Combat illustrates this point nicely, and is particularly evocative of Square Enix's Final Fantasy XII, which in turn is based on the online-only Final Fantasy XI. With an enemy in sight and your weapon at the ready, a circular gauge known as the Command Circle, displayed on the right hand side of the screen, will gradually fill, and when it does, a selected skill will be executed. As you fight, Action Chips (AC) accumulate, allowing you to use some of your more powerful skills.
With each increase in level, a character is rewarded with Skill points, which can be distributed into a number of weapon-based skill categories. By allocating points to these disciplines, you can tailor your character to a specific class. Say, for example, you're training a character in the ways of the warrior; you might want to invest points in Longsword or Axe skills. Or, if a mage is more your style, Staves and Elemental Magic are clearly the way to go. The game also lets you create your own combos by combining two or more skills, and even lets you name them. With a new skill or combo learnt, it can then be added to the action palette where it's ready for use in battle.
The development mechanics are largely successful, and give progression a satisfying feel. Saying this, it fails to save combat itself from the torment of tedium. Due to the nature of the Command Circle, all you're really doing is waiting around the whole time, which is especially frustrating within a combat system that is essentially real-time. What makes things slightly more exciting is the gargantuan White Knight, which Leonard can transform into should the need arise. The White Knight's attacks are far more powerful than Leonard's, and make taking down bosses and other large enemies a whole lot easier. Transformation requires AC initially, and then MP to sustain the form. Should you defeat an enemy with half your MP remaining, however, and then revert to your human form, the game will refuse to let you transform again without resting. This wastes Action Chips and forces frugal use of the power, which spoils an otherwise enjoyable aspect of combat.
Although White Knight Chronicles is predominantly a single-player affair, there are some welcome online features that have been integrated into the experience, and this is where your avatar comes into its own. A wide range of quests can be undertaken with other players online, with money and loot distributed accordingly upon completion. These can be taken on alone too, and add a serious amount of time to the game's lifespan.
Fans of Dark Cloud and Dark Chronicle will be pleased to see the return of the Georama system; a town building mini-game that allows the organisation of buildings, shops, and other scenic items to create your very own home-town. You can even recruit characters from the main game to live in your town, who affect things such as the quality and range of items on sale. Although this may seem fun on paper, in practice it's time consuming and offers little in the way of reward. If you're particularly fond of your town it can be uploaded to the game's online platform GeoNet, where other players can check it out for themselves, or use it as a lobby before taking on a quest.
White Knight Chronicles isn't a bad game; there's a decent amount of content on offer and some interesting innovations, but – and returning to this ongoing theme of expectation - it should have been something better. Level 5's last big RPG was the fantastic Rogue Galaxy, a game that truly pushed the boundaries of the genre on the PS2, and White Knight Chronicles feels like a giant step backwards from that. If you've been looking forward to a good JRPG on PS3, try not to let the score below put you off too much; there's a lot to enjoy here if you can look past the flaws. Ultimately, however, there are better JRPGs out there, and White Knight Chronicles is far from the spectacle we were all expecting.