Having been a Hayao Miyazaki fan for a significant portion of my life, I was only too happy to jump at the opportunity when I was offered an interview with Bandai-Namco to go over their upcoming game collaboration Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, done in conjunction with Studio Ghibli. I also got to play it for a brief interlude on the showroom floor at the PlayStation booth. The graphics, while “cartoon” like in aesthetic, are breathtaking in quality. It was like being able to control the characters while watching one of Miyazaki’s films.
The demo that I was able to play involved running around the fields of the world in Ni No Kuni and battling creatures. In this game, players take on the role of a little boy named Oliver who is plunged into a parallel world as he tries to bring his mother back from the dead. Along the way he meets creatures that become his “familiars”, and will accompany him into battle. The first familiars that Oliver encounters are obtained as part of the story, later on a companion that you meet named Esther will be able to serenade creatures during battle and subdue them into joining your party.
The battle system in Ni No Kuni is very unique. The familiars that you gather will follow you into battle, and you will command them in real time. Each of your characters is able to have three familiars in battle with them, and you have a maximum of three party members, meaning that any given battle has a possible combination of nine familiars. Each familiar has its own commands; standards like attack and defend, and then attacks that are customized to each type of character, such as “fling flame”. The familiars level up as you battle with them, and players can further customize them by feeding them specific types of fruit and prompting them to evolve.
Along the way to bringing his mother back from the dead, Oliver will explore many towns and meet a multitude of people. Some of them will offer mini campaigns or side-quests. There will be a board posted in towns similar to the job board system in Final Fantasy XII; you go to the board, select a job, and then go and talk to the person about what they need your help with. Once you complete the quest, you return to the person and turn it in to receive a stamp on your stamp card. The stamp cards are something that the people of the world implemented to reward people for doing good deeds for others.
For players that want to focus mainly on the story gameplay, there is an estimated thirty two to forty hours of play, and the side quests are an additional effort. There are over two hundred familiars to collect and that number is not including their evolutions, so between trying to collect all of the familiars and doing side quests in the towns, there is a huge amount of play possible on top of the storyline. Fully animated cut scenes are strewn throughout the game, and they constitute around an hour and a half of the footage. Ni No Kuni is expected to come out in the US on January 22nd and in Europe on January 25th of 2013.