PS3 exclusive Ni No Kuni does not arrive in the U.S. until January 22nd, but its demo has left quite the impression on me. This JRPG was developed by Level-5 and the animations were done by Studio Ghibli, the studio behind films such as Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. The demo, which features two different sections of the game with boss battles, has been up on PSN since December 4th. In it I have experienced gameplay that is unlike anything I’ve come across in a game before.
Ni No Kuni focuses on a 13-year-old boy named Oliver who loses his mother in an accident. While mourning his mom and clutching a stuffed toy she had given him, his tears touch the toy and it comes alive. It turns out that this doll is actually an adorable looking, potty-mouthed little being from a parallel world, who had been cursed. This Drippy (or Mr. Drippy), tells Oliver that he may be able to find his mom in this world and bring her back.
The world functions like that of most Final Fantasy games, where it isn’t exactly open-world, but it isn’t completely linear. There are still places to explore and things to do. Similar to pre-Final Fantasy X games, some traveling takes place by traversing a large world map. I can imagine myself spending too much time simply running around when the retail version is released.
The combat system is where the game truly shines–it is extraordinary. Battles are in real time and 3D. Oliver can perform basic attacks or use the spells he has learned along the way. He is also equipped with items that can replenish his HP or MP or restore a fainted ally to normal–all of the classics. More importantly, fighting alongside Oliver are “familiars.” These are little, Pokemon-esque creatures that share health and MP with Oliver and fight for him. There are dozens of them in the game, each with their own skills and spells. Additionally, gamers encounter other allies in the game (there is one in the demo) that have their own familiars and aide in combat. They can be player-controlled, but are otherwise simply AI. Gamers can, however, adjust the setting that dictate how the AI react during battles.
During combat, there are sometimes HP (which are green) and MP (which are blue) drops that you can run around and pick up and in boss fights, and there are also gold drops that will enable you to use a special, powerful spell. The combination of features in the battle system are all things that I have encountered in many different games, but never in the same game.
The Art Style
In true Studio Ghibli form, everything is beautiful. The world looks amazing and every single character is completely distinct. At times, even though it’s just a demo, you feel like you are playing a movie in the greatest way. Bosses look epic and even small battles look gorgeous. Of course, cutscenes look phenomenal (and are skippable). When looking at a screenshot from Ni No Kuni, there is no mistaking it for anything else; it is distinctly its own.
This game looks and feels amazing. This demo is likely the best that I have ever played. If I had any doubts about whether or not Level-5 and Studio Ghibli would be a great match (and I didn’t), then they have gone. The only things holding me back from pouring hours into this demo is knowing that it would mean nothing in the full version of the game. When this drops on January 22nd, I will be picking it up.