Interview: Level-5's Yoshiaki Kusada

Sony Computer Entertainment and Level-5 have been slow in bringing White Knight Chronicles out of Japan. We talked with Level-5 manager Yoshiaki Kusada about the lengthy delay of the international version, and if the developer is concerned about competing against Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIII as the PS3 JRPG of choice next spring.

Joystiq: White Knight Chronicles has been out in Japan for a very long time. Why has it taken so long to find release in America?

Kusada: When Level-5 launched the Dark Cloud series in the past in Japan, we tried to incorporate feedback from users to make updates before releasing it overseas. In terms of White Knight Chronicles, since it's an online game, we have received a lot of feedback from users. So, we wanted to improve the title more based on the feedback from the users before releasing it overseas. In fact, in the Japanese market, these improvements have been made available through patching. We are awfully sorry we have been keeping the US users for so long, but we wanted to make sure that all the updates and improvements of everything up to the so-called "Second Wave," which includes Georama, before delivering it to the US users. After the "Second Wave," we started the localization of the game for the international market. We are so sorry that it has taken so much time. For the time, we believe we are able to deliver a much better game for the US market. So, I would like to ask for a bit more patience.

Level-5 is known for making games that appeal to the Japanese audience. What aspects of White Knight Chronicles do you think will appeal to international audiences? What might not?

The title is quite unique because it's a combination of single player RPG in a kind of authentic fantasy setting, and online mode, or Network mode. It's also for PS3, which is a home game console. In this instance, it's quite unique, I believe. In order to make sure users can get into the online mode easily, we have included some ways of making it happen. Exclusively for international users, we decided to include voice chat and "live talk" functionality for overseas releases. One concern would be that the concept of the world, where the main character transforms into a giant knight, which might be quite unique or maybe some international users might find it a bit awkward.

Do you see Level-5 pursuing the Western market more aggressively, perhaps by making a game intended for English audiences first?

So far, almost all the titles developed by Level-5 were initially targeted at the Japanese market and then localized for the international market. In terms of the North American and European market, they have become very big and very attractive as well. If you ask about the possibility, it's not zero.

Level-5 was quite prolific during the PS2 era, with first-party efforts for Sony (Dark Cloud, Rogue Galaxy) and Dragon Quest VIII for Square Enix. However, Level-5 has only made one PS3 game so far. Was programming a challenge on the PS3? Will that platform see further support from Level-5?

I'm not a programmer myself, therefore I'm not quite familiar with the programming itself. However, I understand that programming or developing titles for PS3 is a lot more difficult than on PS2. Since White Knight Chronicles is Level-5's first title for PS3, there have been a lot of challenges and problems so far. But, we believe that this is kind of the stage for the PS3 era for Level-5, and we would like to endeavor to devote more titles for PS3 in the future.

Beyond White Knight Chronicles' online mode, one of the big selling points of the game is the promise of expansive downloadable content. Will we have to pay for this content? How long can we expect post-release support?
I'm afraid that we cannot give really specific answer to this question. In principal, most of the quests and downloadable contents will be free of charge. But, as to whether or not there will be some charged content, including quests and so forth, nothing has been decided yet, so therefore I cannot answer that question. In terms of the timeframe during which we would continue distributing content, that will be decided by each region in the future. So, I cannot answer that question either. Sorry.

Because of the lengthy delay of White Knight Chronicles, it will now come out near the release of another big PS3 RPG in the West: Final Fantasy XIII. Do you think this will affect the perception of White Knight Chronicles in any way?

Are the releases that close?

Yes, they will be. Right now, White Knight Chronicles has a "Spring 2010" release, and Final Fantasy XIII also has a "Spring 2010" date.

Both titles are RPGs, and both are Japanese titles. But, I believe that the direction of these two titles are totally different. For example, in White Knight Chronicles, one of our focuses is the online mode, which is totally different from FFXIII. So I believe we can target the users through different approaches and target different users or players.

After the end of our interview, Kusada turned the tables, asking me if PS3 fans were still excited for White Knight Chronicles, especially with Final Fantasy XIII releasing very shortly after WKC. I gave him my own thoughts on the situation, but also told him that our commenters would chime in: Is it too late for WKC, or do the online features warrant the purchase of two PS3 JRPGs next spring?

This article was originally published on Joystiq.