Konami is planning to release an online-enabled PlayStation 2 update of Winning Eleven 8 in Japan next March according to reports in the region.
Winning Eleven 8: Live-ware Evolution is due out on 3rd March and will allow for real-time online play against other Japanese gamers, complete with a ranking system, chat facility and friends list management - all very much reminiscent of the Xbox Live features that made it into Pro Evolution Soccer 4 in Europe.
What's more, in keeping with Konami's habit of releasing Japan/Asia-only "International" editions of Winning Eleven in the first few months of the year, WE8: Live-ware Evolution will include six language options (presumably including English) as well as the expected stats update and the other experimental gameplay tweaks Konami's team usually makes between versions.
Anybody hoping to import the game and play it on a Japanese or chipped console however will be disappointed to learn that the online functionality will require a subscription fee. As the game will use Sony's Feega payment system, that kind of rules out foreigners joining in.
The updated stats and tweaked gameplay will be enough to draw in the usual import-hungry crowd regardless, but on the whole, while it is encouraging to see that Konami is serious about establishing PES/WE as a force in online gaming, to see an online-enabled PS2 version emerge within six months of its European counterpart is a little jarring - particularly for PS2 owners loyal to the series who have already been forced to stand by and watch as others enjoyed online-enabled versions on PC and Xbox.
On the bright side, hopefully lessons learned from the Xbox Live implementation and this Japanese experiment with PS2 Online will mean that, by the time Pro Evolution Soccer 5 inevitably rolls around next October, European footy fans will be able to look forward to the developer's most accomplished offering yet.
Naturally we'll bring you our thoughts on Winning Eleven 8: Live-ware Evolution as soon as humanly possible. So, er, probably around March 4th...