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Ni No Kuni Demo Preview

Namco Bandai and Level-5's Ni No Kuni has been pushed back to a February release, so those of you who were hoping to get hold of the game at release will now have to wait a week. However, those desperate to get their hands-on with this exciting new collaboration from Studio Ghibli and Level-5 can always try out the demo available on the PSN store. We did, and these are our impressions.

Available to play in the demo are two separate scenarios: 'An Errand for Old Father Oak' and 'Eruption Interruption!'. The first of these scenarios sees our hero, Oliver, entering the woods at the behest of a talking tree to fight with boss-character, The Guardian of the Woods. Oliver is accompanied at all times by his loyal (Welsh?) companion Drippy and, in this part of the demo, his 'familiar', Marr Mite.

Graphics serve to immediately impress and the input of Studio Ghibli is apparent from the outset. The scenery and backgrounds are lush and extremely colourful, creating an impressive sense of scale and immersion despite the limited confines of the environment. That the cel-shaded characters manage to stand out against such a vibrant background is an achievement in itself. The whole thing looks closer to an animated movie than it does a traditional videogame.

Combat with The Guardian (a large plant-like monster) can be difficult first time around, due to the lack of a substantive tutorial in the demo, but soon becomes fairly intuitive. However, those used the traditional trappings of JRPG turn-based combat may be thrown, as battles in Ni No Kuni occur in real-time and, as with any new concept, it can be difficult to adjust for those used to a particular way of doing things.

During combat the player can control either Oliver or his familiar at any one time. When controlling Marr Mite, the player can choose to either attack, defend or use his special ability; each action taking several seconds to play out. An action can be interrupted at any time, but will then suffer a small cool-down period before it can be used again. Key to success is to time your attacks between the bosses own while watching out for his clearly telegraphed special moves, and entering into defence mode before he strikes.

When controlling Oliver the attack and defend options remain available, with the additional options of spellcasting and item usage available. Oliver's spells are powerful and, as would be expected against a plant-based enemy, fire attacks prove particularly effective. Whether controlling Oliver or a familiar, the player is able to move freely to target an enemy's weak points or collect the various glowing orbs that appear to replenish your health and mana.

One downside of the dual-character system is that Oliver is still able to be damaged when controlling a familiar and in order to heal you must first switch your control to Oliver, then scroll to the inventory option before you can access your healing items. This costs you a couple of valuable seconds, during which time you might be killed, and forces you to constantly switch back and forth between Oliver and his familiars to function.

After the boss battle, the map opens up for a timed session on the games huge, open map. Navigating the map is a visual treat, with it's zoomed out, full-3D environments matching the colour and detail of the more confined Deep Dark Wood where we fought The Guardian. As Oliver moves around the map he attracts the attention of various creatures which give chase and can be avoided or engaged in combat. As well as being extremely attractive, the map itself is huge and hints at the full game being very substantial indeed.

The second part of the demonstration is presumably set later in the game, as our hero is a higher level at this stage and has three familiars with him as well as female companion, Esther, who functions independently and comes with her own set of familiars.

During this section, Oliver and friends must scale an active volcano in order to prevent eruption. This involves very different gameplay from the initial forest demo, a section in which Oliver has to navigate precarious ledges and avoid lava and flaming jets while doing so. He also has numerous 'regular' enemies to contend with rather than just a boss, and must fight his way through these and reach the top before a timer runs out and the volcano erupts.

During this section we achieved a few level-ups and noticed that stat increases were automatic, with no input on behalf of the player. If this is true of the main game then scope for individualisation will be limited to spells and equipment purchased, if indeed this itself is an option.

Upon reaching the top of the mountain a second boss fight ensued, this time against a giant, flaming monster. As suspected, Oliver's new ice-based magic proved quite effective against the beast and its large, prominent tail was an obviously telegraphed weak point. While Oliver's additional abilities and powerful familiars proved effective, the benefit of Esther's support was somewhat lessened by her reliance on healing and the fact she was knocked out of action fairly quickly, necessitating the use of a rare healing item very early in proceedings.

Overall, the demo showcases an interesting take on JRPG combat and is a game that is extremely well presented with a very unique look and style. It serves to whet the appetite and hints at a potentially huge and engrossing final product. If the demo is representative of the final product, Ni No Kuni is unlikely to disappoint.

Ewok | 21st January, 2013
Cronos's picture
"Studio Ghibli"... I may have to acquire a PS3.

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