Before there was Leonard and company there was a time when the Incorruptus were used to wage a war that tore the land apart. With the world on the brink of anarchy one mobile division travels the world in the hope of saving what little remains.
Origins is a PSP title set 10,000 years prior to the events in White Knight Chronicles I and II. As such this is a very different kind of title to the series that spawned it, which pulled the most from the Playstation 3 at the time to present seamless small to large scale combat. Developed by Matrix Software and Japan Studio in place of Level 5, it knows its limitations and instead tries to bring something new to the table.
Graphically the game retains much of the design aesthetic from White Knight Chronicles, with characters mirroring the same kind of clothing and body types as seen in those titles. Because of the limitations of the PSP compared to the PS3 however the detail that filled so many items and armour pieces has been scaled back to the point that things can look a little bland. Textures also feel far less crisp and interesting, however the 3D character models and locations themselves are well implemented and reminiscent of the original titles as seen if they were developed for the original Playstation. Somewhat on par with Legend of Dragoon. Some of the new armour and character designs are quite well thought out, and the direction given to scenes manages to convey a sense of seriousness and gravity to situations that was often more light-hearted in earlier instalments. This is a game set in a world at war, and although lighter comedic moments exist there’s an ongoing atmosphere of tension. Sadly the conversation boxes look more ugly in this title than they ever have before, which is a shame given that they were probably the area which needed the least work to scale down successfully. Other elements of the UI are identicle. The game comes with a character creation screen upon which you will create an avatar for play that has a varied amount of customisation for a PSP title.
Sound is in fact quite well balanced for the title, the PSP handles music well and the game uses this to its full advantage to put some interesting and complex arrangements into the background of scenes. Some of the exploration pieces played behind missions are forgettable, but the conversation scenes are well accompanied. Sound effects are similar to the bigger games audio and compliment them well to feed a cohesive world.
Set 10,000 years before the events of the original White Knight Chronicles, the premise is that a single nation ruled over the continent upon which the title takes place, but one day the nation split apart and soon began squabbling for power, causing a period called the Dogma Wars to begin. In those wars Yshrenian Empire with their Incorrupti (Knights) were unstoppable, every nation they attacked, fell. Only one nation matched the Yshrenian Empire’s power, the Athwan Empire. The player controls an unnamed silent protagonist, an Athwan Empire citizen, whose town is under attack by the Yshrenian Empire at the games outset. Saved by the Mobile Corps, who travel the world by train, after facing off against the titular White Knight in a chance encounter. You’re offered the chance to join them and your life as a mercenary begins. Setting the game in the distant past is actually not as unusual a concept as one may imagine, especially having encountered both time travel and reincarnation in the previous titles in the series that harken back heavily to the Dogma Wars. The knowledge of a player coming in off of those titles helps to sell the games premise, which largely revolves around the heroic actions of a band of mercenaries and heroes who ultimately will play an important role that cumulates in White Knight Chronicles II, but will be forgotten entirely by the sands of time. The writing on offer is passable, although melodramatic and sometimes somewhat hurried, with characters each given a chance to become interesting before the spotlight is quickly focused elsewhere.
Gameplay feels like it owes a debt to the Monster Hunter series in addition to its namesake. From the train on which you are based you and your team can accept different missions that tend to fall into several defined categories, such as scouting an area, killing a set number of monsters or triggering a plot point. It’s a good way to expand the life cycle of a limited amount of graphically different locations, with shaking up the layout and setting new goals keeping things feeling fresher than they otherwise would do. That the train hub replaces towns, meaning that there are none to visit and few NPCs to encounter, is an acquired taste, and because it’s a moving hub by its very nature there are no world maps to explore, only new missions to undertake. Luckily to focus isn’t on exploration in the traditional sense, but rather on unlocking and improving the skills of your avatar. Armour is customizable using loot from battles and the game opens up a well thought out series of small ways in which your character and those around him/her can be improved, keeping the player interested in progressing. Combat is almost identical to that seen in the original Playstation 3 titles but perhaps moves a little faster and requiring a quicker hand. The UI and way combat works is unchanged from White Knight Chronicles II, meaning that combat starts as an automated attack on a timer and special moves can be tapped in from a customizable selection plate. Points are acquired for special moves and for using the Optimus, this games answer to the Incorruptis. Whilst the original series focused on pulling out the knights for high damage and tackling bigger foes, this game is rooted in the concept that you may have to fight those mechs yourself. To do so the Optimus allows you and your team to take on a series of secondary armored forms based around attack, defence, magic, etc. It feels a little like something out of the Power Rangers franchise at first, but quickly becomes a part of your tactical strategy and makes narrative sense when dealing with hulking mecha and giant monsters. For many bosses the key is to surmise which armour works best against them and treating it like a Mega Man style association. Online mode returns to adventure with friends, but in a similar manner to the servers for the Playstation 3 titles, have now been largely shut down or abandoned.
Overall Origins is an interesting entry into the series cannon. Not an essential play and somewhat different from its namesake, it had the sense to try something different for the mobile market and gave it its best try. It’s not a game for everybody though, as the train setting and lack of exploration through towns and world mean that it’s a very directed and short plot in comparison to other JRPG titles on the same system. If you enjoyed White Knight Chronicles and wanted to dally a little longer in its world however this might just be the game for you.