By Heath | September 15, 2011 at 7:31 am
Set to release on November 17, Ni no Kuni: Shiroki Seihai no Joou is set to make a big splash in Japan with its special PS3 bundle. Developer Level-5 was conspicuously absent from TGS this year, as it will hold its own “LEVEL5 World” event in October, but fortunately, Ni no Kuni still had a home at Sony’s booth this year, with a boss demo and an exploration demo available. We each got a chance to play both of the demos, which were incredibly well built and showed off in just ten minutes what Ni no Kuni will be like.
Janelle’s Hands-on Preview
To get this out of the way, I’m going to go ahead and join the legions of people who can’t shut up about how pretty this game is. Go ahead and skip the next paragraph if you already know how pretty this game is.
This demo let players freely explore these worlds in as much detail as they pleased, which is really a brilliant strategy. It is breathtaking to wander around a world that has been given life by Studio Ghibli, which is especially skilled at bringing tiny details about life to our attention through its illustrations. Everything is so lush, and so vivid. Even the animated cutscenes that are identical to the DS version’s looked far better than their predecessors. I was going to talk about how surprised I was about that until I realized how dumb that sounds. Somehow being on the PS3 version’s engine and rendered in HD made the anime sequences look better! Of course it looks better than the DS version–but I was surprised just how much better.
I played Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madoushi on the DS last year and noticed a few more subtle changes to the world of Ni no Kuni on the PS3. The world map showed that both Del Mocal and Jangol are missing from the map entirely, the former being replaced by an island that probably contains that Japanese festival forest town seen in the recent trailers. Wandering the map and scattered throughout the demo are new Imagens as well. Again, this demo was well built because it let players who have experience with the previous version see that even though the world, some locations and even some of the cutscenes could be called “recycled,” Ni no Kuni: Shiroki Seihai no Joou will not just be a hi-def version of the DS game, but is a separate experience entirely.
The most not-subtle change to Ni no Kuni is the new battle system, which runs in mostly-real time. I actually had a lot of fun playing around with it to figure out how it worked. When the player touches a monster on the field map,the battle screen opens. All three human characters are on the field at a time, and each has a reserve of several Imagens and can call one at a time to fight alongside the group, which means up to six characters on the battlefield at one time. The action pauses at the beginning of the battle to let the player decide which character to select initially, and also pauses when large, group-hitting special attacks are executed, but other than that, it runs at full speed. The player issues commands through a circular speech bubble menu, while non-controlled allies are taken over by AI. The controlled character is issued commands that can be canceled before they finish charging up. Some special attacks may have MP costs or cool down times.
In a six on one boss battle, the system was fun to explore, and totally manageable. When physical attacks didn’t work so well against the pig tank in the boss demo, Shizuku the fairy leapt onto the screen, pausing the action to point out the strengths and weaknesses of the boss. Regular battles now seem more difficult because with more enemies, it becomes harder to manage the always moving, barely-controlled mayhem on screen. It’s fast and exciting. It probably didn’t help that I wandered to the farthest corners of the map in the exploration demo to see what far-off continents now looked like. I got more than one Game Over fighting advanced Imagens that way.
I had a blast with Ni no Kuni: Shiroki Seihai no Joou this year. Maybe this impression seems more enthusiastic than it should? Maybe I should try to be a little more impartial? Forget it. It’s not often that a ten minute demo can inspire such energy and excitement. This was a great demo for an incredible-looking game, and I’m really looking forward to the retail version later this year.
Heath Hands-on Preview
Last year’s demo blew me away, and this year’s completely rehyped my bitch ass. Like last year, the game was playable in the forms of two different yet equally stunning demos. One showed off the game’s cinematics as players took Oliver and company (heh) all over a dimly lit castle town populated by pigs. Janelle probably knows more about this place than I do because she beat the DS game and I didn’t. Just walking around this game is a visual feast, and in terms of pure atmosphere, I’d put this sucker against any other game on a current system. It’s making me like video games again. Adding to how great it looks, the game mixes Ghibli anime sequences with in-game cinemas that transition seamlessly, and this version of the demo drove that home. After a few delightful conversations within the main cast and several cinemas, I was plunked into a boss battle that I would unfortunately not have time to finish. The demos of this game had 10-minute timers, and mine had run out. Aw well, I came right back through the line to play the other demo.
The second demo started from the breathtaking world map, on which there are visible monsters. As turn-based RPG veterans will assume, visible enemies means contact will start a battle, but there exists the potential to run away if you’re good. Therein lies the one and only thing I’ve found myself not liking in the time I’ve spent with Ni no Kuni, that the sheer number of enemies on the world map seemed to be quite high. This, however, is likely just because the creators wanted to pack the demo full of action to get players enough bang for their 10-minute buck. I got to a town and gave it a couple minutes of my time, but stopped short on exploring its beauty for the sake of going back outside to the world map. I’d seen a few other players sailing a ship and I wanted in on some of that action. I had, however, let my curiosity get the better of me and not been as conservative with my time in town as I’d promised myself I’d be. I fought several battles while making my way to the beach, but barely got inside the ship with 10 seconds left on my timer. Janelle described the fighting itself above so there’s no sense in my repeating that
It’s readily apparent that Ni no Kuni has RPG of the Generation potential; one can easily lose himself in the world of this brilliant game.