White Knight Chronicles II hands-on preview – does this series deserve a second chance?

I’ll come right out and say that I thought the first White Knight Chronicles was garbage. Its two main selling points – the crazy knight powers and the MMO-style multiplayer – were both complete disappointments. Not only were the knight powers sadly underwhelming, but the story campaign was also marred by the distractingly clumsy, half-assed shoehorning in of the customizable avatar character. Then, the entire pseudo-MMO multiplayer component was completely stripped of the option to use knight powers, which left behind a crushingly generic, bland experience. It’s sounds harsh, but it’s really going to take a heavy dose of brutal honesty if Level 5 wants to get White Knight Chronicles II back on track.

Above: Battles occur in real-time, but you can only attack each timethe circular gauge fills

Luckily, it looks like the developer has taken some of the player feedback to heart and is trying to implement improvements to address complaints from the first WKC. For starters, unlike the Japanese release, players won’t be required to complete the first game to play the sequel, although you can import your character from a completed save of WKC if you would like. You won’t be penalized for skipping right in to WKCII either, even though an enhanced edition of the first game is bundled in for free with White Knight Chronicles II. We’re told that the story campaign will be quite a bit longer this time too – around 35 hours compared to WKC’s less than 25-hour campaign.

At first glance, WKCII looks nearly identical to its predecessor in interface and design (although the graphics overall are slightly nicer), which makes sense given that it takes place only a year after the events in the first game. We’re told that all the base mechanics and features have been left intact, but lots of tweaks and improvements have been added to make combat more interesting. One of our biggest problems with the combat in WKC was that despite the huge lists of attacks that each character could learn, they all felt more or less the same.

Above: Your other party members are AI-controlled, but you can choose which character you want to control in the party config menu, as well as set party tactics

Level 5 is attempting to rectify this by making your physical position actually have an effect in the real-time MMO-style battles, so that instead of doing the same amount of damage wherever your character is in relation to the enemy, your proximity and the range of the attack you use actually matter. You can stay back to avoid enemy melee attacks and try to pick them off with ranged attacks, or use an attack that quicklydarts around to the enemy’s rear and strikes from behind. Battles have also been sped up quite a bit, and your action gauge always starts at full whenever you enter combat, instead of taking time to power up. Elemental attacks actually serve a purpose this time too – there’s now a “break chance” system where you can see the type of attack an enemy is getting ready to use and neutralize it by attacking with the same type of attack.

The biggest improvement that Level 5 promises (although we didn’t get to see even a glimpse of it in our demo), is that the player’s avatar character will have his or her own incorruptus knight this time, and that character will also actually have a purpose in the story this time too. That means that you’ll be able to use knight powers in the multiplayer, and since the avatar’s knight will be customizable, there won’t be a bunch of people all using the same knight powers. Multiplayer has also been expanded from four player co-op to up to six, but we weren’t able to try it for ourselves because of the PSN outage at the time of our hands-on appointment.

Above: When your AC gauge fills, you can transform into an incorruptus knight for a limitedtime

Although skepticismis still prudent at this juncture,it’s encouraging to hear that Level 5 has been working on somehighly needed improvements to the sequel, and it will be interesting to see if the story itself will also take off and become more interesting. And even though I won’t hide my dislike of the first game, it’s also a huge plus that the improvements implemented in WKCII will be retroactively applied to the enhanced version of the WKC that’s being packaged in with the sequel, so if you do want to go back and play the first game, it will probably be a bit more enjoyable than the original version. Look for our full review when White Knight Chronicles II ships late this summer.

May 2, 2011

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