Putting the Power Rangers to shame.
Mikel and I were lucky enough to find ourselves in the VIP area of Sony's booth during E3, and it was here that we were able to get some real quality time with the English build of White Knight Chronicles for the PlayStation 3. We started off in a desert area with a party of 3 characters, one of whom was the main character who is capable of summoning the titular White Knight. We were left on our own to fight a various assortment of monsters ranging from giant golems to sand scorpions. This gave us the chance to really play around with active time battle system. On the bottom of the screen is a fully customizable action palette, where you can choose from one of several attacks, magic spells, combos, or summons depending on, of course, how you set up your palette prior to battle. Since this is an active time based battle system, you'll have to wait for a circle gauge to fill up on the screen before you can launch your next attack.
We were also able to freely switch between our 3 party members: a blond mage, a grizzled old veteran, and the young main character. In the final game, you'll have a total of 6 characters to choose from when building your party of 3. It was interesting to see how each different party member had their action palettes set up. After killing several minor creatures, we quickly maxed out our Action Chip gauge. These Action Chips build up during combat and can be spent on special skills, combos, or particularly devastating magic attacks. Because our gauge was maxed out at 16, I decided to try summoning the White Knight. The White Knight was very impressive as he towered over the other party members. We were also able to target different enemy body parts, which came in handy when we temporarily brought a giant golem down to his knees, allowing us to land some critical hits before he stood back up.
A sample of my desert heroics.
After we had our fill of combat, we tried out the impressive character creation mode. Throughout the course of the story, the main character is accompanied by a mute companion that you design from the ground up. This custom character is also your avatar in the online mode. Mikel had a blast creating an avatar that suited his very specific tastes. There must have been over 20 options for the eyes alone. I was very impressed, and it's nice to know that when you do get online with WKC, you'll have a unique avatar.
Speaking of the online mode, we found out some very interesting bits of news straight from Sony. Voice chat, a feature that's missing in the Japanese release, is definitely being looked into for the North American release. Even though it isn't fully confirmed yet, it seems likely that it will happen. On the other hand, there is one brand new feature that will be there at launch. Players will now be able to build and customize their own towns online. In the offline story mode, the main character can recruit NPCs to work and live in their online towns. These towns will serve as quest hubs when a player hosts a game, so not only will you have a unique avatar online, but you will also have your own unique hub with a layout and population of your choosing.
If anything, that's what I find most impressive about WKC. The level of flexibility, choice, and customization is something I am more akin to seeing in western RPGs. Level-5 has really gone all out to create a massive experience. I would have recommended this game for the visuals and single player mode alone, but now that you can share that experience with friends, in your own town no less, pushed this game that much more over the top. I'm happy to see the PS3 is getting a JRPG of this caliber because it certainly needs it.