RPGamer had a chance to check out Ni No Kuni: The Another World at TGS 2009 and what a first impression. Initial expectations for some regarding a Studio Ghibli RPG may be twofold. On the one hand is the normal trepidation that comes regarding any sort of game based on a licensed property. On the other hand is the idea of a Japanese RPG, which can be strange enough on its own, being made infinitely stranger by combining it with the odd mythological designs that have become Ghibli's trademark. Thankfully neither concern is valid and the game is likely to become one of the biggest critical successes of the RPG genre.
"If the demo is anything to judge it by, the game will quite plainly be too good to pass up."
Ni No Kuni stuns with its impressive artwork. The DS has never had a 3D RPG that looked so good. Where most look like a distorted mess of pixels and polygons, Ni No Kuni's looks really show the care and attention of a high end animation studio like Studio Ghibli. This is of course plainly evident in the cut scenes which look like they came straight out of a Miyazki animated film. But the level of care is also evident in-game. When the main character, Oliver, first attempts to climb over a log, the animation and interaction of his model with the background is so perfect and fluid that it feels pre-rendered. That obviously isn't the case, however, as the same fluidity carries over to the game's battles.
Now the battle system is perhaps the only part of the experience that brings the player back down to earth. It's a fairly standard affair where Oliver, his friend Shizuku, and a character he summons can use attacks, spells, and items to take out foes in traditional turn-based style. There is one fairly innovative feature here though, where the player can rearrange the party on the bottom screen in order to better deal with enemy spells. For example, the demo's boss uses a wind spell that will hurt Oliver and Shizuku, but not the summoned construct, whose shield will completely block the attack. Moving Oliver and Shizuku behind the shielded character results in them also being shielded from the effect, allowing the battle to be won with ease.
As the battle system is mostly familiar territory, this game could just get a reputation of being a very pretty DS game where you jumble your characters about during battle. Fortunately, Joe Hisaishi has contributed what will no doubt be considered by some the best soundtrack in a video game ever. The fully orchestrated score permeates every aspect of the game and the player may find it pleasing to simply leave the game on while doing other tasks just to enjoy the symphony. Level-5 has had to go to great lengths to deliver this sound, committing to use a higher than normal cartridge size, in order to make sure the audio is compressed as little as possible.
Indeed Level-5 seems to be sparing no expense or effort in order to make this the RPG to remember on the Nintendo DS. It will be unfathomable for a US publisher to not pick this game up, though none has been announced at this point. If the demo is anything to judge it by, the game will quite plainly be too good to pass up.