White Knight Chronicles has changed a lot since we played it at Tokyo Game Show last year. Our conclusion at the time was that the game would be a gorgeous JRPG with an intriguing, customizable battle system; an exciting prospect for RPG-starved PS3 owners to be sure. However, after today's White Knight Chronicles presentation, we're sure the game has the potential to be much more than that.
A Level-5 employee introduced us to the game's story: It follows a boy and his search for a kidnapped princess slash love interest after discovering a conveniently hidden set of magic armor ... a tad clichéd (even by Japanese standards). In order to demonstrate the game's sense of enormity and scale we were shown a few concept pieces for the game. While rolling plains and towering castles are par for the course when it comes to JRPGs, it's been a while since we've seen an entire town straddled atop an enormous creature.
We covered the battle system quite extensively at TGS last year. We took the opportunity to space out a little while the developers explained how to link character abilities together into combos, using the palette menu and how Leonard can transform into the eponymous White Knight. Not that we were bored -- the battle system was the only thing that really set White Knight Chronicles apart. Until it was revealed that the game would have a four-player online mode, that is.
When online play was announced we assumed it would be a tacked-on extra, a back-of-the-box value add, but the rest of today's presentation centered around this aspect of the game. Even though White Knight Chronicles' Japanese release date is December 25th 2008 – only two and a half months from now – Level-5 wasn't keen on sharing many details of the online mode. Instead, we were given an overview of the feature, which was enough to illustrate that this is more than just an "extra."
16-player in-game lobbies will allow you to team up with up to three other White Knight Chronicles players and participate in instanced quests. Level-5 would not say exactly what form these would take, but they did show a cooperative, arena-style battle against a large monster. Each player's character will look unique, thanks to a deep "Avatar" character customization editor, used in the later parts of the single-player game in order to generate some of Leonard's party members.
Leveling up gives you points with which to buy more skills from a wide variety of different types, allowing you to further customize your character with an individual skill set. These skills – along with your money, items and experience level – will all transfer from the offline game to the online mode. Thanks to an in-game invitation system, you can be called upon at any time, even while in single player. Accepting the invitation saves your data and brings you straight into the online party.
From there you can emote and text chat to your heart's content. You can also check out your party's skills and suggest combo improvements. Is it your buddy's birthday? Head on over to the store and let them pick out a new weapon. Once all that's done and you've assembled an elite team of monster hunters, you can head into the adventure (whatever form they may take). Level-5 were also sure to mention that "further new elements that connect the story and MO elements are to be introduced." (Well, we'd hope so!)
Level-5 seemed content to have only scratched the surface of White Knight Chronicles' online mode, revealing the outline of a feature that, if executed properly, could almost be an entire game in its own right. (Think bundling MGO with Metal Gear Solid 4 ... except without the whole Konami ID debacle.)
A post-presentation Q&A session revealed little more: Level-5 was unable to confirm whether the game would be region locked and was unable to talk about the number, or type, of online modes. All that could be said was that there would be a "huge number" of online modes/levels (oh, is that all?). Sadly, Level-5 has also not yet decided whether to include voice chat in the game. Level-5, here's a hint: are you serious? Do it.
Considering the nation's apparent disinterest in online play, it's interesting that a Japanese developer is one of the first to make such a progressive move in the RPG genre, fusing a single-player RPG with MMO-esque elements. From the sounds of it, this could prolong White Knight Chronicle's life in the same way that multiplayer has prolonged Call Of Duty 4's or Halo 3's, while bringing an increasingly stale genre kicking and screaming into the brave new world of multiplayer gaming. Now make with the details, Level 5. We'll be waiting.