Final Fantasy’s sequels usually rewrite the world, characters, and gameplay from scratch. That makes White Knight Chronicles II, which picks up precisely where the last game left off, a role-playing rarity. It’s a rare bird in other ways: The entire first game is generously included on the second game’s disc. Players who finished the first adventure will find much of their progress intact when they start the continuation. And the game’s online community—populated by friendly, devoted, surprisingly literate fans—is still present and active, even though White Knight Chronicles II has a new publisher.
That said, the game isn’t easy to slip into: It drowns the uninitiated in a sea of menus and commands. And since the second game starts players at level 35, newcomers will wind up with a ton of skill points and no clue how to distribute them. The game begs for a tome’s worth of instructions, but the included manual is woefully thin, making a game guide feel almost mandatory.
Mechanically, Chronicles II feels similar to Final Fantasy XII, where the third-person action unfolded in real time and players queued up attacks. The combat here is a bit peppier than in the first game, but not so fast that it’s difficult to make strategic decisions.
The rewards for engaging, learning, and conquering Chronicles II are many, especially for those who enjoy falling into the sticky trap of co-operative online roleplaying games, where loot is hard-earned with time and skill. The game’s environments are lovely and complex. Huge cities stretch into the sky, dwarfing players in grandeur. And the game’s wilds are an intricate maze crammed with monsters, treasure, and breathtaking vistas.
Sadly, the plot and characters aren’t so artful. White Knight Chronicles II leans on sneering villains and silly lore like a crutch, when it’s obvious that its attentive audience could digest something much more refined. Online, where players team up for dungeon runs and build their own villages, the shaky story becomes almost moot. White Knight Chronicles II starts its life as a solitary role-playing yarn, but with proper attention, the game can evolve into a social beast driven by the mercenary urge of co-operation for the mutual benefit of acquisition and statistical dominance. That’s as good a reason as any to make new friends.