Sequels should always out-do their predecessors, it’s a simple rule that many games fail to live up to. Where White Knight Chronicles II succeeds isn’t just in upgrading graphics and tweaking the gameplay, but in presenting a free copy of the original game at the same time that also features those same upgrades, improving the overall series experience. It’s a model few companies have ever done and is to Level 5’s credit.
There was something of an extended waiting period for White Knight Chronicles II after the original game ended on what amounted to a cliff-hanger. Players still had plenty to do however, what with all the optional missions their avatar could take on and the chance to grind out even better gear in a second playthrough that along with their stat points could be directly imported into the sequel. In truth however the reception for the original hadn’t been as good as Level 5 had hoped and for a short while the future of the series was a grey area. Packing in the original title (a necessity if one wanted to come in cold to the series) and giving the game a bigger advertising push made sure that White Knight Chronicles as a series appeared in more players collections.
Graphically the game is running on the same engine as the first, and using the same character designs and models. The entire game has been given an upgrade that soothes out rough edges, adds clearer textures to the already quite sharp quality of the originals and puts layers of intricate detail on items and objects found in the world. A ton of new items and gear has been added as well, making the characters feel a little like dress-up dolls at times with everything they equip shown visually on their person like before. New characters are well designed to fit into the themes of the world they inhabit and there are some new areas that are visually very appealing. The game does however re-use some locations and a lot of enemy designs, adding only a few new monster types to the mix. As a direct continuation of the original game this can be forgiven, but it would have been nice to see more completely original content on display given the games long development period.
Sound is unchanged from the original, with a few new tracks to accompany new areas the player will visit but cribbing the same music for locations previously explored. It’s still of a good quality but largely forgettable as are the effects. Voice acting has a little more push behind it this time around, with the time obviously being used to assess which character inflections worked and which performances were a little flat. Leonard, the games main character is more vividly voiced this time around and considerably less monotone.
The plot picks up almost directly after the original game ends, this time opening in the distant but neighbouring kingdom that lost its ruler when the Magi attacked the princess’ 18th birthday party at the opening of the original title. Here another royal finds herself under siege and the player is placed into the role of her masked guardian/bodyguard as he tries to escort her to safety. Just when everything is looking like it’s going to end in bloodshed the sky suddenly heralds the arrival of a flying airship from which jump four warriors clad in armour and ready to battle, neatly landing between the approaching Magi troops and our helpless characters. It’s an impressive way to reintroduce the characters to players and it has all the impact associated with a big reveal. Leonard seems to have matured after his journey in the first game and summoning the White Knight feels like a triumphant return to form when it happens. The games plot gets a little convoluted over the course of its second half, with the five Knights (Incorruptus as they are referred to in-game) and time travel all being heavily leveraged for story reasons. The games story takes you back along the reverse route the original title branched out on, leaving a few locations feeling rehashed, but ultimately the final pay off, though predictable, adds weight to the presence of the player’s Avatar and answers a lot of the lingering questions from the original. As the conclusion of the series (chronologically this is the last title, although one prequel game set in the same timeline exists) it’s quite satisfying, although the game can be something of a slog at times if your character builds are off. DLC exists that adds additional background material for the otherwise nameless player Avatar, but sadly never made its way out of Japan.
Gameplay is almost identical to that of the original title, but with some tweaking to improve the combat system and georama in place. Whereas before points were used for both attacks and for summoning the Knights into battle (which still remains a cool feature no matter how many times you do it) forcing you to save or split their use, now moves are greatly reduced in cost or MP only, meaning you get more mech for your time. It’s now fairly easy to get multiple knights into combat without having to scrimp and save for the duration of the battle. This speeds up the feel of play immensely. The georama has been given some tweaks to make it more easy to access and control, as well as a raised player cap on optional Avatar missions from 4 to 6, allowing you to bring your party characters along for the ride should you not have friends to bring. With the servers officially shut down as of 2012 this is something of an essential add since the games content almost doubles when the MMO quests are included. The remaining party members now also receive their own Knights to call upon, which gives everyone an equal footing and allows for some customisation and equipping of Knights through menus. The player Avatar even gets his or her own which you can tweak and create to your heart’s content, and which gets a lot of use in the games finale. Whilst this editing process requires a lot of in-game gold and the world economy is quite shallow, it does give a wonderful array of customisable content. The games real sticking point is its introduction of Undead type enemies, that can be knocked down but never killed unless specific spells are learned, a segment of the game taking place in the sewers becomes a real slog due to its Undead population and giant scale encounters with this type lock you into a room and force use of the Knights, which don’t possess these magic types, forcing a constant switch between pinning them down with attacks that aren’t damaging them, and shifting perspective to a character beneath the melee to cast them. It turns an otherwise simple patch of the story into a perspective rage-quit and it’s possible to have approached the whole game at this point with character builds that are nowhere near unlocking the spells necessary to advance. This is doubly annoying if you’ve imported characters from the original title and they’ve progressed spectacularly far along different paths and the dungeon cannot be exited until it is complete.
For a while White Knight Chronicles II (including the original) had an extremely loyal and devoted player base that adventured through missions together and were very approachable for newbie players. With the loss of the online aspect of the title many shifted their attention to Final Fantasy XIV recently, but there are still callouts for Level 5 to consider allowing external hosting of the servers and allow online play once more. Overall, White Knight Chronicles wasn’t a series for everyone. The games plot was slow overall and some plot twists are abrupt whilst others are telegraphed extremely early on (one character from the first game returns from the dead with no explanation of how or why!), but there are elements of greatness in this series that shouldn’t be ignored. White Knight Chronicles II is the best way to give the series a try and well worth the price of admission.