White-Knight-Chronicles--Origins-PSP-Review White Knight Chronicles: Origins PSP Review

   11/07/2011 at 20:14       Jon Diamond       2 COMMENTS. - Score 2/5
 - White Knight Chronicles: Origins, PSP, RPG, Monster Hunter, Japanese Role Playing Game

Japanese RPGs haven’t been received particularly well during this generation of consoles with efforts on the PS3 and 360 often falling flat. Even the once all-conquering Final Fantasy franchise failed to ignite the world as it once did.  The PSP on the other hand, has seen something of a renaissance for the genre with its plentiful releases and ports of sublime games.  White Knight ChroniclesL Origins, however, doesn’t quite fit the bill and will unfortunately leave you pretty cold within only the first few hours of the game.

It starts off promisingly, I’ll admit that much.  But while classic Japanese games have featured well-defined lead characters, in recent years western influences have pushed the genre more towards allowing you to create your own avatar.  I actually love creating my own character, my own little self that explores the game’s universe and gets into heaps of trouble along the way.  And while from the outset there are plenty of options to choose from, with around 20 faces for both male and female characters, it’s unfortunate that they generally seem to look a bit like a slapped-arse, more often than not looking something out of place with the rest of the character.  It’s jarring to see a masculine-looking face on a character wearing what looks like a skirt.  There are also numerous voices to select from, but again they don’t really mesh with the rest of the game’s visuals, which when combined with the fact that no-one seems to utter a single word of in-game dialogue seems like a missed opportunity. Outside of the usual ‘oooos’ and ‘oooohs’ when swinging sharpened metal objects at the local wild life, there isn’t much going on vocally.

Origins seems to have two stories running in parallel from the outset.  The main sub-text addresses war, as a lot of games seem to do these days, as is the current zeitgeist, while the sub story focuses on the main characters and their travails in the game universe.  The beginning of the game sees you squaring up against the titular White Knight and somehow surviving the ordeal before being rescued by mercenaries who ask you to join their party.  You then somehow become second-in-command - I guess they’re not sticklers for protocol in mercenary land - and lead the team out on the following combat missions.  It’s a bizarre, silly affair and that’s what the player's experience tends to be like throughout in terms of narrative.  Between chapters you’re treated to the world story in chunks, little of which seems to affect the player too much, but it’s delivered in a dry and matter-of-fact manner, entirely at odds with the hi-jinks of the personal story and spends far too long trying to be deadly serious about war and death and stuff.  Falling mostly flat on its face.

A common complaint aimed at RPGs is that they take a while to get going. Origins’ gameplay bucks this trend by sprinting from the out-set.  There are robust tutorials in place so you don’t get lost, but in the first few hours, so much is thrown at you that it’s almost as if you drown under the sheer weight of information as each new mechanic turns up long before you’ve figured out what the last one does.  What helps though, is that each area seems a little shallow which helps counter this overwhelming information overload.  

Crafting weapons is a combination of having the right materials and  the right amount of cash and there is no need to experiment as recipes are automatic depending on how far you are in the game.  There is a simple list, you pick a weapon and if you have the stuff you get the goodies.  These materials are the same you use to upgrade weapons and you get them in plentiful supply through the game from bashing everything you see.

Upgrading on the other hand, is a fairly pointless affair a lot of the time.  You can add very minor stat adjustments to a set piece of equipment up to 10 times overall.  But most of the materials also simultaneously take away stats.  The best materials only add stats and do so in large numbers, but cost an awful lot.  It doesn’t help that you can get new kit with so frequently that it’s not really needed outside of the cult of min/maxers who will love adjusting the stats regardless.

Throughout the game you spend most of your time hopping around the mercenaries' base using what happens to be the greatest of all transport, our old favourite, the train.  Now this train seems to expand at an alarming rate.  At the start of the game you can buy upgrades for more cars almost immediately, but as the story progresses, so too does the length of the train.  Each car has a set purpose too, taking on the role of either shop, barracks or online portal.  You’ll spend most of your time at the front, though, where the missions are doled out.  You will get a very regimented set of 10 quests per chapter, with quests 1 and 10 being story quests that cannot be played online.  Quests 2-9 are randomly generated.  These will change over time, so if one is too hard you can skip it out and try the next one until eventually you get one more to your liking.  You can lock particular quests down if you want to, but outside of grinding for materials I can’t really recommend doing so.

