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White Knight Chronicles: International Edition
Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Level-5
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1, 2 - 4
Genre: RPG/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
At first look, White Knight Chronicles: International Edition looks like any of a number of Japanese Role-playing Games (J-RPG) on the market. Considering that the title was actually released in Japan in December, 2008, it would be understandable if the graphics were a little dated. The characters themselves, especially the supporting cast, do seem a bit plastic, not quite as life-like as those from games released more recently, but this does not detract much from the overall aesthetic of the game. Of all of the characters, the player's created avatar, whose appearance can be customized at the onset of the adventure, seems the most out of place in the mix. The characters wander through a wonderfully rich world, alive with movement and adversaries. Unlike some J-RPGs, monsters are visible in the landscape, meaning that if you want to avoid a fight, you can (try to) do so. To further add to the visual richness, the cinematics are simply breathtaking at times. All told, the visualization of this adventure is by far one of its strongest suits.

While White Knight Chronicles excels in graphical content, the audio leaves a bit to be desired. It is not that the music was bad, in fact some of it is quite good. It is just, well, expected. The music does help set the mood and many environments have unique themes, but nothing really jumps out and grabs you. Character dialogue tends to be over-dramatic (again, nothing new to the J-RPG scene) and some of the filler lines while traveling get annoyingly repetitive. Combined, the graphics and audio could easily be the equal of many Japanese animation series currently on the market, which is likely the desired effect considering the targeted audience.


Gameplay:
White Knight Chronicles: International Edition follows the story of Leonard and his companions (of which the player's avatar is but one) as they seek to rescue an abducted princess and stop a war between two conflicted nations. If this sounds familiar, that is because it is the basic premise of probably 70-80 percent of all J-RPGs. The party's adventures lead them through some large and rich environments and though the storyline is fairly linear, there are some side quests and open areas that promote a bit of exploration and discovery. Conceptually, players will not find many surprises in White Knight Chronicles: International Edition. The bad guys are easy to spot, even those pretending to be good guys. Leonard, the main character, is just an average boy who suddenly awakens a hidden talent that has lain dormant for years. Now in control of an Incorruptus, a huge suit of armor that is controlled via Leonard's pact with a demon soul, he must battle a group of devout lunatics determined to gather the remaining Incorruptus suits and artifacts and, through their use, rule the land. Put the standard plot twists on a dart board, close your eyes and throw a dart, and you'll likely hit upon something that happens in the game. All of the hokey love-interests and silliness aside, the story is about what is expected and, while nothing to celebrate, certainly does not really detract from the overall experience either.

There are some online elements added into White Knight Chronicles: International Edition as well. Up to four players are supposed to be able to join forces to battle the larger monsters in the game. I did not get a chance to experience this aspect of the game, but it does sound promising. There is also a quest component which will surely require the help of some friends. As the story progresses, the player will have the opportunity to purchase quests from the Adventurer's Guild. These quests are located at various places within the world map and can often be done repeatedly if desired. When questing, the player is only in control of his avatar. Many of the quests can be done solo, but some absolutely cannot, especially at the recommended levels. To recruit help, players have the ability to build an online village through the Geonet interface. This village can house a myriad of shops and in-game NPCs can be recruited to live and work in the village, helping to raise the level of productivity and providing inventory to the local shops which can then be purchased by the player. It is an interesting concept and one that I look forward to exploring further.


Difficulty:
For players with any experience with J-RPGs at all, playing White Knight Chronicles: International Edition will feel instantly familiar. Controls are fairly basic and the game does a good job of hand-holding just long enough at the beginning to allow the player to become comfortable with the control scheme. Standard movement and camera controls are accompanied by on-screen help for interacting with objects. Inventory management is a bit clunky, especially for players that are into customizing weapons and making items. The save system is the too-common way-point concept, where players will need to find logic stones scattered throughout the world in order to save their progress. Logic stones are also where players can access the Geonet system, shift active party members and handle their inventory storage.

As mentioned above, many of the environments are large in scope, which allows for more exploration, but also means that there will be a large amount of time spent running through previously visited areas. Traveling via the world map helps alleviate this to some extent, but there are still the occasional "delivery" and "escort" quests which require a little legwork. The most taxing element of the game is the battle system. Using the real-time concept where each player has a build up time before making a move, but where everyone is acting independently, encounters can get pretty confusing. The targeting system is fairly easy to use, but does suffer occasional issues. For the most part, the team A.I. is up to the task, but when battling the larger monsters, teamwork becomes hard to control. Combat does not break the game experience, but it is definitely something that can be improved upon in any follow-ups (White Knight Chronicles 2 was recently announced at the Tokyo Gaming Convention, but few details have been made public).


Game Mechanics:
The mechanics of White Knight Chronicles: International Edition are easy to pick up, but difficult to master. As mentioned, fighting is done in a real-time turn based system. Characters can be switched on the fly during combat. However, doing this does not help with the sometimes finicky targeting system, so the player may change characters only to find themselves scrambling to target the right foe or comrade, wasting precious seconds that can turn the tide of battle. As characters level up, they are awarded skill points which can be invested in various skill trees. The skills learned through this increase in level are then selected to be made available during combat. Players be warned: have the appropriate equipment and skills equipped at the same time. Having skills from the Sword category equipped and forgetting to change them when you find and equip that awesome new Long Sword (different category) will spell a quick end in battle, as this skill adjustment cannot be made once battle has engaged.

Now for the single largest complaint experienced while playing White Knight Chronicles: International Edition. The load times are exorbitant. From the time the game is selected until play can actually begin is about 90 seconds. Granted, that is not a long time in the scheme of things, but it proves bothersome. Even more bothersome are the save times. It takes a full 30 seconds every time a game is saved (and yes, I did sit with a stopwatch to time this, as I could not believe it was taking so long). The load and save times need to be drastically reduced in subsequent releases. Also, I should not have to choose what language I want every time I start the game. This is programming 101 here and is a bit embarrassing.

Flaws aside, White Knight Chronicles: International Edition is quite enjoyable. The Incorruptus element is very cool and lends the fights a sense of scale. This is the first game where I felt I could realistically (in a fantasy setting) stand a chance against the over-sized monsters I was fighting. The graphics are very well done and the online mechanics, while still unproven, are extremely promising. The original game was reported to span 100+ hours of gaming but, from reports I've seen, White Knight Chronicles: International Edition has been scaled back a bit, so that a play-through can be completed in 70-80 hours. Though I'm sure die-hard fans of J-RPGs are lamenting not having the full experience, that is still quite a bargain for the price.


-The Mung Bard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Buddy Ethridge

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