White Knight Chronicles: Origins

If the PlayStation 3 releases of the White Knight Chronicles series haven't quenched your thirst for its universe - with their hundreds of hours of gameplay - then the PSP has got your back in this prequel to the events of the original.

If you're not a fan of the franchise or you just plain don't relish dungeon crawlers, White Knight Chronicles: Origins is a wholly skippable affair.

Bring me to life

After a brief fracas in a town embroiled in conflict, your freshly created avatar awakens aboard a train, the roaming HQ of a mercenary group called the Mobile Corps.

You're rapidly introduced to the major players, and are soon taught the game's battle systems and relatively complex RPG meta-elements.

From the get-go, you'll need to concentrate on exactly what types of armour, accessories, and weapons you take into battle, while simultaneously building relationships with NPCs to gain favour and influence amongst them.

After a couple of hours, though, you begin to realise that few of the extraneous elements detailed in this long-winded intro have a significant effect on the flow of play and the core experience of clearing room after room of enemies.

Trapped!

To do so, you'll wander from small dungeon area to small dungeon area - with only the visual motifs of the environments differing between stages – utilising the combat system seen in the PS3 White Knight Chronicles outings.

This system is a hybrid of the Active Time Battles of a traditional Final Fantasy (requiring players to select actions via an on-screen menu) with the method of deliberate enemy engagement seen in a Monster Hunter clone.

Confining the action to small spaces makes White Knight Chronicles: Origins seem claustrophobic in comparison to earlier titles, with much of the series's grandeur lost in translation and its signature encounters with epically sized bosses ludicrous in this context.

The pace of battle is defiantly dynamic, mind, and it's still a treat to behold your team of up to four members launching assaults on the creatures that roam the lands.

Players have access to a variety of medieval weaponry, magical spells, and stat-buffing potions during these scrapes, but when things get dicey an Optimus Transformation can be pulled from the arsenal to even the score.

With a near Power Rangers level of camp to its animated theatrics, this ability can only be activated when all of your party are active and after a meter has been filled through combat.

Wandering around the battlefield, you'll also find treasure chests and specific environmental furniture to mine for materials and currency. If nothing else, this serves to break up the combat gameplay.

By the numbers

Once the required number of items / monsters / areas have been found / slain / explored, you are judged on your mission performance and permitted to rifle through the trinkets you've amassed.

There is almost always a veritable sackful, the vast majority of which you'll sell to the train's shop, combine with items you already have to improve them, or fashion them into entirely new paraphernalia.

The sheer volume of nick-nacks you accrue, however, undermines their value, and the automated crafting system – a godsend to players uninterested in item management – also renders any knowledge of materials and products unnecessary. If you're here for the loot, then there's plenty of it, but it's all meaningless.

The other major non-combat functions are split into bolstering your train and engaging with those that ride inside it. The number of carriages and facilities on-board can be increased by the procession's engineer: you can buy a Battle Car to rain down ranged strikes during combat, a Canteen to buy gifts for NPCs, extra space to recruit more members, and a Scout Car to have the team forage for supplies while you're away on missions.

This adds an element of base building and encouraged me to get quite attached to the surroundings of my merry band of mercenaries.

As for establishing relations with your fellow train travellers, you can give purchased or created gifts to other members, or take on their own secondary missions, with the benefit of acquiring new skills to be used in battle.

This net gain, however, is the only real concern you'll have, as the already paper-thin plot is no more boosted by the dribblings of these characters as the Pacific Ocean is made deeper by a droplet of rain.

The big payoff

White Knight Chronicles: Origins is neither particularly pretty, nor inventive with its enemy or world design – all being variants on the classic JRPG tropes - yet its biggest crime is its framerate.

Rendering four player models smoothly, in addition to a bunch of enemies, generally proves beyond the PSP's capabilities, and while the drop in smoothness is never dramatic, the consistently sub-thirty FPS makes the already stiff animations that little more robotic.

An orchestral soundtrack nestled on a bed of all-out rock, including an especially spurring track to accompany the Optimus Transformations, grants the battlefield action, which can otherwise feel dull, a little more energy.

A lack of voice acting of any kind is a disappointment but understandable, yet the script most definitely isn't nuanced enough to require such frivolities.

For fans of the series, this prologue story will probably fascinate and enrich the already massive universe. For new players though, White Knight Chronicles: Origins is an adequate but narratively rote title that struggles to provide much more than a solid on-the-go RPG experience.

This is an acceptable approximation of the home console versions, but the big and bright ideas fpresent in those editions feel forcibly squashed to fit the analogue buttons of the PSP.

White Knight Chronicles: Origins

Cross a loot-focused dungeon crawler with Monster Hunter and what do you get? White Knight Chronicles: Origins, a passable but artistically beige RPG for your Sony portable
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