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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developed By: Level-5
Genre: RPG
Players: 1-4
Rated: T (Teen)
Release Date: February 2, 2010
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written by: Anthony E. Cara

So my copy of White Knight Chronicles International Edition finally arrived… and after the seemingly endless wait, I was pleased with the final product…but also quite disappointed. If you will hear me out, I would like to briefly discuss what went right, what went wrong, and what fell somewhere in between. Where appropriate, other comparable games will be cited as I explain what I’d like to see done differently in future releases of this very promising IP.

A Stand Alone Online Experience

A friend of mine has been on the fence about this game for a while. After I had played it for a few hours, he asked how I liked it and what my overall opinion was. My initial reaction: it feels like two completely separate games- one a pretty decent JRPG with a play style that reminds me a little of FFXII and the Tales series, the other a pretty enjoyable online game with multiplayer MMORPG style quests. If my initial reaction was correct, that would have been great, but in truth, the online mode is highly dependent on the single player story mode. One unlocks new quests by opening new areas in the story mode and purchasing them from the guild hall. I should also note, that one levels up much quicker in the online quests, and in order to not completely destroy the single player experience, I was forced to eject my level 20 avatar from my level 5 party very early in the game.

So who got this right? Monster Hunter Freedom Unite instantly springs to mind as being the most enjoyable of the series and the one I have as of right now sunk about a hundred hours into. Monster Hunter enjoys two separate but equal sets of quests and ranks: the elder and the guild. If a player has no friends (and no adhoc party) they will likely not enjoy the game too much, but at least they can muscle through Elder ranks and on into the higher difficulty quests. If a player does not feel like doing that, they can hop right in to the online gathering hall and start ranking up. Both paths have the same effect on the village: unlocking further expanding areas of one’s pokke farm (think of this as a simpler, not customizable, Georama if you are unfamiliar with this title), hire more feline companions, and unlock higher tiers of armor/weapons.

When I was getting used to the game, I beat the first few ranks of the elder quests, but now I play almost exclusively in the online gathering hall. If I was I to only play the story mode of WKC for just a few hours, I would be able to enjoy very little online, unless I was invited into higher tier quests by friends (who themselves would have had to play farther into the story). That being said, there are areas here where WKC is quite superior, namely the Georama system. A small generic farm where you harvest materials is cute, but your own customizable village where you can do the same: nice! I should also mention that, albeit generic, WKC has a story- immersive and expanding… whereas the Monster Hunter IP…yeah…

Local Co-Op? Faster Paced Combat?

OK, maybe these requests are a little much… but lately when I’ve been playing RPGs that have a bunch of AI controlled team mates, I think, why can’t I just have a friend pick up a remote and snag one of these mindless drones for themselves? This is mainly aimed at the story mode- I understand it would be pretty crazy to allow for couch co-op and online co-op to mix and match on one console in an online RPG style- but I can dream can’t I? A small complaint, I admit, but I cannot deny how enjoyable an experience it can be just having a friend (perhaps a girlfriend who wishes to experience the game as well but can’t get a chance because I’m always playing…) take control of a minor character and follow you through the story. Square had it right in the SNES Final Fantasy days, and Namco Bandai took it to a much more enjoyable level in the later Tales games. Aside from those, there aren’t many in the modern generation that follow this trend- Eternal Sonata being the first and only to pop into my head.

Now about that combat…were those game play trailers played in fast forward or something? I must be honest I had anticipated a faster paced, slightly more action packed combat system akin to the old Phantasy Star Online games. I knew there would be ATB meters; I just thought they would move much…much…much faster! I will say that stringing together combos is a blast, but building up AC chips to unleash them takes a lot more time than I like.

A Controlled Trading System

OK, here is the part where it is impossible to please everyone. As you may or may not know at this point, the game only allows trading of consumables- not weapons or armor. Flame wars have begun on various message boards as people argue whether or not this is a good thing. Monster Hunter fans like the idea of not being able to trade since it can lead to duping and breaking the game’s difficulty. That being said…Monster Hunter fans are sadists (personal experience) and some fans of online gaming find trading to be essential to any community RPG experience.

