PreludeOkay, so I would like to start this by stating why this is an 'unrated' review, and why it is in my blog instead of the official WKC page, well I will tell you.
If, by following basic criteria for sound/graphics/story/presentation, this game would fail, horribly.
Another thing; you are probably wondering why I am writing this review if "this game fails horribly", well simply put, there is something about the game that wants me to play it, and for some reason it feels nice to play the game - something about it that captivates me.
I won't put a rating up on this, so you can judge for yourself, but here it is.
Technical SpecsOkay, as I mentioned above, this game would fail by normal criteria, and this will explain why.
GraphicsIn this day and age, the games we expect are supposed to be technically appeasing, and not a eyesore. By standards of next gen consoles White Knight Chronicles is a letdown. In the first screenshots, the trailers, this game looked like a masterpiece; the graphics were superb, and the models looked amazing, however this is not how it is in actuality.
When we saw the initial batch of screenshots for WKC, we were treated to the shot to the left; a picture of the titular knight in beautifully rendered CG glory. The renders are truly impressive, with very detailed dynamic lights, and proper bump mapping, and shaders, if only as much work was put into making the ingame WK as beautiful.
When starting up the game I was treated to a graphical letdown. A games length should not deter graphical performance, however this is an exception. I do not think much time and effort was out into the engine of the game to make the game stand out.
As you can see from the screenshot to the left, the knight looks visually disappointing, and the surprises are only starting.
From when I first layed eyes on the actual gameplay of WKC, I was disappointed visually. This is what I found lacking:
- Dynamic Lighting
- Dynamic/detailed shadows
- any sort of multisampling or anti-aliasing or edge smothing
- visually appealing enviornments
- detailed textures
- bump mapping
- low poly models
Textures look very bland, and I stress very. There are no reflections on water surfaces, armor, or weapons. The edges are noticibly jagged when playing on a larger screen. The textures also have no bump mapping - for those who don't now what that means - basically it adds depth to the textures, like stone pebbles on streets. The absence of this make all the textures feel "stuck on" with no effort. Buildings lack any sort of real design or architecture due to the low polygon count. This signifficantly takes away from the overall experience of the game
Poor particle effects and an overall lack of enthusiasm make spells lack any sort of real flash that you would expect from a JRPG.
Furthermore taking away from the experience are the characters. The characters lack any sort of real emotion due to the whole presentation of the game, this makes the game feel emotionless and dry.
One thing I have to give credit to the game about are the backdrops, some of them, combined with a nice field, or an ocean look very good - by no way as good as something like Uncharted 2, but still somewhat impressive.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the backdrop looks very lifelike and almost as if you can go there (alas you cannot swim there or go there in any way). The backdrops are incredibly impressive when you see the tropical landscapes and ocean views with far off islands. Unfortunately the only thing I can add in WKCs favor are the foliage and environments. Foliage is a given; there is a lot of vegetation and trees in the environment that make it look lifelike sometimes. Grass is also somewhat dynamic, as it sways to the 'wind' (however just animated, there is no wind at all) but lacks any sort of interaction with the player (if you walk over it, it does not move). Now I just said environments didn't I? Well according to my earlier comments, I was stating at the lack of graphical complexity to make them look good, well I will explain. Combined with the Foliage and backdrops as well as some structures that are far off in the distance, the view can look truly breathtaking, unfortunately this is but a fleeting dream, once you are up close you begin to see how the limitations on the graphics begin to ruin the mood. While writing this, I have remembered two other things that can be a benefit in this category. Let's start with frame rate; this game runs smooth, no hiccups or slowdowns whatsoever, and this is always a big plus. Second are the CG sequences; oh my are they ever pretty. Highly imaginative and visually complex animated sequences make me dream what this game could have been if it were to undergo a nice coat of polish.
That's it for the graphics department, all's left is the sound, gameplay and story.
SoundAs in all JRPGs you expect to have an action filled orchestral soundtrack, and here WKC does not disappoint. When required - in epic battles - the game kicks in the music that makes you feel warm inside, makes you feel like there is 'scale' to the whole environment, and delivers a scene of urgency. The only topics I can complain are when in the cities and some of the environments. This is a purely biased opinion (also applies to most JRPG games). After spending a good 40 minutes running around a town to go to buy and sell supplies as well as synth items and weapons, I got extremely frustrated with the constantly looping town music. Another drawback is that large scale areas sometimes suffer from the same issue. Finally, I wish there were more battle themes (the epic ones).
