TOKYO--One of the busiest booths here at TGS '07 is Level 5's, a sprawling affair with a mighty queue outside of it. Luckily, one of the most anticipated games from Level 5 is on show at Sony's booth and is a bit easier to access: their PS3 RPG that was previously known through translation as White Knight Story but has now apparently gotten a more official English title: White Knight Chronicles.
Our first look at the game in almost a year also wound up being our first hands-on experience with the title, as it was fully playable on the show floor. As you may expect with an RPG that was exclusively in Japanese, it was a bit difficult to understand what was going on, but with a little struggling we managed to play around for a bit. We also later managed to get a guided tour of the demo from the Level 5 producers, and have thus managed to expand this preview a bit, so read on for new information.
Only one quest was playable on the show floor from what we could tell. Roughly titled "Dangerous Return Home", it involves you guiding a party of three characters as they attempt to escort a cart full of wine back to their village. Before you play, you have to select a character from a list of eight. In the final game, you'll be able to create your own character, but for the purposes of the TGS demo, you have to select from these premade characters.
Interestingly enough, this isn't the main character of the game; instead, the character you create is a friend of the main protagonist, a young man named Leonard. Leonard is who you'll control during the demo, and the story seems to revolve around his adventure. We got a rough outline of the plot of the game: apparently, Leonard is a resident of a rural area of a large kingdom that falls under attack from external enemies. After somehow managing to attend a royal ball, he witnesses a particularly brutal attack that sends the ball into disarray, and takes it upon himself to rescue the princess after she's kidnapped.
Along the way, he meets the titular White Knight and manages to bond with it, which allows him to transform into a huge, 40-foot-tall knight. In most battles, this apparently isn't necessary, but when you encounter particularly brutal and huge enemies, you'll have to morph upwards and use the White Knight to defeat bosses.
Anyway, after selecting a character, you're set loose in the world and can begin moving around. The first frame of reference here is that the game moves a bit like Final Fantasy XII; the camera is set low to the ground, and you can view all of the characters in your party as they travel around. The game looks very nice at the moment, with some lovely pastoral environments. It's still fairly early in development, so we can expect it to look even better by the time it actually arrives.
As you move around the environment, you'll spot a small radar screen in the corner of your view that will let you see any objects of interest in the game world. For the purposes of the short demo that we played, these mostly took the form of small doll-like creatures that populated the fields around the dirt road on which we were traveling. They didn't interact with us when we walked up to them, but as with neutral creatures in FF XII, you can select to attack them by tapping the O button. This will automatically enter you into combat. However, if you choose to leave them alone, they won't attack you; if you travel along the road, though, you will eventually encounter armored bandits that will attempt to steal the cart from you.
Combat in White Knight Story, again like FF XII, takes place on the same map as the one that you walk around in; there's no loading screen or separate battle sequences. One thing to keep in mind is that you won't want to just wade into battle and start slashing away; you'll want to set up your combos before engaging in combos. This can be done in the pause menu; each character has a selection of six function slots that they can fill with different actions. It seemed relatively easy to implement a lengthy combo (at least for the developers) that incorporated, for instance, a few simple sword slashes, an upwards slash that knocked the opponent into the air, a few airborne sword strikes, and then a fireball spell that lit the enemy alight as he fell to the ground. We're not sure yet how these attacks are balanced; we're guessing that some kind of mana is used to prevent you from repeatedly hit your foes with huge powerful combos.
In the demo here, only Leonard is playable; the other two characters, including the one you select at the beginning of the demo, are controlled by the AI. In the final game, all of the characters will be usable, but you'll only be able to select one of them in the demo, and it's Leonard by default. Level 5 isn't too sure how the AI of the unused characters will be set in the final game; they said that their combo systems will determine how they act in combat, but they may also have other AI settings for the purposes of using items and healing other characters when needed.
At the end of the demo, Leonard and his friends encounter a huge, fearsome troll, standing perhaps 50 feet tall. The game will have dozens of these huge enemies, if the promo trailer is any indication, and taking them down will require Leonard to transform into the White Knight. The combat functionality of the White Knight hasn't been implemented yet, so he only has a basic attack; we're told that you will be able to create custom combos for him in the final game. It's not clear if other characters will also be able to super-size themselves, but for this boss fight, the smaller characters fought alongside Leonard as he and the troll went head to head. Small characters are unable to hurt huge bosses, but they can cast spells, and seemed to team up to heal Leonard during the fight. Eventually he managed to land a killing blow, sending the troll toppling to the ground, after which he returned to his human form and returned to the cart.
Although the game seems to still be early in development, the arrival of a Level 5 RPG on the Playstation 3 will obviously be a big boon to the systems fortunes, especially in the RPG-happy land of Japan. It seems as though Level 5 is concentrating on getting the core gameplay down before working on the English translation of the game, but from what we've seen, there's a lot to look forward to in White Knight Chronicles. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more information on the game as it becomes available.