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Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: White Knight Chronicles: Origins (PSP)

On the PlayStation 3, White Knight Chronicles was a poorly received mix between MMO and JRPG. The reception was unfair – the game featured a large traditional RPG world and a fairly standard (but enjoyable) battle system that looked much like something from a World of Warcraft clone. It was pretty, but many felt soulless, and its robust online play was largely overlooked.

White Knight Chronicles: Origins is a wholly new game with an entirely different development team. Handheld RPG specialists, Matrix Games, have this one in collaboration with Sony’s Japan Studio. And despite being a very, very limited RPG, Origins is an addictive little game that owes as much to Monster Hunter as traditional JRPGs.

This is an epic battle



While you’re not going to be hunting down massive beasts and engaging them in epic half hour battles, like in Monster Hunter here you will be playing from a centralised ‘hub’; a train, as the threadbare story introduces you to. From that train you accept missions, and then traverse a handful of standard dungeon types looking to kill a certain number of a type of enemy, explore a certain number of areas, and complete a small number of other mission types.

It’s a not-so-subtle development trick to conceal the fact that this game doesn’t feature a great deal of scale. There’s no overworld to traverse, and the number of environments to explore is surprisingly limited given this game’s heritage. The story is equally direct, rarely rising above “hey, this is evil. You are good. Kill it.” Thanks to this system Matrix Games didn’t need to develop towns sweeping vistas, or even many NPCs to interact with. This probably kept development costs down, but be warned that the game will feel limited and alienating for people coming in expecting something more traditional.




The dungeons are random in design, and split into ‘rooms’ – so think about Monster Hunter’s areas, just smaller in scope. Moving from one room to another will trigger a new battle, but you can go back to previous rooms once cleared out safely. Those rooms, though random, are largely bland and empty. Exploring them is not very interesting as a result.

So if White Knight Chronicles: Origins relied on the tropes of a traditional RPG, it would fail miserably. Like Monster Hunter games, though, the fun is more to be found in developing a hero and grinding his/ her way to the top.

Jellies are always annoying, it doesn't matter if it's Final Fantasy or this game


The hero is completely customisable, and it’s fluid. One level you’ll be improving his bow skills, the next he’ll learn a nasty fire attack. Like the PlayStation 3 original you’ve got a MMO-style bar down the bottom where you can assign skills to act like ‘hot keys’ in battle. There’s no menu system, just that bar of skills, so picking the right balance of skills to access in battle is the key to success.

Combat is a lot faster than the original game, so you’ll be flicking through the various hot keys quite busily. This is not the most difficult game you’ll play, but it is possible to attempt missions well beyond your means, to grinding away to earn the necessary levels is a must. Because missions are usually quite brief in length, and levels are gained quite quickly, this grinding is rarely dull, but people who prefer more modern approaches to RPGs could be left a bit cold.

This game looks and sounds really good - presentation is right up there


It’s not a lonely dungeon hack experience, mind. While you only have direct control over your own character, there’s three AI heroes along for the ride with you. As the adventure continues onwards, more heroes will sign up with you, and they have their own personal quests you can help them out with to improve your relationship with them. In return they’ll teach you useful skills and otherwise help you out more in battle.

The management of the AI heroes never approaches something as complex as party management in Tactics Ogre, but it’s a nice feature that helps give the computer-run allies some personality. There’s a robust online system which replaces those allies with living, breathing humans, but if you are flying solo, you’re not going to miss out on much.

The Monster Hunter influences run even deeper than all of this – it’s possible to upgrade equipment with raw materials and other resources earned from defeating enemies and finding gathering points in the dungeons. This ‘loot’ accumulates quickly, meaning it’s easy to customise equipment to the heart’s content. It’s also possible to upgrade the train itself to offer additional support while you’re away visiting the dungeons.

So White Knight Chronicles: Origins is not the most epic RPG, but in being more limited in scope, the game is actually more addictive than the PlayStation 3 original. Uninhibited by superfluous features like plot and exploration, the game focuses on developing, piece by piece, a character you can be proud of, and in doing so, this is something of a pure JRPG experience. The Monster Hunter inspiration runs deep, but Origins is its own game, and a worthy addition to a very well-supported genre on the PSP.

- Matt S


Review: White Knight Chronicles: Origins (PSP)
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