The next obvious category in the sound design is the voice work - and the English voice-overs, also I will include the lipsynching in here as well.
I will start with the cold hard facts. The voice-work is bad, it is so bad at times that you think the actors did this on purpose. Put differently, there are no professional actors, no editing whatsoever, so all voice sounds the same regardless the room (EDIT: well sortof, there are some echos), and when something serious happens, its hard to take it seriously because it shows no emotion whatsoever. Worth mentioning is that there are no Japanese VO options, and you are stuck with English VO option and various subtitle options based on your system preference. That means for the international edition, the menu language and subtitles are the only thing that set the language options apart. A positive is that there surprisingly are some discreet moments that the voices do a fine job at getting the point across, though rare, it happens. Finally is the lipsynching - it is downright terrible. I believe that it was made for the Japanese version of the game and not changed for the INT release; characters talk with their mouths closed, noticeable difference in what they say and how their mouth is moving, and - well - anything else you can expect from poor LS.
Altogether the game is a mixed bag when it comes to audio production. For the most part the music did its job, voices were poor - thus making the game feel like a joke at times instead of actual importance, and the LS, which I did not really care fore, more to say it didn't bother me at all. Let's hope for a Japanese voices DLC.
GameplayI will describe this section in a few subsections to reduce confusion and overlapping.
Battle SystemAh yes, here is another weak point in WKC is the gameplay. Let us start with a very important aspect of JRPGs, the battle system. In most cases the battle system for games of the same genre are turn based command and forget, however in this game, the whole aspect of turn based party oriented battle goes right out the window, along with any sort of planning that the developers had. If I had to describe in a word on what the battle system was, I would say "tedious".
When running in an area, you 'snap onto a target' at which time you may press the  button to draw your weapon, this also happens when an enemy targets you.
Up to this point everything is pretty solid, however when you engage in combat is when everything goes to hell. A circular timer appears on the right bottom of the screen telling you what attack you have selected (selectable from the hotbar below, I will not go into this, but it's pretty standard, you have three hotbars that you can switch between with the up/down of the d-pad and select an action with left/right, it's just a matter of getting used to the whole system, which is not that complicated). Once the circle is filled, you can then attack with the X button, however you have to be in range of the mob (i.e. you can't be 100 meters away with a sword and attack), seems standard enough, but if you have to be in range of an attack, so should the mobs right? - wrong! - mobs can hit you with a mele attack from pretty much anywhere, weather they are in a room and there is a wall separating you, or in an open field, they are not really limited by range, and you can be standing 25 meters away and getting hit by someone you can't even see. This is what I call "broken". Secondly, there is no way to dodge these "homing blades, fireballs and arrows of death", heck even AOE attacks home in on you. Combine this with an incredibly slow 5-second or more cooldown period between your attacks, and you have a very very tedious and flawed combat system. You have the ability to create combos in the game, which is basically but a bunch of skills together into a series of uninterruptable attacks and go, nothing special here. Finally, for fighting enemies, you get Action Chips, which carry on from battle to battle, these allow you to use some of the better and stronger attacks and to use the super powerful and cool White Knight Transformation, HENSHIN! Now, once you are in white knight form, nothing changes. White Knight form is the exact same combat system as the non-transformed system, the only thing that is different is that you have a ton more HP, and you have stronger attacks, about 4-5 times as strong, and about triple the health. Also, you cannot transform indefinitely, as when you transform you get a MP bar that constantly decreases. Not only does this decrease for the time you spend as the White Knight, but also for every attack you do, the stronger attacks cost more MP, and bad planning can quickly run you dry.
Lastly, no matter how many enemies you are surrounded with, if you beat an ememy that would end your engagement phase (where your weapon is drawn) you will automatically be transformed back into regular form.
About attacks, there are a vast amount of them, and it is unlikely that you will see them all even in 3 or more playthroughs of the game. The attacks are learned via a specialization menu which have you distributing points into various weapons (and magic), these points unlock attacks and stat bonuses,
For the most part attacks are varied and look okay - if so they still lack a visual punch, especially the magic, also it is unlikely that you will use all of the attacks, as some are just redundant to the few attacks that you have mapped to the hot-bar, what I mean is that there are attacks like a left-right slash, right-left slash, up-down slash, diagonal slash, you get the picture, and even though it may appear you hit an enemy in the head, it would make no difference to hitting an enemy in the foot. This brings me to another point - localized damage; when fighting huge monsters, you can target body parts (head, legs, arms, other stuff), however it has no effect on gameplay that I have noticed (correct me if I am wrong). Enemies can loose balance and fall, however logically it would seem that this would only happen if you attack the legs, but this applies to any body part; I have gotten enemies off balance with strikes to the head). It makes me wonder why this system was ever implemented.
