Level-5 has become a big name in Japanese games over the years. Dark Cloud, Dragon Quest VIII, the Professor Layton series, and White Knight Chronicles demonstrate the developer's growing talent. Meanwhile, Studio Ghibli has grown into perhaps the most iconic company in anime. While there are larger studios, there are more people who fondly remember their works abroad than just about any other company, thanks in no small part to Disney's distribution handling for several of their films.
Put the two together, and you're bound to get something beautiful. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch proved to be just that when the two games (one for the Nintendo DS and one for the PS3, sharing little more than the plot fundaments) came out in Japan. At E3 2012, Namco Bandai announced that it would publish the PS3 version of the game in North America and Europe, and it also provided a demo to show off the beautiful title.
Ni no Kuni pits Oliver, the hero, against a corrupt empire, but it does so through several classic Ghibli twists. When a young boy's mother dies, his tears animate a doll, who gives him a book of magic and tells him that a mysterious "other world" (the titular "Ni no Kuni," which means "second country") may allow him to find his mother again. Things get more complex from there.
In a timed demo, Namco Bandai highlighted the game's shading techniques, which are designed to make the 3-D animation look and feel like Studio Ghibli's traditional animation style. In battle, Oliver does not fight directly; he sends up to three dolls into the fray and issues commands to them as combat goes, while occasionally throwing a spell to significantly change the course of battle.
It's rather difficult to describe what makes the game work on so many levels. With a deep combat system and one of the strongest uses of animated art styles seen in recent gaming, combined with a child's-journey plot that's rarely seen in games, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch feels fresh because it shows every major Ghibli touch in a format that has traditionally not been explored. The results are indeed beautiful, and it'll be well worth experiencing come January 2013.
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