Compelling Chronicles

White Knight Chronicles is actually coming. We go hands-on and do a little battlin'.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: April 29, 2009
It wasn't so long ago that White Knight Chronicles was blowing everyone who saw the Tokyo Game Show trailer away -- or at least it doesn't seem that way. In truth, the game was first shown off way back during TGS in 2006, which is a lifetime for us poor, JRPG-starved masses. Luckily, Sony has finally started featuring the game in their press events, and while the build we played was still largely in Japanese (delivered with a massive bible-thick guide -- also in Japanese -- at the ready), we still finally got to play it, which was something only importers and those lucky enough to wing it over to TGS have done so far.

So what did we think? For one, our time with the game was awfully limited, basically just involving us in a quick romp around one of the game's 13 picturesque fields accessed by way of a rotating, glowing blue glyph inside one of the six towns that make up White Knight Chronicles' worlds. We could have hoofed it right out of town to explore on foot, but the teleporter made accessing the hunting grounds where we could jump right into combat that much easier.

Developer Level 5's previous games like Rogue Galaxy could be felt almost instantly, though combat transitioned far more smoothly (think the seamless in/out of Final Fantasy XII) and was kicked off by simply walking near an enemy until a clashing swords prompt popped up over the head of the main character (the other people in the party were AI-driven, but could be swapped between by hitting the Select Button) and tapping X. Other party members could be given standard commands like "All Out" or "Conserve," but these were hardly as deep as the situation-based Gambits system from the aforementioned Final Fantasy XII, so we're hoping the AI is competent.

For those that have already seen the premiere video, they'll already know what happened next, but tapping X simply activates whatever current action has been mapped to one of the combat slots that are selected with the d-pad. While individual actions are certainly possible, the game's real depth comes from creating combos by pausing the game and drilling down into the appropriate menu. Pick a combo slot, fill it with whatever categorized actions are needed (stuff like being able to launch an enemy into the air, hit them while airborne and smash them back down sit right alongside actions for casting spells and buffs, stance changes and normal ground-based melee attacks, and can be freely mixed and matched as needed), and that's about it.

To keep battles from being too one-sided, Action Chips are assigned to some of the bigger moves, and as characters level up, they gain more AC slots. Expend all the AC jewels on the meter near the character's name at the bottom right and you'll have to wait for them to fill up. It's simple, but the complexity and variety was readily apparent even after making just a few combos. In this way, chaining together strikes (and calling for pre-set AI attacks from other party members by clicking the R3 button) is an incredibly easy system, and we could already see ourselves pouring tons of time into setting up the right attacks.

What we weren't really able to dig into was the game's online functionality, which is significant. In addition to being able to create a custom avatar for the main story and take all the learned skills and attacks online to further upgrade them, Level 5 built in some basic social networking functionality too. Dubbed GeoNet, it allows players to actually blog about their experiences in the game (or whatever else strikes their fancy), and other players can visit these user pages and comment on blogs or whatnot. It's not Facebook by way of a JRPG, but it should make coordinating meet-ups with other players and talking about experiences rather entertaining and novel.

It's been a long, long time in coming, and Sony wasn't really ready to start talking about what bonuses the wait would bring with it for us Western audiences, but given that SCEA has been more than a little fond of including extra content that the Japanese versions didn't originally sport, we're expecting at least a few new wrinkles in the dramatically billowing cloak of what White Knight Chronicles wears proudly.

The game does certainly look quite pretty with lush undulating fields and nicely detailed animations for all the complex, creative, borderline outlandish critters we thumped on, though we really only got a brief glimpse of the kind of towering monsters that we'd be squaring off against. In all honesty, the game felt very much like a Japanese take on a massively multiplayer online game (or, again, at least how Square Enix has done it with their last two Final Fantasy games). So long as adventuring with others and the main storyline are interesting enough, this could very well have been worth the wait. We'll know for sure when SCEA decides to kick over a proper preview build of the game, which we're hoping happens sooner rather than later.