Sony and Quantic Dream's ambitious PS3 exclusive Heavy Rain has topped the UK All-Formats chart in its first week on sale.
In recent years the distinctions that once separated videogame genres have blurred and faded. Is Mass Effect 2 an RPG or a third-person shooter? Is Heavy Rain a point-and-click adventure or a QTE thriller? Puzzle Quest is as much a Tolkien-cliché RPG as it is a match-three puzzler, while Peggle is Pachinko meets NBA Jam meets LSD rainbow unicorns. Blockbuster series such as BioShock and Uncharted are slippery in the hands of genre, borrowing as they do elements and ideas from a broad lineage, while WarioWare and Retro Game Challenge boil down gaming's first principles into a hotchpotch stew that defies easy classification. Systems ooze into systems, enriching one another, and so the old videogame terminology becomes obsolete through promiscuous evolution.
Nevertheless, this diversification works best through osmosis, not Frankenstein-style stitching. In the case of White Knight Chronicles, the bolting together of a traditional single-payer JRPG with an MMO-lite multiplayer component is somewhat awkward. The first 20 minutes of the experience are spent designing an avatar who takes at most a secondary role in the main bulk of the adventure, only slipping into the protagonist's shoes when taken online to engage in multiplayer side-questing.
Of course, RPGs have always expected their players to assume a transient role controlling a group of characters, but the disconnect between the character you create as your likeness for White Knight Chronicles and the character who drives the narrative forward is a little too jarring for comfort. It's best approached as a game of two halves then, despite the fact that your character's weapons, skills and competence carry back and forth between the two modes, and achievements reached in one area are relevant to the other.
Coming back to White Knight Chronicles' world after nearly a year to see what's changed for the international version has been altogether very confusing. I'd forgotten that the game makes you bumble through about two hours of introductory nonsense before letting you play with the excellent, creative combo system and rockin' giant robot transformations that I fondly remember, and lost 20 minutes hunting around in menus for all the missing options like a halfwit.
Sony America has announced that White Knight Chronicles: International Edition will be released for PlayStation 3 in the US on 2nd February 2010.
Writing on the official US blog, associate product manager Cristian Cardona said that a European release date would hopefully be announced "in the coming weeks".
UK retailers Amazon and Play both list the PS3-exclusive RPG for 19th February, for what it's worth. We've asked Sony UK if there's any word in the meantime.
Developer Level-5 has announced a sequel to White Knight Chronicles, subtitled Awakening of Light and Darkness.
Level-5 was talking up White Knight Chronicles for European and American release today at the Tokyo Game Show, showing new features and demonstrating how far the game's online features have come since the original Japanese release at the end of last year - just as well, as we felt the game's multiplayer needed some work when we reviewed it.
Like East 17 at Christmas.
Having spent far too much of my time ploughing through self-consciously epic Japanese games lately, I can't tell you how much of a relief it is to come across one that doesn't take itself too seriously. Despite being marketed as The Ultimate Next-Gen RPG in Japan, plastered all over billboards and convenience stores for months leading up to release, White Knight Chronicles turns out to be unexpectedly lighthearted. It's a game with birds that can inexplicably project holographs from their eyes, drunken midget furries lying around on farms, airships, princesses and ridiculous giant-robot transformation sequences, replete with awesomely wailing J-Rock guitars. Thank f*** for a game with a sense of humour in place of misplaced pomposity.
White Knight Chronicles does have rather a lot riding on it, though. It's been disappointment after disappointment with JRPGs lately in the face of ever-increasing strength from their Western competitors. It's an ambitious game, too, attempting to lure Japanese players online by forging a battle and gameplay system that works simultaneously as a single-player, story-based RPG and as an online co-operative one. And despite the numerous inevitable difficulties with such a far-reaching mission statement, Level-5 has done a fine job.
The game stars a band of lively characters headed up by Lenard - he of the henshin-a-go-go transformation capabilities - trying to save a princess from mysterious assailants in a climate of international unrest. The world is a mix of medieval swords-and-sorcery and occasional random futurism; the titular White Knight is supposedly an ancient warrior spirit, but he looks far more like a massive shiny white robot. Lenard can transform into him in battle at any time once you've saved up enough action points, but usually it's best to save it for the boss fights, which are nearly always preceded by (unintentionally?) hilarious action cut-scenes that culminate in at least one transformation sequence. Lenard's not the only one with that trick up his sleeve, see - enemies have a habit of unexpectedly transforming as well.
At first glance, White Knight Chronicles doesn't appear to be pushing the JRPG envelope. It starts with a captured princess and a young boy charged with retrieving her, it's set in a medieval fantasy world, it features characters who can transform in battle to enhance their abilities. But what Level-5 is attempting is actually something new for the genre. In a country where popular online console games are still a relative rarity, White Knight Chronicles is attempting to seduce Japanese gamers into playing an online RPG by giving them everything they're used to from single-player ones.
White Knight Story will let four friends join together online and tackle quests.
PS3 exclusive White Knight Chronicles will be released in Japan on December 25th, reports Kotaku.
Details on the Level 5-developed RPG remain scant, but the 'White Knight' of the story is a man named Lenard, and reports suggest it will be a true epic - with playtime somewhere in the region of 50 to 60 hours.
An interview in Famitsu with Level 5's Akihiro Hino claimed, "This is the first, big RPG that the PS3 has been waiting for." Fighting talk.
Sony has confirmed White Knight Story will be released this financial year - so before April 2009, in other words.