White Knight Chronicles 2 - Staff Review  

Adveni, not Verto
by Nathan "TwinBahamut" Schlothan

60-80 Hours
+ Fights between giants can be exciting.
+ Lots of multiplayer quests.
+ Many things to customize.
- The story squanders its potential.
- Too much grinding for rare enemy loot drops.
- Too much backtracking in the second part.
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   White Knight Chronicles 2 may be named like a sequel, but because its first part is a "remastered" version of the previous game, it is closer to being an expanded remake. Players can choose to start at the beginning of either part, and can also choose whether to import data from the previous game into this one. For this review, I chose to use my imported WKC 1 data to start over from the beginning of the first part. Ultimately, this proved to be the correct decision, since I was able to enjoy the game a lot more than I would have by jumping straight to the second part.

   While the gameplay has changed a bit, the story of the first part is identical to the story of the previous game. The main hero, Leonard, stumbles across an ancient suit of giant armor called an Incorruptus, and ends up using it to try to save Cisna, the princess of his homeland who was kidnapped by a mysterious army. Amidst this is a romance subplot between Leonard and Cisna, which tends to come across more as a mutual creepy obsession rather than anything genuinely romantic. Fortunately, many of the secondary characters and their stories are much more entertaining and really steal the show at times, even if they are marred by rather clumsy storytelling. This part also has a rather brisk pacing that almost rushes events along, constantly bringing the player to new places and new events. It isn't perfect, but it is certainly enjoyable.

   Unfortunately, the new plot added as part of White Knight Chronicles 2 simply does not live up to the story from the previous game. It starts out well enough, with the heroes getting caught up in a civil war that has erupted within the wondrous Lost Forest of Faria, but once that well-done opening chapter is over, it plunges directly into a mire of filler with no end in sight. This part has a few high points towards the end, but most of it consists of unnecessary backtracking across areas from the prior part. This section also undermines or abandons almost all of the interesting subplots from before and concludes with an abrupt and unsatisfying ending. All told, the story of the second part feels like a collection of story elements that were cut out from the first game and messily stitched back together to create a follow-up story. It just doesn't work.

   One of the more unique elements of the White Knight Chronicles games is their inclusion of a player-created character that does not serve as the main character. The character creation tools are rather good, and this character serves a valuable role in multiplayer play, but the custom character is not integrated into the single-player game very well at all. Most of the time the story barely even acknowledges the existence of that character, which can be rather unsatisfying. The second part of WKC 2 introduces a player-customizable Ark Incorruptus for the custom character to use, which would have been a great addition if it wasn't withheld until the end of the game and didn't require a massive amount of effort to customize.

This game is not for the arachnophobic. This game is not for the arachnophobic.

   Some of the biggest changes between the two games have been made to the battle system and the lists of abilities that characters acquire as they level up. Much like in the original, characters in White Knight Chronicles 2 acquire skill points as they level up that can be used to learn new skills for the six weapon types and two magic types. The player can then equip these skills to the useable skill bars or combine them into combos, letting them be used in battle. In the original version of White Knight Chronicles, almost every attack cost valuable Action Chips, a type of resource that builds up slowly as you fight, making most of these skills useless, but these abilities have been rebuilt entirely for this game and now most abilities have a much more reasonable MP cost. Now, only combos and the very best skills have Action Chip costs, and nothing uses both Action Chips and MP anymore. Several skills that expend Action Chips to restore MP have also been added, which helps establish a balance in battle between using up MP when a character has few Action Chips and using up Action Chips when MP is low. Overall, these changes make battles in WKC 2 a lot more fun and less repetitive than they were in the original game.

   Unfortunately, while the characters' attack options are more varied than before, WKC 2 still has a lot of problems with its combat system. The combat interface is a convoluted mess full of awkward controls and annoying limitations. Characters can never equip as many skills as they need to, there are more attacks than are really useful, combos are powerful but don't have enough variety or clear purpose, and it is far too easy to accidentally get stuck in a chat or emote menu in the middle of battle. It doesn't help that the player can only control a single character at a time out of a three person party, leaving the other two characters under the control of a frightfully idiotic AI. The AI works well enough to keep the team from collapsing, but it doesn't even attempt to take advantage of the enemy's easily determined weaknesses, won't take defensive measures even when it is obviously necessary, and has a really bad habit of using up rare and valuable High Elixers to heal trivial injuries. One nice thing about the AI is the ability to give AI-controlled allies "cues" that encourage them to execute short bursts of desperate action like focusing on healing or attacking with combos, but otherwise there is little good to be said about it. Foruntately, most battles can be won simply by occasionally rotating which character is under the player's control.

