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Ni no Kuni: TGS 2009 Hands-on

By Janelle | September 24, 2009 at 10:51 am

Ni no Kuni has been noteworthy and famous since its announcement because it represents Studio Ghibli’s first foray into game making.  Level-5 has been promoting this one extensively, and I got a chance to dig into the demo today.  If the game follows the trend of the demo, it’ll be a traditional RPG with a really high-gloss veneer of fantasy and wonder.

The demo starts out with a nice hook: the story so far.  Oliver is a young boy whose mother has recently died, but he finds that one of his toys is not actually a toy, but a strange lantern-nosed creature named Shizuku, who proceeds to describe a wonderful land called “Ni no Kuni.”  Oliver can use the magic that will let the pair enter that land, and Shizuku instructs Oliver on the use of runes, which prompts the player to draw this particular gate rune on the screen.

Not just a gate, but a gigantic, ornate passageway appears.  Invisible to most humans, Shizuku says as a woman walks her dog right past it.  The two walk through and after emerging, Shizuku suggests that Oliver go to meet his friend Jumbo in the northern woods.  Player control is assumed here, and dragging the stylus on the touch screen moves Oliver around.  Many games have tried mechanisms to move characters with the touch screen, but this particular method felt easier and more responsive than others. Dragging the stylus from anywhere to anywhere produces an arrowed line that shows the direction and speed of Oliver, and this line can be changed by dragging.  Smooth, and no running into walls.

A few screens later, Shizuku’s friend turns out to be a giant tree.  After some conversation, a monster falls from his branches, and Oliver must fight.  The battle system is turn-based, and options are tapped with the stylus: Attack, Magic/Skill, Item, and so forth.  Turns play out according to speed, just like that.  There wasn’t really any sort of complexity to the battles, and at least in the demo, very little new to be seen.

Another scene occurs, where Shizuku teaches Oliver another rune, to summon a knight from his heart to fight as an ally.  Sure enough, after drawing that rune, a knight-like creature emerges, and helps the three fight off an alligator boss.

Time had run out and everyone was ushered out of the booth at this point, but from what I saw, the RPG elements are rather ordinary.  However, the production values  of this game really stand out.  The graphics are very nice, for DS graphics, but the best parts were the animated cutscenes.  Even the demo had a few of these, most over 30 seconds long, and this was a brief demo.  The sound quality was superb, for the DS, and the animation was Ghibli-esque: that is to say, fantastic.  If Ni no Kuni‘s story really delivers, this game could become a real gem, even if the battles do little to innovate.

Topics: Level-5, Ninokuni, Previews, Tokyo Game Show 2009