Iíve only been through one day of Gamescom, but I think Iíve already found a contender for the best-looking PlayStation 3 game at the show.
Ni No Kuni, the Japanese RPG collaboration between Professor Layton developers Level-5 and Spirited Away animation studio Ghibli, is not just a visual delight for role-players, but itís also enchanting to anyone with a pulse.
The story sounds like a classic Hayao Miyazaki film. You control a young orphan boy called Oliver, whose dream is to reconnect with his deceased mother. His tears attract the attention of a spirit called Drippy, who hails from a world called Ni No Kuni
- if Oliver is willing to travel into this fantastical land and help its inhabitants with their problems, then he will be able to see his mum once again.
But Oliverís task gets a little more complicated when itís revealed that a guy called Shadar is causing havoc in the mystical world. He wears a cape, flies around a bit and is generally a rather nasty chap. To meet him at his level, Oliver has to learn the magic of Ni No Kuni and become a better spellcaster.
Of course, when you start the game Oliverís incredibly weak and can barely stand on his own two legs. The Gamescom gameplay demo ran me through the opening sequence of Ni No Kuni
, allowing me to explore the lush open world and get used to the battle system. In both cases, it was a joy to experience.
In terms of the game world, thereís plenty of opportunities to explore thanks to some intricate map design. Random battle encounters arenít the order of the day here - enemies wander around just minding their own business. Until they see you, that is. Then they just charge right in your general direction. Sometimes you can avoid them, but Oliver canít outrun many foes in the early stages of the game.
Once you get to the first town, Ding Dong Dell (The Cat Kingís Castle), an example of how Oliver can change the lives of the Ni No Kuni people pretty much smacks you right in the face. The town doors wonít open, and the two guards on watch are currently in contrary spirits - one is depressed, the other super-enthusiastic.
You need to obtain the happy guardís enthusiasm and give it to the sad one in order to bring order to total emotional chaos. You do this by using a magic spell to capture a particular emotion from one personís heart. Yeah. You steal a bit of a personís heart. Itís all in the name of anime fun and frolics though, so itís okay. The enthusiastic guard in question just happily lets Oliver nab his extra energy gratis, but Iím told that later on in the game it wonít be so easy to obtain and transfer emotions (there are eight in total) around.
The battle system is presented in a similar style to fellow Namco Bandai RPG Eternal Sonata
, except that thereís no restriction of movement in the play field. Oliver and his friends (consisting of female friend Ethel - whose role is not being discussed right now - and Swaine) are controllable in a circular arena and can run around at will. By using the d-pad or the L2 and R2 buttons, you can select actions from a menu - be it attacking, defending or using provisions.
Each of the three characters can use up to three familiars - or friendly creatures - in battle, controllable using the L1 button. So technically, you have up to 12 characters ready for you to take command of. Performing actions will lock your selected character in place, with control handed back to you once the command is completed. As enemies move around the battlefield however, your character will shuffle about to compensate.
And let me tell you, the animations on all the characters as they bounce about and swing their weapons at the baddies. In general, the artwork and surroundings are simply stunning, with such vivid colours and fantastic character design. During one cutscene, I could swear for a second that I was watching a Studio Ghibli film rather than playing a game.
It will certainly draw in Miyazaki fans, and the RPG action looks set to ensure that gaming purists wonít be left in the dark either.