The PSP is not a console starved for role playing games. Sony's aging handheld has a huge library to choose from, mainly Japanese and mainly of very high quality. White Knight Chronicles: Origins is yet one more to add to the already crowded list. Timed to coincide with the release of its big brother, White Knight Chronicles 2 on the PS3, Origins brings the same cooperative multiplayer and real-time combat that the series is known for, but is it enough to distinguish the title amongst its peers or will it get lost in a sea of similar games?
Set 10,000 years before the original game in a time known as the Dogma Wars. The story concerns your custom hero escaping and falling in with a band of mercenaries known as the mobile corps after an attack on his or her home city. The corps are racing in a giant horsedrawn train to the land of Athwani, the last hope to stop the evil Yshrenian forces from taking over the world with an army of gigantic warrior knights. The story throughout the game is actually pretty lackluster and thin despite a relatively interesting if generic premise. Furthermore the characters are identikit creations seen hundreds of times before in other games and apart from your own character, who remains largely mute, it is hard to care at all about the plot. The story, what there is of it, exists only because RPGs are supposed to have them and is little more than window dressing for what Origins chooses to focus its energies on, namely questing.
In fact questing (the part of RPGs where players take on tasks aside from the main story to earn rewards) makes up the entirety of White Knight Chronicles: Origins. The entire game is negotiated via quests selected from inside the giant train that acts as a hub, and once chosen you are instantly transported to the theatre of battle. So no map, no world to explore, no towns to visit or new races to meet. The quest's themselves aren't particularly imaginative and are mostly composed of tasks such as 'find 3 of these' or 'kill ten of those' and take place in randomly put together dungeons. Exploring these environments is pretty dull as each consists of a series of bland interconnecting rooms which may or may not contain baddies and treasure. That's about it. Cripplingly slow load times add to this to make the experience even more of a slog, it really does bring new meaning to what RPG fans refer to as a 'dungeon crawl'. Considering that the entire structure of the game is built on these quests, it's a real blow that they take place in environments that are so woefully dull and repetitive.
Thankfully the combat system is a lot more entertaining. Enemies (consisting of the usual suspects of demons and monsters recognizable by anyone who's ever played a final fantasy game) are targeted in real time, then attacks are selected and executed, dealing damage. Special moves can be learnt which cost action points to perform but reward with higher damage and cooler animations than basic attacks. It's a simple but effective system, uncluttered and easy to understand. Missions are undertaken alone with three computer (or if online, human) controlled allies. These AI pals earn experience along with your character and develop new abilities as you favor them in battle. They each also have their own fighting styles that can be selected at the start of a quest. These styles (broadly attack, defence, magic etc) determine how the party, upon filling up an 'optimus bar', can morph into power ranger style super powered space knights (or something) dealing more damage with powerful attacks.
Each quest is a veritable loot fest with enemies spilling out goodies with generous abandon upon their death. Items can be used to upgrade stats and skills or forge weapons into deadlier forms. Item and inventory management takes place on the train/hub (which conveniently also acts as foundry, shop, magic academy and job centre) and is as simple and intuitive as the combat without being too dense. There are a real wealth of stats available to examine and tinker with and a good variety of items and equipment to get lost in. It's a stat fan's dream but never feels too complex to handle or understand thanks to an easy to navigate interface and the fact that anyone who has played any RPG before will feel right at home.
White Knight Chronicles: Origins is not a deep game however, in stripping back all the story telling and exploration, Sony have created an RPG that is simply about grinding, grinding away through quests, leveling up, winning loot, buying bigger swords and so on. Although this can be fun, without decent storytelling, compelling characters, interesting environments or lively worlds, it all becomes rather meaningless and repetitive. Its not a bad game, it's just that when there are so many others on the PSP that do it better, it's hard to recommend to anybody but the most diehard RPG fans.
5 out of 10