Furthermore, all enemies are pushovers, and I stress all. Through all my 50 hours+ playing I have not died once, this is thanks to the awesome spell called heal. Heal replenishes a lot of HP to one member, and anyone can learn, so if you teach it to all your members, you will never have a problem as they will heal you ad-nauseum, add that to the almost negligible amount of mana it takes, and you can have yourself going for a long long time (oh, and mana regenerates too).
The team AI is okay in the game - nothing special, but you can give them certain actions like focusing on one target, and spreading out, and the such.
note: I have read somewhere that there are a few side-quests (too many to complete for me) that have actually chalanging bosses, (perhaps online ones), this has yet to be seen.
CustomizationCharacter customization in the game is wonderful! There are plenty of weapons, and armors (well over 800) and they show on your character. You can craft your own equipment, and then tune it to your liking; adding bonuses to attack power, elemental bonuses, and anything else you would expect from the category.
As stated above, there are a lot of skills, but most are redundant.
Magic looks poorly made, and lacks from any visual punch, as well as being somewhat unbalanced. Mana does not generate in combat, but some skills cost way too much, and others way too little - like heal.
However the character customization is solid, and you can create that heavy armor tank dark mage you've always wanted.
Not even close to James Cameron's Avatar. When you select "new game" from the main menu, you are required to create an avatar of yourself, and this is pretty cool. There are a LOT of options, such as jaw bone, eyebrow orientation, lip orientation, and basically anything you want to create someone who actually does look like you (and yes, that's possible).
The problem comes when you are ingame. The avatar serves no practical purpose to the game, only in multiplayer can you take him out for a spin, otherwise he is just a fifth wheel that is in your party and is used for attacking and defending, basically just another character with no personality, oh, and he doesn't speak. Worth mentioning that you can control your avatar (switch character) and play as him instead of the main character Leonard, if it were not for the simple fact that he cannot transform! Only the main character of the story can transform - and that's Leonard. The whole WK xformation system goes out the window if you play online or any quests other than the main (since you control your avatar).
I am unsure why the developers decided it was a good idea to not make your avatar Leonard, it would make perfect sense to do this, and all that would differ would be the looks. A poor design choice.
GeoramaGeorama is the game's multiplayer component, unfortunately I have not put much time into it, so I cannot comment, but from what I have heard is that it is substandard.
You can build your town and add shops and people, as well as recruit people (NPCs) to help you with your town. Town design is interesting, and it nets you money (in game of-course) for your single player. The other component is the online quest, where you and upto 4 other players can play a quest, these quests are nice because they get you rare items that cannot be found in the single player experience, however these quests are very derivative of the single player ones, as it has you slaying boss mobs and other monsters with increased damage.
Ultimately it's not worth getting into Georama, as the worthwhile recruitable NPCs require you to have a high georama level, and this requires you putting a LOT of time into the game (possibly in the 100s of hours)
LastlyA few things were wrong with the monsters (other than homing attacks and infinite range, and the attacking through walls) - their extreme HP.
Some of the bigger bosses are extremely frustrating, not in the sense that their attacks would kill your party, but in the sense that they had a bizillion HP, and their attacks did almost no damage to your party (say I have 1000 HP, and the boss does 30 per hit, but he has 100000000000 HP, and your attacks do 100-300 (in WK form). This is not fun, pounding on the poor boss for a good 10 minutes, also there is no clear indication of how much HP the mob has, the only indication is a tiny crystal next to the name bar that tells you how much you have done, it's very low resolution, being so small.
The story in WKC is quite disappointing - mostly from the lack of enthusiasm.
Here is the basic plot outline: Leonard goes to get wine from a winery, meets some uninteresting female character, returns wine to castle, sees princess, falls in love with princess, king murdered, Leonard saves princes, finds White Knight armor, transforms into WK, beats up big enemy, princess gets kidnapped, on a quest to rescue princess. Yea, it's pretty straight forward, but will keep you mildly entertained at the poor production values of it. The story does get interesting though, about the last hour of the game, and then it just cuts out after that, just a bloody cliffhanger ending, in anticipation for WKC2 (yes, its been announced and in production, I hope It comes out here in NA, so I can see what happens next).
Well, that's all I can think of at the moment, and if you have any questions about the game, feel free to ask!