|System: PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Level 5||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SONY||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 2, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1 (4 Online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Branden Barrett
March 17, 2008 - A few years ago if you were to ask who Level-5 was, I would've scratched my head and stared at you awkwardly. A seemingly unknown developer that originated in the mid-nineties, Level-5 is currently on the rise in the video game world. From their start with unappreciated role-playing games like Dark Cloud and Rogue Galaxy, to popular niche titles like the innovative Professor Layton, Level-5 is probably the "freshest" developer currently on the market.
Taking a slightly different approach this time around, Sony is working with Level-5 to make a truly outstanding RPG for the PlayStation 3; its name is White Knight Chronicles. Though the game has been a bundle of secrets over the last couple of months, more and more information continues to be unveiled as we dip further into 2008. What is White Knight Chronicles? How is it different from your average everyday role playing game? Why am I asking you all these questions? Just see for yourself what Level-5 has in store for gamers later this year.
What is strange about the revelations of White Knight Chronicles thus far is that the story has yet to be divulged. Usually a developer will reveal their game's plot before introducing other elements such as gameplay, visuals, and mechanics. What we do know is that the premise follows the tried and true "damsel in distress" formula that we have seen countless times. Level-5 has mentioned that the plot will be deep and contain several twists and turns throughout. Hey, it wouldn't be a Level-5 game if there wasn't some kind of interesting story turn, would it? The game takes place in a fictional fantasy world similar to that of Oblivion. Just as with the previously mentioned title, you can instantly teleport to any area that you have previously traveled, thus cutting tedious travel time. Now if only Morrowind had that feature.
Differentiating itself from traditional RPGs like Final Fantasy, White Knight Chronicles looks to bring about the real-time battle system seen in games like Grandia III and Tales of Symphonia. Yet what is unique about this combat system is that there is no battle transition to an instanced battle field. Instead, when you see an enemy, the battle will begin right then and there without any scene change. This is probably the game's most exciting feature because it takes advantage of the title's natural visuals rather than full motion video.
Another notable feature is the "Function Palette," which acts as your menu screen and tactical guide. Within this palette, you will choose up to seven commands for each individual character. Based on your selection, your team will be able to choose a variety of attack and defense options. This element introduces some strategy into the mix, forcing you to constantly reconfigure your characters based on the type of conflict you will engage in; so far, so good.
The battle system is probably the most unique combat setup that I've seen in an RPG to date. Mixing a real time battle system with turn based menu mechanics, White Knight Chronicles is the first game to utilize a menu oriented, chain-combo system.
For instance, before you establish combat with an opponent, you can set up a particular character with a number of learnable moves. These can range from magical spells like fire or blizzard to a variety of weapon techniques. Once you initiate the battle, the game zooms in right to that particular land base, and you maintain full control of the character, similar to the style seen in Kingdom Hearts. Pressing the attack command will then allow you to start off with whatever attack you set first in your palette. After a small recharge period, you can then press the attack button again to launch your second assault. This can be repeated up to seven times, but all in all it is the attribute stats themselves that will determine how much damage you do and how well the respective enemy defends or evades. This is a combat system that we really should be seeing more of in role playing games these days, and is a welcome change from the stale turn-to-turn formula.
You can't complete the package without a solid presentation, and White Knight Chronicles doesn't look to disappoint on that front. Though the title is still in its earliest stage, the character models and environments look very smooth and appropriate. Battle actions seem a bit jerky, but with time, Level-5 should be able to smooth out the frame-rate. The user interface, on the other hand, is simple to make out, with the seven palette options showing vibrantly on the bottom of the screen. To be honest, most of the menu features look to be similar to that of Final Fantasy XIII, which looks to follow a sequence based combo system as well, though perhaps not quite the same as the one seen in White Knight Chronicles. On another note, character designs look like a convincing fusion between the art seen in Grandia III and Star Ocean, with emphasis placed on realistic models with a small touch of anime. Rounding out the aesthetics is the audio, which looks to have its own orchestrated soundtrack and voice-overs, quite impressive for a game without "Final Fantasy" in the title.
So what is it about White Knight Chronicles that seems to have every PlayStation 3 owner bouncing up and down with excitement? Could it be the unique and intriguing battle system? Perhaps the mysterious story that has yet to be elaborated upon? No, it is simply because the PS3 has yet to see any solid role playing games. Sure Final Fantasy XIII is on the way, but 2009 seems likely at this point. Persona 3 is also a candidate, but the early impressions left me feeling like I was watching a PlayStation 2 game rather than a next generation one. White Knight Chronicles has all the ingredients to create one fine main course, perhaps even tastier than Square-Enix's next entry. What the genre needs right now is a turn around, some innovation to bring it out of its own tedious loop. Countless turn-based role playing games with generic plots have emerged over the last couple of years and little has been done to break the cycle. Just as Super Mario Galaxy reinvented the platformer, White Knight Chronicles could possibly be the tonic that the tired role-playing genre needs to get back on its feet. Only time will tell.
CCC Freelance Writer