Ninokuni: Shiroki Seihai no Joou Hands-On

We take Oliver on a walk through the woods in Level 5's PlayStation 3 version of Ninokuni.

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The partnership between Studio Ghibli and Level 5 is an exciting one, given that the animation studio behind films such as Princess Mononoke and the developer (Professor Layton series) excel at what they do. Level 5 announced earlier this year that there was going to be a PlayStation 3 version, built from the ground up. The two games will have the same story arc, but they are quite different from one another. At the 2010 Tokyo Game Show we were able to play both, and because of the PS3's technical capabilities, playing Ninokuni was very much like watching one of Studio Ghibli's films.

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We were able to get a better idea of the story after playing the Nintendo DS version (you can read that here), but the basic premise is that Oliver gets transported into a reality that is parallel to his own, where he has a chance of saving his mother. There were two areas to jump into for this particular demo, so we decided to pick the one that had a boss battle at the end. It placed us in a lush and breathtaking forest, with cascading waterfalls and blossoming flowers. As Oliver walked along the path with his companion, the male fairy Shizuku (who looks like a giant nose), you could see the subtle details in his movements, which is what Studio Ghibli is known for. For the most part, he's walking lightly along the worn path, but his steps will change as he hops onto a fallen tree trunk, where he gingerly makes his way to the other side.

The characters in the world of Ninokuni stand out. We were ambushed early on by a creature that looked somewhat like an alligator, and another that was sort of like a rooster. It's like an alternate universe, where everything is familiar but not. Normally, you'll see enemies onscreen, and you run into them to initiate battle. Combat is in real time, and you have a bizarre-looking puppetlike creature with a cape that fights with you, or for you, if you prefer to hang back. Oliver has several thought bubbles on the bottom left side of the screen that likely indicate what kinds of skills he can use. We were limited to whopping enemies with our stick and casting spells from a magic book.

Also in our group was a young blond girl whose companion was a fat penguin of some kind. Who she is and how she came to be in our party, we're not sure, but the more the merrier. By the time we reached a clearing, a massive bull-like beast with abnormally large antlers was waiting for us. The fight wasn't too difficult, given that the bull tended to charge in a single direction when provoked, so it was easy enough to step out of its way. As it grew more upset, it would toss its weapon and shield aside and continuously charge. Our little buddy Shizuku came in handy--he hopped into the bushes to grab the creature's shield and toss it right back at him.

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The demo ended there, but we are eager to play more and explore the world of Ninokuni. Last year we played with the magic book a little in the DS version, and we had to draw symbols to cast certain spells. We're curious to see how that functionality will work on the PS3. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more details. Ninokuni: Shiroki Seihai no Joou for the PS3 is set to be released sometime next year in Japan.

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