The first White Knight Chronicles game had the unfortunate fate of coming out just a month before Square Enix's behemoth, Final Fantasy XIII. This in turn caused a lot of people to hold off picking up what was a slightly above average RPG, so it seems only fitting that D3 Publisher would pack in the original game with its sequel, White Knight Chronicles 2. That's right, you're getting two slightly above average games for the price of one. Which is cool, but also unfortunate because I was hoping that Level-5 would be able to address some of the problems I had with the first game, but instead you're left with a game that provides a direct sequel to the first game, flaws and all. Despite that I had some enjoyable moments with the game. This begs the question, "Are these small gems of gameplay and story could make up for what was essentially a flawed experience from the get-go? And is the two for the price of one package is worth it?"
White Knight Chronicles 2 picks up precisely at where the first game left off, Balandor has their princess back, saved by Leonard and his ragtag group of friends. The kingdom of Faria in the middle of a civil war, and the final five chapters lie ahead, can Leonard and company save the day? With some new powers and allies they just might be able to pull it off. That is if you can get past some maddening design decisions. Basically, if you never played through the first White Knight Chronicles, then you need to take the time to play through that and build up a party that will be capable in battle, because starting from scratch in White Knight Chronicles 2 sets you up for some rather difficult times ahead with just a few basic provisions available at your disposal. Part of me understands this decision by the developer, because if you're trying to get in to this game then you need to do so from the very beginning. But on the opposite side of that argument, the game shouldn't be soul-crushingly hard for someone who might have lost their save and wanted to get in to the new game.
Those who start fresh have the option of building a new avatar character that you participate as, which is something I always liked about the White Knight Chronicles games, you feel partially invested in the story because your character is there, even if they are treated as kind of a ghost in the group, but taking your personal character online is why you create them, which I must say, there is a lot of variety to building a character, so I'd rarely run in to anyone who looked anything close to me. If you chose the route of a fresh game for White Knight Chronicles 2, then you'll find them at a middle of the road, level thirty-five, with plenty of talent points to spec out to your character. I personally opt for a character who could main as a tank with a spear and focus on defense. It's kind of a bummer though that in practice, this build felt mostly useless during the main campaign of the game, as I could not deal enough damage to maintain hate from the enemies, even with skills that are meant to draw enemy attacks to you.
Combat remains mostly unchanged from the first White Knight Chronicles game, which is pretty disappointing because I hated the 'combo' system and combat in general, because it feels like 'Press X to win' was the mantra when drafting this combat system, no timing mechanics or variety in skill times to draw my attention, just wait for the meter to fill and press X, change in to the White Knight if things are looking bad, and move on to the next group of enemies. The game got me all excited, setting up combos that would use my action chips, and plotting out what buffs and debuffs I would have available, and then it came time to play the game, and I'd just find what physical attack did the most damage and go from there. The combat online is a little bit more dynamic when there is no Incorruptus to back you up in a pinch, so if you're looking for something a little more varied, take the game online, but combat still might feel a bit one-dimensional, which is disappointing because it feels like I'm playing a new age Phantasy Star Online. Sure there are different attack types that I can employ and use to take advantage of an enemy weakness, but I never really felt like doing anything outside of physical attacks was particularly useful, except in very specific situations where I felt like I was punished for not wanting to use magic spells.
My biggest gripe from combat comes from how utterly stupid the NPC AI can be at times, and the general pre-sets don't seem to do much to help their behavior, they'd spend MP while I expect them to save it for healing, or use it in an inappropriate manner for the situation, did everyone need to have their HP refilled? No not at all, but now we're short precious MP. Other situations cropped up where self-preservation was a skill they obviously didn't teach in JRPG-101, early on in the game you're charged with escorting two characters, and they'll participate in battle, and for the most part they are helpful, but when it comes to a boss battle where they also join in, they were more responsible for me failing than my own ability to protect myself. Constantly wandering underfoot of a large enemy they'd get stomped and I'd have no way to heal them, because my other party members had already spent their MP keeping them alive. Thankfully moments like this don't pop-up often after the first chapter, but for those first few hours, they are the most frustrating part of the game, unless you come in to White Knight Chronicles 2 with a save from the previous game, then this fight is likely to be cake.
If you've got the first White Knight Chronicles game, you'll remember that it was a decent looking game, and while I hate to bring up comparisons to Phantasy Star so liberally, it looked like an update to the Dreamcast classic, which is not meant in a bad way. For the most part those visuals are retained in the second game, but now with some added screen tearing and slow down in parts of the game, which is really disappointing because while this game looks good, swinging the camera around causes some unsightly issues to occur. The environments and characters all look really good, but it seems like it's almost too much for the PS3 to handle which shouldn't be the case considering what the hardware is capable of.
I wasn't particularly moved by the soundtrack, just your typical orchestral soundtrack that I feel like I'm doing a disservice by describing it like that, but really I cannot for the life of me remember the music as a write this. There was a theme song played during the intro that failed to stir feelings of something epic to come, and the generic lyrics failed to do anything except make me mash the start button in an effort to skip the cinematic. The voice cast is carried over from the previous game and does a pretty good job, there's the occasional dry line here and there, or awkward accent that doesn't seem to fit, but the actors seemed to fit in to their grooves this time around and were probably more comfortable with their roles, resulting in a better product.
Online play is still a major part of the White Knight Chronicles experience and part two is no exception, with additional quests there is plenty to do outside of the main game and really where you'll spend a good chunk of time. It's a bit daunting to get in to the online portion of the game, especially if you're jumping in to the this game from the start of White Knight Chronicles 2, since you'll be massively outleveled by a lot of players out there, though a lot of them are happy to have other players in game and are willing to help out, so kudos to the community out there for making this game accessible to new players. It's quite a scary prospect when you look at it for the first time, and you can tell that a lot of the game is geared towards that online play and MMO style grind.
For those that want to get the most out of the main campaign, there are tons of side-quests, I mean a ridiculous number of errands and hunts to do, and thankfully the game is more than happy to help you out in tracking a lot of them down. Hunts show up automatically on the maps, and anyone who might be a quest carrier has an exclamation point over their head so they're pretty hard to miss. Then there's all the Georama and GeoNet stuff to mess around with. Getting a town together is rather tough if you start from the middle of the game, so once again, head back to the start to make things easier for yourself.
Playing White Knight Chronicles 2 without playing the first game is a probably the worst possible way to experience this game, which is why I am glad they packed in the first game with it. However it still doesn't change that this game has some flawed fundamentals in combat, making one of the key parts of an RPG a total bore to deal with. Which is quite disappointing because I like everything else about the game. I've been going back and forth with a co-worker who also picked up this game, that you can't really fault this game for continuing on with what the first game had, and that's all well and good, but if they can fit the entirety of the first game and the second game on one disc, why not just release an all-inclusive version where there is no break in the continuity of the story. This will forever remain a baffling design choice to me. White Knight Chronicles 2 doesn't really have the best of Level-5 behind it which is kind of disappointing, marred by weird design choices and AI that doesn't always act in the best interest of the player drags down what is already an average game that is only hurt by a shallow combat system. This game is a pretty good value considering that you get two games for the price of one, and with the RPG landscape being kind of dry right now this game might fill a void, but really I would only recommend this game in passing if you've really got nothing else to play. If it weren't released right before the fall glut of games, maybe I'd be more enthusiastic about it, but as it stands, White Knight Chronicles 2 is just a middle of the road title.