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Game Review

I typed Leonard into Google and the first result I found was for Leonard Valve Company. Leonard Cohen came up, as did Leonard Buildings and Truck Accessories. What didn't turn up was absolutely anything to do with white knights.

Heroes on horses are rarely named Leonard, it seems. And maybe they've never been in the video game world. Until the arrival of White Knight Chronicles (International Edition).

Distilled to its essence, White Knight's Leonard-laced plot can be reduced to a six-word formula: Damsel. Distress. Knight in shining armor.

On the eve of her 18th birthday, a young princess named Cisna is kidnapped in a Trojan Horse-style attack on the kingdom of Balandor. (Lesson? Never trust strange circuses that show up uninvited). Only young Leonard, an apprentice to a winemaker, has a shot at saving her. And when the pair flees to a dungeon beneath her castle and discovers a magical suit of dazzlingly white armor—which Cisna somehow has the power to activate—it looks as if he just might pull the rescue off.

He doesn't. And Princess Cisna gets carted off by baddies known as the Magi.

The Byzantine plot that unfolds, it turns out, has as much to do with the past as the present. As Leonard pursues Cisna, the secrets of a millennia-old prophecy surface. Cisna is more than just a pilfered princess. She's the reincarnation of an empress whose magical abilities empowered five fantastical suits of armor—awesome weapons that decided an epic struggle between two kingdoms a thousand years before.

The empress isn't the only reincarnated blast from the past. Her ancient nemesis is apparently back, too. And the race is on to see who can find the remaining armor first.

Charge! Or Not
Your first task in White Knight is character creation. Male or female, bald or hairy, big nose or little nose—every aspect of your avatar's physical appearance is customizable. Unlike most RPGs, however, said avatar is of virtually no consequence. Everyone else in the game talks—except you, soldiering silently through the action as Leonard and his cronies get all the good lines.

That's your first clue that White Knight is a bit half-baked. Despite coming from the fabled Japanese RPG developer Level-5, this fantasy adventure's game-playing experience leaves a lot to be desired. Advancing the narrative revolves around the tried and true idea of talking to townspeople to gather necessary information. But the execution of this key storytelling task is numbingly rote, with little effort devoted to heightening the game's sense of mystery, intrigue or anticipation.

Disappointment lurks in the game's combat sequences, too. The mechanics are clunky and counterintuitive, so much so that at first I tried to avoid enemies—a tactic that failed. Proximity to various monsters automatically initiates hostilities. And while they can immediately attack, you have to wait for a circular power meter to charge up. The result? For me, frustration and tedium.

You can eventually unlock the ability to string together magic- and weapon-based combo assaults, as well as earn the right to pilot the titular White Knight into action. Those things amp up adrenaline levels. But as role-playing combat systems go, White Knight still fails to fully engage.

Heroism, Interrupted
The clashes are blood-free. (Something I was hoping for.) But cutscenes include some pretty violent imagery. (Something I wasn't.) There's a cinematic flashback, for example, to Princess Cisna witnessing her mother being mortally run through with a sword.

Characters occasionally coarsen their chatter with such vulgarities as "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑tard," "a‑‑" and "p‑‑‑." And I saw a couple of people who had nearly drowned themselves in liquor—to the point of passing out.

The source of the game's magic is never really explained. It's just a given. As is the belief that reincarnation is real and polytheism is proper. Characters frequently say such things as, "My gods, what have you done?" or "Gods, it's so hot!"

However you swing your sword at it, then, White Knight Chronicles is a letdown. If this game were in a jousting match with a dozen other current RPGs, it would fall off its horse in the first round. As 1up.com reviewer Dustin Quillen summarized, "When I'm in the market for an RPG, it's for a select few reasons: I'm looking for an epic story, rad loot, combat that stimulates the tactical chunks of my brain, and beautiful environments. White Knight Chronicles does none of these things well."

Sorry, Leonard. Your first big shot at the hero thing falls flat—and then gets trampled.

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