E3 2012: Ni no Kuni Impressions

With the launch of Ni no Kuni slated for an early release next year, we finally got our hands on the English version of Level-5's unique RPG.  Does it stack up to the pedigree involved?

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The E3 demo let us decide whether we wanted to have an unrestrained exploration of the overworld, or a single small scale adventure in a town and dungeon; each choice lasting 10 minutes.  Regardless of which one is chosen, the first thing you will notice are the absolutely gorgeous and vibrant visuals.  Anyone that has been keeping up with the game will know that iconic anime studio Ghibli collaborated with Level-5 to bring the beautiful world to life in what gets very close to a "playable anime."  Fans of Ghibli's whimsical worlds will definitely be enamored with the visuals.

The overworld demo was pretty self-explanatory.  With only 10 minutes, you can go anywhere you want short of actually entering towns and dungeon.  Not far from the starting point is a ship allowing you entry to the entire world map.  As has become the standard for the genre, enemies would appear on screen taking you to a separate battle screen on contact.  This even happens in the ocean when taking control of the ship.

The other demo sets the player free in a town inhabited by pig people.  It is a mostly standard town complete with inns, shops and NPCs.  This segment gives us a better idea of the game's plot, treating us to an animated cutscene, letting us see a sneak peak at the minor political themes present in the game.  After that is over the demo ends with a challenging boss fight against a tank monster.

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As with the art style, the battle system is pretty unique.  In an interesting blend of turn-based and real time, you can see shades of Final Fantasy XII, Tales of games, and even Pokemon in the system.  The overworld and town demos give you a team of 2 and 3 human party members respectively, each one having their own set of monsters.  The player can send out a monster to control or stick to the human character while the rest are controlled via A.I.  The player character can be swapped on the fly, allowing for quick and strategic decisions.

The controlled character can be moved around the battlefield freely until an attack is selected.  When a normal attack is used, the character will strike several times before entering a cool-down phase employed in games like Final Fantasy XII.  Special attacks/magic are the same, but they also use MP.  Certain attacks have elemental properties, which can be used to exploit enemy weaknesses.  This was useful in the fight against the tank boss.

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The game definitely has a lot of potential.  With its beautiful art style, unique and well-implemented battle system, and whimsical world, this will definitely be something to pay attention to come 2013.

Ni no Kuni releases in North America on January 22 and Europe on January 25.  We'll have more information closer to release, so keep an eye out.

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