Adventure is always better with friends. Adventure is always better with friends.

   Another major issue is that many enemies are mind-numbingly repetitive. As an example, there are only four types of normal spider enemies, each corresponding to one of the four classical elements. There are some differences between them, like how waterspiders try to put characters to sleep on occasion, but they mostly only differ in what kinds of attacks they are vulnerable to. The problem is that spiders make up something like twenty percent of the normal-sized enemies that will be fought, meaning players will need to crush hundreds and hundreds of them. They are also not alone in being so repetitive, since most of the rest of the enemies can also be summed up as a few variants each of lizards, scorpions, boars, bees, and magical creatures, with the occasional plant and an excessive number of hard-to-kill skeletons that don't have any variation at all. Ultimately, however, these enemies are just minor speed bumps between the much more entertaining battles against stronger foes.

   While many of the lesser enemies are fairly boring to fight, White Knight Chronicles 2 is filled with another class of foe that is anything but dull. At almost every bend in the road the player will encounter powerful, gigantic enemies that pose a more reasonable challenge. These towering enemies, such as giants, trolls, dragons, gigantes, treants, wraiths, and golems, offer a lot more variety than their weaker kin and fights against them are very dynamic. Fighting a troll involves the characters stabbing its legs until it drops to its knees and exposes its soft belly, knocking aside the shield it raises to defend itself, or raising their guard to protect themselves from its powerful charge-up attacks. Some of these strategies can get a little old by the end, but these foes are far cry above typical RPG cannon fodder.

   Keeping to the theme that bigger is better, another aspect that works very well is combat using the titular White Knight and the other Incorrupti that appear. Characters who possess an Incorruptus can transform whenever they have enough Action Chips and are not confined by a low ceiling. When they do so, they greatly increase in size and power, and their skills and equipment are replaced by those of the Incorruptus. Incorrupti don't have a lot of attacks to choose from, but they are extremely useful because of their toughness and skill at both attacking many weak foes and striking at the weakpoints of large enemies, often at the same time. This form lasts until the Incorruptus runs out of HP or MP, at which point the character will revert to his normal form and be completely drained of MP and Action Chips. There are some small problems with Incorruptus combat, but overall it is undoubtedly one of the best-balanced and most fun transformations ever seen in an RPG, easily surpassing things like most Breath of Fire dragon forms, Xenosaga's AGWS, or Final Fantasy XII's summons.

That Ark Incorruptus equipment is cool, but is it worth the grind? That Ark Incorruptus equipment is cool, but is it worth the grind?

   Of course, White Knight Chronicles 2 has a lot of content other than the main story. The most significant side content comes in the form of quests that can be played through either with the single-player campaign's party or as a multiplayer effort using a team of each player's custom characters. These quests are a bit of a mixed bag of both fun experiences and dull chores, but generally lean towards the former. The game also has a range of other things to do, including bounty hunting and running errands for townsfolk, that were not present in the previous game

   The main purpose of a lot of these sidequests is to accumulate various rare items that can be used to improve equipment, make new items, and build parts that can be used to build a custom town. As a whole, these subsystems were rebalanced between the previous game and WKC 2, so they work a lot better in the first part than they did before. Unfortunately the second half reverses those improvements, forcing the player to grind to an excessive degree in order to make any use of many of the game's features at all. As a result, there is no balance between effort and reward after the second part begins.

   Generally speaking, the music and graphics in this game are quite good, but not outstanding. Many areas are quite beautiful, but some large areas, especially those encountered early on, tend to suffer from reduced frame-rates and distracting screen-tearing. The main theme songs are wonderful, but many of the other songs are only average. It is nice that they gave each Incorruptus its own theme that plays while it is fighting, though.

   The length of the game will vary greatly depending on how the player decides to go through it. The main plot of the first part will take about thirty hours at most, and it can take up to forty hours or more to get through the second part. Of course, getting involved in optional or multiplayer content will easily add a lot of time to that count.

   Overall, White Knight Chronicles 2 can be a very fun game, but is a difficult one to recommend. Its first part is undoubtedly a significant improvement over the version seen in the first game, but the second half is deeply flawed. On its own merits, the first part is a fun game well worth playing, but it is dragged down by the failings of the latter part. People looking to see the conclusion of the story presented in the previous game will probably leave disappointed, but people who are new to the series and don't care about leaving a game unfinished can find a lot of things to enjoy.

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