Namco-Bandai’s bite-sized taste of the overdue RPG joint between Level-5 and Studio Ghibli comes up rather short given the size of the PS3 download. The demo offers two small assignments, racing to the top of a volcano to tackle a lava beast, and fighting a forest guardian in order to help a wise old tree and gain access to the Kingdom of the Cat King.
It’s a little depressing that the demo ends before giving us a glimpse of the fat old Cat King, but you can’t win them all I suppose. It’s a shame the demo doesn’t share some more of the animation I spied via the E3 demo earlier this year as well, because it was rather fantastic.
Despite the lack of a hand holding tutorial, combat comes across rather easy, with players able to swap between using Oliver to cast magic or controlling his tiny critter familiars to issue more standard attacks against enemies.
The demo’s emphasis is on teaching players to switch between offense and defense when larger enemies are powering up for more devastating attacks, and moving around said foes to discover critical weak points – for the lava beast this is the tail, while the forest guardian seems to have weak knees.
The rather simple combat could leave this feeling a bit like baby’s first JRPG, but it’s several shades refreshing to my fingers – I’ve been long for an RPG that was this easy to fall into in an age where one of my favorite childhood genres has a habit of putting me to sleep with increasingly complex designs and endless explanations.
Since the PS3 owners in the room can check the demo out for themselves, I’d encourage you to do that rather than listen to me ramble on, assuming you haven’t already.
Two things in particular worth basking in while visiting the other world are the world map itself, which reminds me a bit of the romantic aerial views of the landscape offered in Ghibli’s film Porco Rosso, and the character designs of smaller enemies encountered – these designs are rather simple, and capture something Pokémon-like while still resembling the primary bestiary known to Ghibli fans. My instant favorite is the colorful Ouroboros, which you can find on the road to Ding Dong Dell.
The other point of interest is for your ears. Joe Hisaishi’s fingerprints instantly bring back memories of the feature films, and discovering how the theme for the game expands is as high on my list as unraveling the story of Oliver’s quest to bring his mother back from the dead.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch hits the PlayStation 3 exclusively on January 22nd, 2013 in North America and Europe on January 25th.
If you need more of a Level-5 fix, Namco-Bandai has also served up a behind the scenes tour of the developer, which you can catch below.