White Knight Chronicles is a game caught between genres. It frames many classic Japanese RPG tropes – the unexpectedly powerful boy hero, the kidnapped princess, the shadowy and insidious magical organization – in an equally familiar single-player gameplay structure. At the same time, the game offers a deep multiplayer component, delivering MMO-style combat and quests for players to tackle with up to three friends. The gameplay that emerges isn’t very compelling, but there is a large world, a deep skill system, and a whole lot of combat for anyone with the patience to make it through.

The most unusual aspect of the single-player game is your avatar. The character customizer has more flexibility than any JRPG I can think of, and it’s easy to get excited about the potential of taking your new creation on the upcoming adventure. Don’t be fooled. This guy or gal you’ve just created is about to embark as the biggest tagalong in the history of RPGs. The avatar is present during story events, and tangentially a member of the party, but his or her only purpose is to serve as your multiplayer face if you choose to hook up with friends.

The actual main character is a boy named Leonard. You learn early on that he’s got a special ability to bond with and transform into a hulking white knight with a giant sword. Wrecking baddies as an armored titan makes for the most enthralling moments in the game. Unfortunately, this mechanic also shatters any sense of good balance that the game might have had. Normal fights are too easy thanks to the presence of the White Knight, and boss fights are nearly impossible without him or one of his equally huge buddies.

The game plays out across enormous play fields with numerous branching paths. Missions often involve a lot of backtracking and long periods of wandering, slowing the pace of the story. The third-person combat tries to look and feel a lot like an MMO, with its hotbar of skills and recharging attacks, but it makes for a cluttered HUD. While you only control one character at a time, fellow party members can be tasked with basic tactical commands.

The upgrade and skill system is deserving of praise, if only because it offers a high degree of customization to every character in the party. You choose who will be your mage, your spearman, or your swordswoman, and then build their abilities accordingly. Sadly, implementing and setting these abilities is a pain – every time you add a new skill or combo, you must reshuffle your hotbar selections.

As a lone player, you’ll take these highly customized heroes through an achingly generic storyline peppered with some nice cinematics and a few very cool environments, such as the giant volcanic caldera that contains a city on the back of a hulking monster. These moments of originality are at odds with the shallow interpersonal interactions and one-dimensional plot reveals that characterize the rest of the game.

The standout feature for White Knight Chronicles is its multiplayer component. At any point in the game, you can take a break from the princess-saving adventure to tackle a few guild side missions with up to three friends. Finally bringing your avatar to the fore, you’ll move through the same locales as the single-player game, but with special tasks and monsters to fight along the way. There’s a ton of these missions to explore, adding many hours to an already lengthy game.

White Knight Chronicles was a disappointment for me, especially coming from a quality developer like Level-5. Some of the studio’s trademark customization helps to give the game some legs, as does its hefty multiplayer component. However, for interesting combat, deep characters, and an engaging fantasy, I’d look elsewhere.