The absolute biggest sin, however, is the loading times.  The game takes forever to do anything and you get loading screens thick and fast - well not fast - they actually are quite lengthy running off the UMD, and even the install option, which speeds things up a tad, still isn’t enough.  Every time you start a mission you get a fairly hefty load.  Each mission is made up of small areas on a grid.  You walk into the area, kill everything around and then go North, South, East or West and move to the next tiny area.  A mission can have sometimes 15 or more areas, and you have a load between each and every single one, meaning back-tracking and exploring is a horrid affair.  The layout of each mission is very obvious and stops being interesting almost the moment you start.  Mission variety isn’t much either and some are just a nonsense, with exploration missions ending the second you get to X amount of areas, even if you just walked into an area replete with enemies and loot.

The rest of the game is just as unremarkable sadly.  The graphics are very poor for starters.  The textures are muddy and composed of dark greens and browns while the character models are basic and equipment is neither good looking nor interesting, each being very bland and uninspiring.  For a game that so heavily features a giant talking frog that is a financier, it goes to great lengths to be visually nondescript.  The UI is also a giant pain that loves to just get in the way. The menus are bland and not too well realised either, with far too many buttons presses needed to get to the over-world map, which is probably any game's most useful tool.  One nice touch, however, is that hitting select at any time takes a screen shot.  A great idea in principle, but one that ultimately reminds you that it’d be better served in a game that at least has some visual appeal.  The one area that seems to break out of its depressing shell is the music.  It’s very strong and vibrant, crystal-clear on a good set of headphones and honestly, it’s the part that brings the imagination, letting you feel as if you are on a grand adventure.

Combat is the main focus of most war-themed games and Mercenaries like to kill things and that’s what you’ll be spending your time doing.  You have your basic attacks and you have your skills.  Basic attacks fill up your AP meter and you spend that on skills.  You’ll get access to lots of skills, even more if you partake in corps quests, which are basically companion quests that give skills as rewards.  Each skill is strong against a type of foe, so you need to learn as much as you can for your chosen weapon to be most effective.  When using skills the game will let you know if you’re on the right track by having the damage numbers pop up yellow instead of white.   When a foe is powering up an attack, skills will flash to allow you to counter, which is also another way of finding the right skill for the right job.   When you counter you stun the unfortunate scamp attacking you and everyone can pile in to kick them while they’re stunned for bonus loot.  Combat itself doesn’t feel too rewarding because of the way you are just hitting buttons on a menu and watching the outcome.  In a game where you have direct movement control it’s a little disconnecting to not be able to control the timing and position of your attacks as this is all handed over to the game.

The combat is very by-the-books, but as usual, Origins has something in its pocket that is massively at odds with the rest of the game.  When you have enough charge from slapping baddies, you’ll be able to transform into miniature knights.  Basically think of Power Rangers with a medieval twist and you’ll be on the right track.  When this is done your party is basically basically a power-house that goes around being lord death of murder town to anything that happens to get in the way.  Hysterically, along with this you get a massively camp J-rock track hanging around to really make sure you know how cool you must be and to just be the entire opposite of every other bit of music in the game.

Transforming is basically essential for bosses, but can only be done when the charge is full and all your party members are up and active.  Some missions lock this ability out so that you can only do it during the boss fight, which is simple enough, except when the boss is a creature that can inexplicably one shot anyone it feels like, even characters 5 levels higher than itself.  This happened infrequently, but is enough to scrub an entire mission as you can’t control the AI in anyway to keep them out of danger.  Normally the AI will just kill everything for you.   The game pretty much plays itself most of the time, needing you to just change areas and pick up loot.  But in a tight spot you they just run to their demise so you can’t transform and then you die.  That bit isn’t fun by the way.

The PSP gets a bit of a strange deal most of the time.  It’s the most important machine in its home country so it gets mammoth games like Monster Hunter in all its glory, but the rest of the world fails to really find a place for it, filling it with miniature variants of bigger console games. White Knight Chronicles: Origins feels that way.  The limited production values and rigid game design doesn’t show confidence, it feels very workman like or just disjointed.  The game loves to contradict itself thematically at every turn, being both po-faced serious and utterly stupid at the same time.  It struggles to really find its identity and the obvious and unashamed formulaic game flow will turn away anyone that isn’t impressed with the game in the first hour, which will be most as the game tries it’s hardest to suck any fun out of the proceedings as it can with basic and boring gameplay that tries to rely on steady, slow grind that never seems to want to change things up once you are used to it.  With competition like Persona 3 Portable around it’s almost impossible to want to pick this up over the often incredible competition.

User Comments:

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ilmaestro - on 13/07/2011 at 21:42 wrote:
Shame, but you kind of come to expect stuff like this when a series moves away from a AAA developer like Level 5 to one more used to doing ports/"upgrades" these days.

peej - on 03/01/2012 at 08:43 wrote:
I'm extremely impressed that you spelt Diarrhea correctly.

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