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Ni no Kuni: 2 hands-on impressions

By Heath | September 28, 2010 at 9:54 am

Both Heath and Janelle played the Level-5 PS3 title Ni no Kuni at length. The booth featured two different demos, with Janelle tackling one and Heath jumping on the other. Both impressions are here.
Heath’s impression:
Ni no Kuni for PlayStation 3 was the best game of the 2010 Tokyo Game Show. Firing up the two part demo, I first chose the part that took place in the woods. The first thing that stands out in Ni no Kuni is its amazing visuals. Designed by Level-5 with animation by Studio Ghibli, the game is among the most beautiful on PS3. It looks vaguely similar to Dragon Quest VIII, but replace Toriyama art with Ghibli art and replace PS2 graphics with PS3 graphics. It’s a winning combination, and it makes Ni no Kuni look stunning. But it’s not just the graphics, it’s everything; the area design, the level of detail, the art direction…. Visually, it’s hard to find an equal for this game.

So the forest and everything in it looked fantastic. At any time, the right stick could be used to rotate the camera for a better look at my surroundings. Jumping was not done manually, but sort in that Zelda fashion where the player walks the character to the edge and the he’ll jump to the next platform automatically. In this case, the kid would hop from rock to rock to cross a river. He’d also carefully tiptoe across a log bridge, as the player could not kill him. Some sick jerks may have tried >_>


Battles felt similar to a 3D Tales game, but with no free-roaming movement. The kid did not fight, but rather let a similarly dressed muppet do that for him. His avatar would be stationary until issued a command, but once that “attack!” was shouted, off that little guy would go to wherever the enemy was, ready to give his sword the skull-test. Party hard.

A giant red bull who’d ironically had too much Red Bull ambushed us for a boss battle. My avatar and that of some girl who I hadn’t noticed until that point hacked, slashed, and eventually took care of the guy. This left me to jump into the other demo mode, which featured greater emphasis on in-town gameplay. I found the town highly detailed and thoroughly fun to explore, though Janelle had more time with that mode than I did, so…

Janelle’s impression:

Ni no Kuni is, according to the information supplied at TGS, only 30% complete. The demo had about as much meat to it as one could expect from a 30% complete game. There were no menus, no significant button configurations, no shops implemented even in the bustling town. And yet this demo absolutely murdered everything else at TGS. Why?


As the Ni no Kuni demo fired up, it offered a choice between a dungeon demo or a town demo (which I’d later wind up labeling as a gameplay demo and a graphic whore demo). I picked the town demo, which started out with a conversation between two of the main characters, Oliver and Shizuku. Shizuku, a lantern-nosed fairy, insists that he and Oliver head to the castle of the Cat King, who might be able to help them. Oliver, a young boy still unfamiliar with the world he’s been whisked into, agrees, and they set out onto…

A world map! A real one! It was hard to contain a rush of nostalgic, giddy joy. The map was beautifully built, with lush landscapes, and rolling terrain that had realistic-looking slopes and dips, all accompanied by a swelling musical score. Oliver looked like what he was: a very small traveler in a very big world. All across the map, even in the far distance, monsters of all sizes roamed around freely, some a little more aggressive than others.


Granted, invisible walls ringed the town I was supposed to head towards, but since the game is supposedly only 30% complete, them being there actually made sense. I couldn’t reach a huge, tree-like beastie in the background, but I did try fighting some of the closer, smaller monsters.

Touching the monsters catapulted the action to a battlefield. Each player character (in this part of the demo, only Oliver) and an accompanying summoned creature would stand on the battlefield. I would control Oliver, shouting out orders to his creature, who would respond. The battles moved very quickly, but it seemed like the orders Oliver could give out included directives on whether to advance or retreat, attack or protect someone else, or (in situations with more characters) to team up with other summoned creatures. Tapping the trigger buttons would switch who was receiving orders, and Oliver himself could also perform magic spells and attacks in battle.

After a few very quick battles, I entered the town and saw a full-blown animated cutscene, where the townspeople marveled at Oliver’s bizarre, otherworldly Earth clothes. With that cutscene over, my goal from there on out was to meet various objectives around town, starting with going to a shop to get Oliver some new clothes. The objective could always be viewed while within the town, and Shizuku would waddle around town to show me the way to go.

Walking around town was just as much of a treat as walking around the world map. Ni no Kuni has some pretty incredible draw distances–nothing far away seemed to simply pop into view as Oliver got closer. But while graphical technology and sheer power has a lot to do with how good the game looks, that’s not the only reason the town looked fantastic. Even the Studio Ghibli style, which pays incredible attention to minute details of everyday objects, isn’t why it looked fantastic. The town screens were just plain well-designed. No space was wasted, and every single part of the environment worked to enhance the atmosphere.


The feeling of wonder I got from wandering around town never faded, even as I finished everything the demo had to offer. After getting a slippery red fish as a present for the cat king, another animated cutscene started when I entered his castle, and all too soon, the demo was over.

If Level-5 puts even half as much effort into designing dungeons, pacing and interfaces as they have into the overall polish, charm and atmosphere of Ni no Kuni, look out world.

Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up my appetite, lookin’ forward to following RPG Land on Twitter and Facebook.

Topics: Level-5, Ni no Kuni: Shiroki Seihai no Joou, Ninokuni, Previews, Tokyo Game Show 2010