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White Knight Chronicles II
Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: D3
Developer: Level-5
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 6 (Online)
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
White Knight Chronicles II is a divisive game. As the follow-up to one of the PS3's most promising disappointments, there's a group of the fanbase holding out hope that developer Level 5 could work out the kinks and deliver the sort of experience they'd hoped the original would provide. A quick look at the re-mastered version of White Knight Chronicles (included as an extra) shows otherwise. Outside a couple of tweaks, White Knight Chronicles II seems intent on pushing its play style on players under its own terms.

The thing is, White Knight Chronicles II is an entertaining game. However, players will need to push through 40 or so hours before they get to the meat of the experience. Fans who weren't completely turned off by the original, or RPG fans tinkering with the idea of jumping into a long game, will find some reward for their persistence. Anyone not in one of those categories won't find the same level of enjoyment.

The original managed to turn a few heads, fueling much of its pre-release praise, and it only gets better with the sequel. Although far from a complete overhaul, many of the original's smaller issues have been cleaned up. Texture work is better, characters look nicer and there's a noticeable bit of spit-and-polish throughout the entire game. It helps build some sort of visual appeal, especially in the face of poorly-designed, awkward dungeon layouts and an overall lack of style. Everything looks pretty, but aside from the Incorruptus designs, very little sticks out as memorable.

This is especially true for the soundtrack. I remember enjoying a few melodies, though couldn't tell you where I heard them or hum a few bars. As with the overall visual design, it is nice but with a generic JRPG style. Voice work isn't nearly as grating as the previous game, but is sure to ruffle a few feathers.

Similar to the first game, White Knight Chronicles II is best described as an online-offline MMO. Much of the game's underlying structure resembles the multi-hour grinds associated with MMOs, only here you're alone in the world. Unless, of course, you decide to connect with a few friends online to tackle the game's dungeons.

The sequel picks up immediately after the original. In fact, the connectivity between the two plots is so strong, White Knight Chronicles II feels more like the second half of a much longer game than a traditional sequel. For this reason, it isn't much of a surprise that a copy of the original is included as a pack-in. If you decide to jump into the sequel, I highly recommend taking the time to go through the original before plunging into the sequel. You'll have a much better feel for what is going on, but can also import your character. Playing through the original also provides a much-needed tutorial since White Knight Chronicles II is completely content with just tossing players into the mix from the start.

There's a story somewhere between the two games, though the details are as memorable as the soundtrack. There's a definite plot with a couple of twists, though ultimately it just provides a bit of glue to hold the game together. You'll spend most of your time grinding levels, collecting items and fighting enemies. Everything about White Knight Chronicles II hinges on how much time you're willing to put into it. It's a slow burn of a game that requires a lot of patience and time to fully enjoy. You're offered a glimpse of the future early on, though you're stripped of the power and need to wait through about 20 hours of gameplay before you get it back.

Another example is your town, which you can design and develop through your adventures. You can place businesses and recruit villagers to help increase your resource collections and access to shops, though you won't see the full benefits until you invest a lot of time and resources into its development.

White Knight Chronicles II is at its best during online play, though once again, you'll need to dedicate a lot of time and effort in order to get the full experience. Completing offline quests boosts your Guild Rank, unlocking harder online quests. Higher ranked quests yield bigger rewards, though they also come with a hefty price tag. Earning enough money is a bit of a chore and will only appeal to a limited number of players, but the eventual payoff is worth it, though only if you're dedicated from the start.

Although White Knight Chronicles II asks a lot of players as far as time spent playing, it isn't very demanding when it comes to difficulty. Once again, it helps to play through White Knight Chronicles before jumping into the second game. The sequel has no interest in getting new players up to speed, instead choosing to overwhelm players with a blank slate of a character and lots of skill points to spend. Bringing your high level character also offers a good early power boost.

With the exception of a few larger fights, battles are never overwhelming. However, the checkpoint placement is terrible and will likely force you into several retries on certain high level boss fights. Poor companion A.I. exacerbates the issue. You can set your party members to specific behaviors, though it won't stop them from pulling off a boneheaded move.

Although I normally stay far away from strategy guides, the sheer amount of content in White Knight Chronicles II (and lack of a tutorial) make the guide a worthwhile pick-up for players who really want to sink their teeth into everything the game has to offer. It includes information on the bounty of weapons/ armors available, as well as more information on skills and abilities.

Game Mechanics:
Combat is a significant overhaul. Although not apparent from the start, the number of minor (and not so minor) mechanical tweaks helps create an incredibly deep combat system. The changes are never enough to stave off a couple of incredibly dull play moments, though there is a lot to consider in battle beyond tapping through layers of menus.

For starters, you're presented with eight weapons classes with their own benefits and drawbacks in combat. Depending on your initial weapon class, you'll earn access to weapon-specific techniques. These are incredibly important when putting together a party. Your party's equipment also influences how long it takes for their attacks to execute. Combat is real time, and Level 5 has done a lot to cut down on the amount of time spent waiting for gauges to fill and commands to execute. Still, more/ heavier equipment translates to longer prep times between attacks. A party of heavily-equipped soldiers will do a lot of damage per attack, but you might not get a chance to get many hits.

You can move your team around the combat area, though you'll need to take distances into consideration since damage varies depending on the weapon and distance to target. It is also possible to put yourself in position to interrupt opponent's attacks.

Eventually you earn the ability to turn into an Incorruptus, a giant mechanized knight. These guys can quickly sway any battle, though you can usually do just as much by developing a well-rounded character. White Knight Chronicles II offers a lot of freedom when planning out which weapons, skills and abilities to learn. And, if your build isn't going right, you can always reset and redo your points in town.

White Knight Chronicles II offers something for dedicated players only. If you don't have hours to dedicate to a game before it "gets to the good part," you won't enjoy it. The combination of online and offline RPG elements is a neat one, and there are a couple of really cool ideas at play, but there isn't enough of an early payoff to keep you hooked for the long haul.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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