So I’m stuck- I have not a single good example of this being done right. I have plenty examples of this being done wrong- most glaringly, the original DreamCast Phantasy Star Online-Duping-Glitch-Disasto-rama. I personally had my character banned for this- I guess I should have been more suspicious of a guy who randomly gave me the Chain Saw, Spread Needle, and Twin Brand for free (among the game’s best weapons). That game had no regulation whatsoever- players were forced to drop items, run to the other side, and hope the other players were as honest as they were. Online MMORPGs like World of Warcraft have it right when it comes to ensuring both players are fully satisfied with a trade before it is finalized, but in the case of games like WKC, this does nothing to control the game breaking concept of gifting friends god-like weapons at low levels (though the already in place level requirements would certainly help in this area).

My solution? Well… I don’t plan on pleasing the Monster Hunters out there, but I was thinking the game could at least allow for the trading of similarly rare items. Suppose a rarity number were assigned to all items (hey hey, Monster Hunter fans- does this sound familiar?), what if the game allowed for items of the same rarity number to at least be fairly exchanged- not outright given! This way, if you happened across a rare and powerful bow (but lamented your personal affinity for axes) and your friend came across the divine unstoppable axe (but tragically uses naught but bows), the two of you would be able to make a mutually beneficial trade. This of course, does nothing about the item duplication glitches that people manage to exploit- but I’m sure programmers could implement some sort of serial number system to spot and ban offenders or even prevent the act altogether. My permanent ban from the original PSO proves if nothing else, it’s possible to spot a duplicated item.

Delightful Customization!
Here is an area where WKC really excels. Seeing your custom avatar, facial expressions, hairstyle and all, interacting with the main story characters from a third person perspective is a novel experience that sharply contrasts the average western RPG customization experience. As previously mentioned, the Georama is excellent as well. The ability to create a hometown, complete with recruitable townsfolk adds a lot to the RPG experience. The personal home page- faintly reminiscent of popular social networking websites, is also a surprising delight. Given the current system, it’s clear the game wants you to be able to play online with buddies. This is a stark contrast to games like Demon’s Souls (or anything on the Wii) that brutally punish you for trying to play with friends. If you want to enjoy an online multiplayer experience, you do so on their terms and you deal with it! WKC on the other hand, says “Go- meet people your level, visit their villages, tell your PSN friends to get over here and join you, play online with us and we will have a jolly good time!”

The weapon/armor crafting system works nicely as well- the options to disassemble or to merge are always welcomed ones. In future titles, I would simply like to see more of the same, perhaps adding sockets and gems into the mix. My biggest complaint about the game’s customization is the tragic lack of variety. Many MMORPGs fall into this trap as well because, at any given level, there is pretty much one set of armor you must wear, and ultimately, all customization is thrown out the window when everyone is dressed the same! After multiple plays through, it is also possible to have every character possess every skill and once again, customization is dropped as players become uniform. Nearly every Final Fantasy game falls into this pitfall and I fondly remember that by level 99, my “mages” were dealing 9,999 points of damage in melee combat. The only solution I can imagine to such a pitfall is a well maintained level cap coupled with precious few talent points – but with the option to redistribute those talent points if necessary (A la Borderlands or World of Warcraft). It would be nice to experience a WKC where you truly are specialized, and forming a balanced party becomes more crucial.

That’s All I Got for Now

Despite my gripes, I really do like this game. I hope Level-5 is out there listening to the voices of the people on the message boards and reading articles like this. I’m not quite sure why I even bothered to write this myself; I mean, who am I to criticize the divine wisdom of developers? I’m nothing but a 20 year fan of RPGs with a lot of time on my hands and an outlet to express my thoughts. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some WKC Guild Rank grinding to enjoy. Keep a look out for my in-depth review of the game.

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