Ni no Kuni is an upcoming duo of games for the PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo DS, both of which are incredibly pretty RPGs being developed under the great minds at both Studio Ghibli and Level 5. I had the opportunity to try out both at TGS this year, and what follows are my impressions of the PS3 version, entitled Ni no Kuni: Shiroki Seihai no Joou (Queen of the White Sacred Ash).
Upon starting the TGS demo of the PS3 version of Ni no Kuni, I immediately noticed the obvious-- it's absolutely gorgeous. The phrase, "feels like you're playing a Studio Ghibli movie," is both applicable and accurate. The music, while somewhat hard to hear, sounded like something else straight out of a Ghibli film, and for me was evocative of the Dragon Quest series. I selected the 'battle' portion of the demo, which took place in an exceptionally lush forest. There are tons of details to be found in every aspect of the game's appearance. Textures are incredibly detailed and look like they were torn straight out of a Ghibli anime. There is no 'boring space' in any of the environments – there are flowers, trees, stones, running water, insects, and very detailed backgrounds in the distance. The protagonist, Oliver, is immaculately rendered as well, with an animation technique reminiscent of Link in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. His cape flows dynamically in the wind, and his face is expressive. His animation is incredibly smooth, and as I hopped over stones jutting out of a clear, shining body of water you could see his every movement and his motions to keep his balance. The short of it is, it looks spectacular.
What I was more interested in seeing was how the game played, and in that regard I was a little let down. It was by no means bad; field exploration was solid and entertaining due to the beauty of the areas. The discovery of the new place itself was something enjoyable, which is an intangible but certainly key component of many Studio Ghibli films. The combat was set up in a turn-based fashion with time constantly flowing. Oliver is directly controllable and can use magic, items, and basic attacks, but in my time I found the latter to be incredibly weak. In order to bolster Oliver's strength, he is also able to send out some of his miniature monster friends (we won't call them Pokemon, though that's exactly what they are) to do his bidding. When controlling monsters, you can give the entire squad (in the demo I was able to control two at a time) an order, or issue individual commands such as "attack!" In the regular random battles, I found that mashing attack repeatedly (like many turn-based RPGs) was a wholly effective strategy, one that carried me to the boss battle.
The boss battle was considerably more challenging. I faced off against an angry red beast man of sorts; his attacks hit hard and were capable of decimating my party quickly. At this point I had to make more use of both Oliver's abilities and his monster commands, and through doing so I was able to take down the boss. Shortly after the boss fight, the demo ended.
My overwhelming impression was that this game was riding on its appearance, and for some people, that will be true. Based on the demo's content, the game is by all accounts a very traditional turn-based RPG with a few original wrinkles thrown in and an unbelievably delightful presentation. For those expecting impressive gameplay to match the visuals, you may be disappointed, but for everyone else, Ni no Kuni is shaping up to be a beautiful, albeit traditional RPG for the PlayStation 3 that will release sometime in 2011.