Ni no Kuni – Hands On

Posted on by e.ritchie
Ni no Kuni - Hands On

There are a few people out there who bought a PS3 on the promise of The Last Guardian, an intriguing mixture of action-adventure, puzzles, and ridiculously coo-inducing aesthetics which was originally meant to be released in 2011. At the close of 2012, The Last Guardian still hasn’t appeared. But for at least one of these people, a game is set for release in 2013 which may help ease the pain. That game is Studio Ghibli’s Ni no Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch.

Ni no Kuni has been doing the convention and hands-on circuit for several months now. Previously, this was limited to two short but complete levels. Recently, a three hour hands-on was available. While SquareGo could not attend this attractive event due to previous engagements (i.e. the 9-5 which keeps starving writers less starving), we were able to nab a few fellow reviewers after the Evolve 2012, who had attended the hands-on.

We demanded they explain Drippy.

The reason for the length of the serious hands-on seems in part due to a 45-minute intro. This shouldn’t set off any immediate alarm bells. Studio Ghibli are known for the ability to make 90 minutes of “not much” a deeply involving and touching story. There is still a slight wariness as 90 minutes of heart-warming viewing is fine for a movie, but Ni no Kuni is a game. While JRPGs have a reputation for being a bit slow to take off, 45 minutes could prove a breaking point for some players.

If they can make it through the intro, players will be able to enjoy a rather unusual combat style. One of the defining features of JRPGs, true or not, is turn-based combat. While there are Western fans of this style of gameplay (see every installment of Pokemon), for others it is the complete opposite of fun: locked into repetitive patterns, worst of which is “Heal fallen player. Turn ends. Enemy kills revived player. Fallen player misses turn. Heal fallen player. Turn ends. Repeat until rage quit.”

3D monster fighting takes us back to our Pokemon Stadium days. Good times.

Ni no Kuni has several features which should keep combat fun. First of all, the player can actually move around the battle field. Second, while the player can easily switch between party members, he only controls one at a time. The others can be more or less left to take care of themselves; it even appears that they could be useful attacking enemies by themselves too. Third is that while there are time-based aspects to attacks, such as recharging.

While we have been seeing some of these aspects in other JRPGs such as Kingdom Hearts, it’s the mixture of these aspects which promise give Ni no Kuni fun and, most importantly, intuitive combat. If nothing else, when the main character tosses out a demon thingy to fight, the player can take control of the demon thingy or continue fighting as the main character while tossing out the occasional command.

Speaking of the main character, there is a story behind all this Kingdom Hearts/Pokemon mash up gameplay, honest. Oliver is a thirteen year old boy whose mother saves him from drowning and then [spoiler] dies. It turns out his doll, Drippy, is actually a magical, Welsh-accented fairy. Oliver follows Drippy into the parallel reality “Ni no Kuni” in order to save his mother. We can only assume adventure and whimsy ensues as he explores this alternate world, finding new creatures and spells as he learns more magic.

While there is a 2010 DS version, it was a Japanese release. The developers, Level-5 and Studio Ghibli, have said that the PS3 version is a from scratch development, which will more closely match Studio Ghibli’s animation style. If nothing else, 2013 will be off to a beautiful looking start. Here’s hoping Ni no Kuni won’t be running on looks alone.

A demo for Ni no Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch is available on the PSN. Be forewarned: it’s pretty hefty at 2.6Gb.


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