Ni No Kuni E3 2012 Demo Hands-On

Ni No Kuni E3 2012 Demo Hands-On

Ni No Kuni may have gone dark for awhile, but we’re here to tell you that it is alive and kicking and surprisingly good.

Those unfamiliar with the name Level 5 may recognize it from classic titles such as Dark Cloud 2, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Rogue Galaxy and the recent White Knight Chronicles series. Their distinct ability to craft magical lands filled with rich stories and engaging characters is second to none. Level 5 is looking to continue that tradition by partnering with Studio Ghibli to create the next masterpiece in their repertoire, Ni No Kuni. Hayao Miyazaki and the team at Studio Ghibli are best known for movies such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, and countless others.

Although not all of their titles are in the same artistic vein as Studio Ghibli films,Level-5’s cell shading is second to none and Ni No Kuni is clearly out to blur the line between games and anime even further.

Ni No Kuni

Anyone familiar with Studio Ghibli will instantly recognize the art style in Ni No Kuni as distinctly feeling like Hayao Miyazaki. Unlike traditional cel shading where the characters, although beautifully drawn, still feel a tad flat, Ni No Kuni’s cast is stunningly realistic while retaining that cel shaded feel. Everything about the world and the characters within is glowing, rich, and deeply engaging.

The E3 demo consisted of two sections that showcased different aspects of the game. The first provided an unguided tour through the open world of Ni No Kuni. No missions, no story, just exploration and battling. I talked a bit about my desire for a traditional RPG awhile back, one that revisited the long-lost style of overworlds like those found in past Final Fantasy games. Thankfully, Ni No Kuni appears to be heading in that direction.

Ni No Kuni

The vast overworld is explored via a drastically pulled back camera as you and your party meander around an absolutely gorgeous landscape. Lush forests, rippling ponds, and sprawling oceans litter the landscape and make it an absolute joy to look at. Unlike traditional RPGs where battles are random, Ni No Kuni offers up on-screen enemies that appear in the distance and are quite easily avoidable. However, avoiding the battles would be missing out on one of the best things this game has to offer.

One of the most challenging aspects of creating a new RPG is coming up with some type of battle system that feels fresh enough to warrant playing, but doesn’t do away with enough of the familiar to alienate hardcore RPG fans. It’s a fine balance that I think Ni No Kuni is on track to do right. From the dozen or so battles that I fought my way through I didn’t see anything that appears to be immediately reinventing the wheel, but what I did see was a fantastic compilation of traditional JRPG elements seamlessly put together to create a battle system that is quite exciting.

You are only able to control one of the two main characters throughout the battle, but each character is given a cast of smaller sidekicks, or pets, that lend a helping hand throughout. These pets can assist with dealing physical and magical damage as well as offer up some aid in the healing department. Although do have the option to control these pets directly, switching between the characters and pets was rather clunky and created a bit of a hiccup in the battle that could become a tad annoying given enough time.

Ni No Kuni Battle

Despite your ability to move about the battle field at will, your attacks are entirely active time based and avoiding the enemies’ attacks has little to do with your location. Unfortunately, that means that moving around serves little purpose aside from closing in on your enemies to initiate an attack.

None of the leveling mechanic was shown in the demo, but I assume that characters will have stats that level as well as interchangeable equipment. But most notably, I assume that more pets will be available for collection and use in battle. When or how you obtain new pets was not made clear.

If the snippet of the world I was shown is any indication, I can tell you that this game is going to be enormous. That isn’t uncommon for a Level 5 game, but this game just felt huge. The sprawling overworld was filled with lakes, rivers, forests, and towns all ripe for exploration as well as a rolling sea that could be explored via your own personal pirate ship. I found myself instantly immersed in the one town that I briefly entered, and I didn’t even do anything there. I just walked around. Level 5 has this uncanny ability to create not only stunning cities, but captivating citizens within and everyone has something to say.

Ni No Kuni

The second demo focused mainly on showing off the game’s incredible voice acting and extravagant cutscenes. Although it gave zero background, the demo dropped you into the story at a point where you are tasked with making your way into the castle to speak with the sage. As you make your way through town you find yourself in the middle of a city-wide celebration and parade. This cutscene is rendered out to look exactly like a film straight out of Studio Ghibli. So much so that I wouldn’t bat an eye if it carried on for 3 hours and told the rest of the story. That’s how good these cutscenes are. As an added bonus, the voice acting is spot on as well for each character, but I have come to expect nothing less with Level 5.

Although this demo was far more straightforward and frankly less exciting than the first part, it did a fantastic job of showcasing what we can look forward to in terms of the game’s story and how the cutscenes will intertwine with the rest of the game. I just hope that since Ni No Kuni is apparently throwing back to the golden days of JRPGs that they don’t carry forward the tradition of scattering cutscenes in only every so often. I want to see this game filled with Studio Ghibli cutscenes because their work deserves to be showcased!

If Ni No Kuni ends up being half as good as the demo is it will be a masterpiece and prove that traditional JRPGs are not dead. No firm release has been confirmed, but Bandai Namco has hinted at a January 2013 release. However, that is likely to change in the coming months.

Comments are closed.