It should come as no surprise that visually Ninokuni is going to be impressive because of Studio Ghibli's influence. The animation studio that is known for films like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke has teamed up with Level-5 to create a magical role-playing game that stars a young boy named Oliver who receives a special book that takes him into another world. At the 2009 Tokyo Game Show, we were able to get a quick hands-on with the game, and we'll try to share as much information as we can, given that everything was in Japanese.
For those who are familiar with Studio Ghibli's films, there is definitely no shortage of difficult-to-describe bizarre creatures. The intro begins like a storybook, and you're instructed to draw a symbol on the touch screen to match the one on top. Once you do this, Oliver's book flips open and creates a magnificent-looking portal into another world. The animation in Ninokuni looks just like what you'd expect from a Hayao Miyazaki movie and looks great on the Nintendo DS. Your sidekick looks like a walking potato with a long nose that has a lantern hanging off the tip of it.
Once we entered the gateway, the world beyond was a beautiful, lush forest that was inhabited by an assortment of odd-looking creatures. A short cutscene followed, which emphasized just how majestic this place was, like a prehistoric valley that has yet to be touched by civilization. We were able to control Oliver by using the touch screen to draw in the direction that we wanted him to go. There was a map on the top screen to guide us to the next area.
We eventually ran into a talking tree that had the face of a frog. We weren't really sure what was happening, but we had to fight our first battle against what looked like a chicken with cat ears. The battle was turn-based, with a very simple layout, and we were armed with just a stick. Oliver can use magic as well, so we got to experiment with a fire spell before we ran out of magic points. After our fight, we were instructed to draw another symbol, which then brought forth a peculiar horned creature in a bubble, armed with a sword and shield and wearing a bright red cape. This fellow helped us with our next battle with a crocodile, and after we vanquished it relatively easily, the frog tree seemed happy. Our time ran out here, so we weren't able to see what was next, but from what we got to play, we're very excited to see more.
Ninokuni does not have a North American release date yet, but we'll definitely be keeping a close eye on this one and will update you with more information as soon as it becomes available.