment, and even without that slick sheen, this is an attractive world, loaded with pleasing design.
The soundtrack is good; classical, invigorating themes accompany our epic adventure at every turn, although you may not like the combat theme. Initially, it didn’t really seem to fit but I got used to it. The crisp effects punctuate faster, more gripping battling, and the combination of wide, sweeping scores and effective audio add richness to the experience. The voice acting is mediocre, though, and unfortunately, this is one area where Japanese games have been left behind. Some characters aren’t bad – Leonard is decent – but others are average at best.
But above all else, this quest is all about the gameplay. If you gravitate towards this relatively complex and fast-paced combat, you’ll spend a great many hours enjoying the campaign. It reminds one a lot of Final Fantasy XII, as you run around open environments and encounter enemies in real-time, only to utilize a turn-based system once the battle begins. Your two allies will operate off set command lines (similar to, though not as complicated as, Gambits) and a tactic choice, and you can change characters at any time as well.
The key to success is managing your Action Chips and available MP. You can create your own Combo attacks (you can even name ‘em) based on the skills you earned by gaining experience. Those combos use AC, while individual skills use MP (although not all do). But you also need AC to summon your knight into battle. Leonard, for instance, has the White Knight, while other characters have knights of different colors. There are a maximum of 15 Action Chips; you need a minimum of 7 to call your knight in, but the longer you wait, the more powerful your larger persona will become. At 15 AC, he gets a 50% boost.
The whole thing works well, even if there’s a somewhat steep learning curve if you’re not familiar with the first title. It’s not quite as complicated as it originally appears and soon, you’ll be learning new abilities, creating fresh combo chains, and joyfully experimenting in combat. But this does lead me to the first problem: a distinct lack of balance. Even the strongest combo attacks can’t really seem to compete with what a well-equipped knight can do, so it’s usually pointless to waste your AC on combos instead of waiting for the knight.
Situations do change over time, though. The power and effectiveness of various strategies fluctuate depending on the strength and setup of your party, and certain bosses can be incredibly challenging. This always forces you to rethink and recalculate, but I still say the system isn’t as tight, as balanced, or as well presented as the real-time/turn-based hybrid mechanic in FFXII. Also, I have to say that the respawning of enemies in the same spot can get a little annoying, as you can’t really clear large areas because the foes just keep coming back. Great for farming, but…
While I’m on the subject, I should also add that to me, the battling started to feel a little tedious. The dungeons and sections of the map are typically quite large and while I love to power-level (never had a problem with grinding), this just gets a tad monotonous. And if you don’t take your time and eliminate a great many enemies, some boss encounters will prove overwhelming. However, all this being said, I think the most important message to take away from this review is as follows: the game in question is a role-playing game. It will very, very likely make RPG fans – especially old-school fans – happy.
The depth is definitely there. The satisfaction and fulfillment gained from taking down a tough enemy, questing with friends and locating a powerful new piece of equipment, and creating bad-ass combos for both your characters and knights is unquestionable. The large areas do allow for plenty of exploring, even if the game remains linear. The vividness of certain outdoor areas and intimidating nature of the darker regions contributes to the experience. Lastly, there’s no doubt that this one can be mucho addictive.
There’s just so much stuff. There’s so much to see and do, and you’re always seeking a new, even more powerful skill or set of skills. Multiple and diverse characters allows you to pick and choose your party, and with numerous skillsets ranging from short sword to divine magic, there’s a veritable bounty of in-depth RPG grandness. The combat works exceedingly well (albeit with that aforementioned lack of perceived balance), the AI isn’t bad at all, and you will be justly rewarded for your efforts. It feels like a solid RPG and that's what counts.
Going online with friends is a big part, too. Personally, I never like the idea of adding an MMO theme to potentially great single-player RPGs, so I’m not the biggest fan of this particular element. However, there’s no denying what it does for the WKC universe. It allows fans to come together and reap the benefits of teamwork, and it greatly expands upon a game that is already jam-packed with tons of content. I had a few minor issues when going online but nothing worth getting in a twist about, and the fan appeal is obvious.
I’m not that impressed with the story, but as I said before, the gameplay is of the utmost importance. Furthermore, for everyone complaining that WKC2 doesn’t hold your hand with a lot of tutorials, maybe we should remember that we’re dealing with a sequel. The fact that our characters start at Lv. 35 should be a clue. Furthermore, all the information you could ever need exists in the Travelogue; if you’re new to this game, just read. Yes, it’s more effective to have in-game tutorials but this is hardly a big issue; RPG fans know what they’re doing.
White Knight Chronicles 2 is a captivating, nicely put-together game with tons of content, a great online component, a streamlined battle mechanic that is faster and more fluid, and some interesting characters. I don’t think much of the story, the balance between combos and magic and knight abilities seems a little off, and the respawning enemies and very large landscapes can feel tiring. But overall, if you enjoyed the first game, you’ll probably love the second and as far as RPGs go, this is a good one. This is one example where many critics miss the point, in my opinion.
The Good: A boatload of content. More streamlined yet still in-depth combat mechanic. Going online with friends is a huge bonus. The dedicated will be richly rewarded. Overall, a solid role-playing experience.
The Bad: Lacking technical polish. Battle balance seems a little off. Constant battling and grinding feels tedious. Story isn’t great.
The Ugly: “‘sigh’ So I really can’t ever eliminate every monster, huh?”
9/24/2011 Ben Dutka