There are plenty of insane food combinations out there, but one that is consistently brought up to me is ice cream topped with bacon. If bacon is delicious, and ice cream is delicious, then shouldn’t, by the very laws of nature, ice cream topped with sweet, crispy bacon also be delicious? I remain unconvinced, personally; all I can think of is the terrible combination of the bacon’s grease and the ice cream’s sugar.
White Knight Chronicles is the videogame equivalent of bacon and ice cream. The combination may sound delicious to some, but underneath it all, it’s just a soupy mix of grease and sugar.
The main meat of White Knight Chronicles (the bacon, if you will) is a battle system similar, in many ways, to the system found in Final Fantasy 12. Battles play out in real time on the map, and as soon as contact is made with an enemy, your small party gets ready for the fight ahead. The process of getting ready, apparently, takes about five seconds.
That’s the main problem with the game’s combat: all of the waiting. Between every attack, there’s a five-second wait as your character’s Command Circle fills up, and an additional two-to-ten-second wait as the attack animation finishes. If an attack happens to knock your character to the ground, you might want to think about frying up some bacon while you wait.
Unfortunately, everything that was interesting about the battle system in Final Fantasy 12 is stripped away. While that game allowed you to program nearly every action of your characters before a battle, White Knight Chronicles relies upon clumsy AI that often results in party members standing around doing nothing (even when the battle system isn’t making them do that anyway).
Switching between characters takes forever in battle, so it’s not a particularly viable option for keeping your fighters fighting. In many cases, it doesn’t matter anyway, as the vast majority of battles are mind-numbingly easy.
While the game does have a combo system that is fun in theory, its execution is poor. Essentially, new attacks that you gain when you level up can be placed into combos, allowing you to deal massive amounts of damage in a flurry of slashes, arrows, or spells. Pulling off a successful combo requires the player to press X at the right time to initiate the next attack, which initially seems like a nice timing system that would keep the combat fresh.
Of course, you’ll quickly learn that you can just mash X, as the timing system only checks if you’re late with a button press, not if you’re early. So much for a timing system. And while pulling off combos is initially pretty fun, the longest combos will use up nearly all of your action chips (points that are required to initiate almost all attacks), and since you’ve given very few of these action chips and they take forever to regenerate, you’ll have to rely on your boring basic attack in a lot of situations.
All of this gaming grease is soaked up into the paper towel that is the game’s story. Just like the $.99 rolls sold in your average mega-mart, the plot is as thin as they come. A princess is kidnapped, and you must embark on a journey to save her. To do this, you must harness the power of the knights: a group of chosen characters who can transform into armored giants.
However, the vast majority of the story plays out like a really long version of Super Mario Bros. Go to one location, try to rescue the princess, fail, go to next location, repeat. None of the incredibly boring characters makes the journey more bearable. Not even a true conclusion is given, as the entire game very obviously leads into the sequel.
Even after the 20-hour single-player experience has ended, there’s plenty more to see in White Knight Chronicles. Level 5 had piqued my interest many years ago by announcing that the game would have an extensive online component. They weren’t kidding. The game offers a ton of online quests, in which a team of four can set out to complete a variety of objectives. On paper, it sounds like the sweet, sweet ice cream in the package that makes this game so desirable.
In the end, the online component feels like a poorly designed version of Phantasy Star Online. Players meet in a hometown, where they can shop and visit a quest board. From there, a quest is selected, the group is transported to one of the game’s zones, and the party must fight through hundreds of monsters to complete such objectives as “find some flowers” or “kill 20 enemies.”
If the combat system hasn’t already bored you into a coma, the mission design surely will. While the action is improved somewhat by the lack of reliance on AI party members, it still doesn’t make the core combat fun, especially when you’re slogging through the same small number of boring enemies and poorly-designed environments that you did in the story mode.
Perhaps the most interesting element (especially for those who remember the excellent Dark Cloud 2) is the Georama, which allows you to craft your own hometown however you see fit. The creation engine allows you to place and manipulate buildings, recruit residents, and develop a variety of industries. Yet again, this element sounds great, but the execution is poor.
Creating buildings, farms, and items requires raw materials that must either be found in the game or developed by your residents. Finding them, however, is not easy. To make even the most basic items, you’ll have to play through areas multiple times, farming materials from enemies and the environment. Even then, you’ll struggle to find enough money or materials to make everything you want. Pretty soon, creating a city will be about as enjoyable as a nice cavity filling. Too much sugar, I guess.
Even the graphics and sound can’t make this game any more pleasing to the palate. While the game’s major cutscenes are beautifully rendered and directed well enough, the in-game engine suffers from boring art design and technical mediocrity, occasionally dropping enemies right on top of you just because it didn’t render them quickly enough.
The music is similar: while the game’s main and ending themes are rather excellent, the vast majority of the game’s tracks are compositionally uninteresting. And it’s hard to say that the voice acting is bad; no one could deliver a strong performance given such awful writing.
White Knight Chronicles is a game in which nearly every aspect is deeply flawed. It takes cues from fantastic games, assembling them in a way that ensures the experience excels at nothing. It forgets the one thing that I love so much about JRPGs: charm.
With a slow, uninteresting battle system, an inane plot, and a poorly designed online experience, there’s little to love about White Knight Chronicles, and plenty of places to find frustration. As is the case with bacon-topped ice cream, just because you combine great things doesn’t mean that the end result will be worthwhile.
Nearly everything about how this game looks generic and, at times, broken. Nice cutscenes can't make up for the bad character and environment design.
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While there's plenty to do, a boring battle system and some poor design choices make it all a chore.
The music is mostly forgettable, and while the voice acting quickly becomes grating, it's largely the fault of poor writing.
The story mode isn't long by RPG standards, but the online Georama component ensures that this one could last for a long, long time.
While one or two of the many elements of White Knight Chronicles might provide some enjoyment, the overall experience stands as one of the most disappointing RPGs in years.