Ni no Kuni (PS3) preview: In the Pig City

Not that I expected it to, but a year after my first demo, I'm delighted to report that Ni no Kuni still looks completely gorgeous. The graphics don't seem incredibly impressive from a technical perspective -- they're actually pretty simple -- but effective use of cel-shading and good old-fashioned art design have combined to convincingly deliver the experience of wandering around in a Studio Ghibli world.
The part of Ni no Kuni's world Level-5 chose to share with TGS attendees was some kind of militarized city occupied by Gamorrean Guard-like pig people. I wandered around, taking in the atmosphere of the dusk-lit city, until suddenly the whole town began to move around me. Buildings shifted around on rails until they formed two parallel lines, with my party in the middle. Bleachers rolled in, with hundreds of spectators already seated. And then I saw a giant, whimsical-looking pig-tank thing.

Here, I got another chance to try out Ni no Kuni's combat. It's still sort of active-time, with characters running around in real time and able to attack as soon as a meter fills. I did some basic attacks as protagonist Oliver; tried swapping back and forth through the party, and even summoned "Imagine" avatars to attack with their magic. It's pretty hectic, but Ni no Kuni is functionally turn-based even though it seems like everything's happening all at once. It just seems more urgent because everyone can move in real time.

Unlike my previous demo, I was able to complete this one within the allotted 10-minute time slot, and so I moved on to the next demo. Here, I got a look at Ni no Kuni's world map, a 3D landscape that, like traditional RPGs, shows the player party as enormous and towns as tiny -- except much more lush and beautiful than most world maps because, you know, Studio Ghibli. I wandered around here just long enough to confirm that Ni no Kuni doesn't have random battles, instead opting for a sort of Dragon Quest IX/Zelda 2 system of single enemies wandering around who trigger group combat sequences when touched.

I have concerns about Ni no Kuni's battle system, and they can be summed up in three words: White Knight Chronicles. The combat is pretty similar to that in Level-5's medieval-giant-robot PS3 game, and I found that exciting too – at first. It got boring pretty quickly. Of course, one of White Knight Chronicles' biggest problems was that the world and characters weren't interesting enough for all the fighting to be worth it; Ni no Kuni certainly won't have that issue. At this early juncture, I'm going to give Level-5 the benefit of the doubt and assume that it's cognizant of the need to marry its Ghibli setting (which will draw in more than just RPG die-hards) with a system that stays fresh and fun over time.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.