The demo began by introducing the rune system, in which at certain points (outside of combat, as far as I could tell) protagonist Oliver can draw runes to unlock spells. The first rune creates an ornate staircase and gate that lead from the real world to Ni no Kuni, which appears to be a fantasy version of the town Oliver lives in with characters based on characters in town -- for instance, a cat becomes some kind of kingly figure.
After walking past a herd of spherical creatures that unrolled into adorable snakes, and then through some thick underbrush, Oliver and Shizuku, a weird, animate stuffed animal with a lantern attached to his nose, come out into a beautiful green landscape. It's here that I am able to control the game for the first time. You can move Oliver either with the D-pad or by touching the screen and swiping the stylus in any direction, which creates a line from the starting point that Oliver follows. Eventually, the two of you come a cross a large, living tree, who talks to Shizuku for a minute before a monster falls out from its leaves.
Combat is fairly rote turn-based play, albeit backed by really fantastic violin music that probably represents a significant portion of the 4 gigabit DS cartridge. Characters have the standard fight/magic/item/block selection, with a second row of options that were all grayed out in the demo. One interesting aspect: Oliver uses a rune to create an "Imagine," a soldier projected from his soul who joins the party and fights. In a cutscene, the "Imagine" soldier appears in a bubble, and then bops Oliver on the head for seemingly no reason. But even this new angle just adds someone to the party. I get the sense that this game intentionally went with simple Dragon Quest-type combat to appeal to the casual Japanese audience.
The real draw is the combination of familiar gameplay and high-quality Ghibli story and visuals. And I'm not saying that as a knock against the game. I absolutely want to play a Ghibli game. The beautiful artwork's impact is something that will be reduced in the just-announced spinoff. Oh, that's right -- the mysterious "Another Platform" announced in the trailer turned out not to be so mysterious after all: it's ROID, Level-5's mobile gaming service.