Everybody has expectations when it comes to video games. Just as when Valve or Bungie release a new FPS, expectations are equally high when role-playing veteran Level 5 releases a new RPG. The pedigree of the developer suggested that White Knight Chronicles would be nothing short of a masterpiece, with previous gems Dark Chronicle, Rogue Galaxy and Professor Layton sitting proudly on its résumé. But, as the industry has proved countless times before, expectation often comes hand-in-hand with disappointment.
Before the obligatory drawn-out intro, the start of the game presents players with the opportunity to create an avatar. The customisation is in-depth, with options to change everything from hair colour to cheek bone structure. Perhaps the most interesting device in the game, this avatar serves to marry the single-player with the multiplayer, and is not the main character in the game as you might expect. While in single-player this speechless avatar won't affect the outcome of the story in any way, he (or she) manages to bridge the multiplayer to the narrative without ruining continuity.
The aforementioned obligatory drawn-out intro (which all RPGs must have) introduces the bustling city of Balandor, where celebrations are under way to mark the 18th birthday of Princess Cisna. A celebration isn't a celebration without alcohol, and thankfully our plucky protagonist Leonard is on the case. An employee of the Winery supplying the event, Leonard is sent on an introductory quest to collect a wine shipment from a nearby village. This gives players a quick chance to get used to the basics of combat before things get serious.
Unsurprisingly, upon returning to Balandor, things have indeed gotten serious, and Leonard discovers that an evil group known as the Magi have attacked the city. Chancing his way into the castle, Leonard finds the Princess in a spot of bother, and does what any budding hero would do, and lends a hand. Escorting her to the bottom of the castle, Leonard discovers an ancient suit of armour known as the Incorruptus. With the Magi hot on their heels and life and death in the balance, Leonard manages to form a pact with the titular White Knight, and with his new powers, forces the attackers out of town. As they flee, however, they manage to capture the ill-fated Princess, which sets the scene for the 30 hour-odd rescue adventure that ensues.
Although it can just about carry the weight of the gameplay, the narrative is incredibly weak. The characters are as shallow as they are generic, and the actual plot is nothing more than a mindless mash-up of every other RPG that's ever been released. There's just no motivation to find out what's going to happen next, giving the game a vacant, meaningless quality to it.
Graphically the game is disappointing too, if only because of how fantastic the game looked back in the trailer that accompanied the announcement of the game. The environments are pleasant enough, if a little repetitive, but the character models are uninspired and generally the game lacks the polish of a title that's been in development for such a long period of time. Whinging about graphics isn't something I like to make a habit of, but again I'll reiterate the importance of expectations – White Knight Chronicles promised a whole lot more.
Structurally, the game is straight out the RPG handbook; your growing team of adventurers wander from town to town, traipsing through monster infested dungeons with cutscenes interrupting the action every now and again to advance the plot - fairly standard stuff. The game attempts to innovate in other areas, though, most notably in its adoption of mechanics more commonly associated with the MMO genre.