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Japanese roleplaying games aren’t often noted for their excessive handholding, and White Knight Chronicles II is certainly no exception. This is a sequel that fully expects you to have played the original, dropping you directly into the action without so much as a controller map. Luckily for newbs, Level-5 has included the complete original game on the disc, polished up with some of the sequel’s improvements to gameplay and combat. While getting a free game is a great bonus, new players eager to dive directly into the sequel are inevitably going to be frustrated and disoriented.
Though game mechanics aren’t covered at all, the intro sequence does feature a handy “previously on” section explaining the events of the first game in quick, broad strokes. Sadly, it’s the precursor to the sequel’s truly underwhelming story, both clichéd and forgettable. Turns out there’s an evil empire bent on world domination. You should probably stop them. Shrug.
Why the protagonist characters (several of whom are kids) have been chosen to battle this tremendous evil and wield unfathomable power is never clear, and rarely does the game convey a sense of epic struggle. One of the oddest and most grating narrative missteps is how the player’s character is handled. At the beginning you create a custom avatar or import your avatar from the original game. However, your character is not the focus of the narrative; in fact, in a number of critical cutscenes, you’re not even visible. While being able to customize a character in a JRPG is fairly novel, playing as an extra is a disappointing experience.
Where combat is concerned, WKC II straddles an interesting line between turn-based and real-time. When you encounter enemies you switch to combat mode and can continue to maneuver around the environment, but can only attack when your action gauge is full. While maneuvering in real-time gives the combat a kinetic feeling absent from traditional turn-based RPGs, a lot of the potential of positioning or dodging is wasted. Enemies hit you regardless of whether you’re standing next to them or around a corner. Try to flee and you’ll see queued up enemy attacks hitting your characters even when the enemies themselves are no longer visible.
Though some changes have been made to the first game’s combat, like distance affecting damage, it’s still frustrating to get smacked by a melee weapon that’s half-way across the screen. The combat also relies heavily on a rock-paper-scissors system that leads to spamming the same attack over and over once you’ve identified an enemy’s weakness. That said, transforming into the eponymous White Knight or any of the other giant “Incorruptus” mechas is a lot of fun. When battling huge demons you get the option to target specific body parts, which adds a layer of strategy, and hacking up normal-sized enemies as a giant robot is about as fun as it sounds.
The game is a grinder’s dream, rewarding players who dig into the optional Adventurer’s Guild side-quests and bounties with the ability to unlock missions online. Playing online with a group of people is fun and adds a huge amount of content for the dedicated. It’s a refreshing alternative to the less-engaging single-player experience, and includes the ability to build out a Georama, a hometown where players can craft items, shop, and even farm and harvest resources. Be warned, though, that Sony has decided to chase some of that EA Online Pass money; each new copy of the game comes with a single redemption code for a “Geonet license.” Each license is tied to an individual PSN account, so if you want to get online with a different account or if you buy the game used, you’ll have to purchase a license.
If White Knight Chronicles II weren’t so massive, it would feel like an expansion pack for the original. The changes are minor enough that a lot of them won’t be apparent until tens of hours into the game, if ever. The lack of tutorials, tedium of grinding, and huge investment of time required will likely scare off a lot of new players not interested in playing through the entire original game first. But for a certain breed of obsessive RPG fan there’s a lot here to enjoy, and giant quantities of it.