When I first saw screenshots and trailers, I was in awe of how Level-5 seemed to channel everything wonderful about a Studio Ghibli movie, from the whimsical characters to the ornate environments, and bring them to life in a game. I also worried that, perhaps, it was too good to be true.
I was able to play 20 minutes of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch in English and by the end of the session I was convinced a Namco Bandai rep was going to have to rip the controller from my hands. There were two hands-on demos, each with a 10 minute time limit. One demo let me explore the world, aptly called "The Big Wide World" and the other was a story driven experience called "The Cradle of Industry".
I stepped into The Big Wide World first because it sounded like it represented everything I loved about Studio Ghibli films – savoring the moment and taking in details. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch didn’t disappoint, as Drippy informed me that I was free to do whatever I liked. I could roam the nearby field to fight enemies like Rhinosaurs, Minor Byrdes or Baatenders. Battles aren’t random in Ni no Kuni. Enemies appearing on-screen, so I could even run around admiring the landscape if I wanted to. There was also a ship was docked nearby that I could take out to sea and the town of Ding Dong Dell to explore too.
I liked how Oliver could talk to Drippy while I was roaming around Ding Dong Dell. If Oliver stands still for a few moments, Drippy hops from one foot to another in an antsy manner, then starts to stumble as if he would fall down. That’s the type of minor detail you would see in a Studio Ghibli film that gives characters personality and I was delighted to see that even the demo showed Level-5 understood that.
Moving on to combat, it’s not the straightforward turn-based system people might expect. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is more strategic. Oliver has standard commands like fight, spells, items, defend, and run away. Or Oliver can also send a familiar to battle for him. Players can give familiar commands to attack or use one of their two innate skills. During battle, Oliver and the familiars can move around the field to evade attacks.
After defeating some less-than-intimidating rhino and sheep monsters, time was up. I switched to the The Cradle of Industry demo to see what a story event and boss battle would be like. This area began with Oliver, Drippy, Esther and Swaine as they entered Hamelin in search of another Great Sage. Appropriately enough, Hamlin is a city of pig people.
Shortly after arriving in the city, Swaine takes off on his own, leaving Oliver, Esther and Drippy to chase after him. As they run through the streets, a royal procession is suddenly announced and an animated segment from Studio Ghibli begins. The city shifts, buildings twist and and move to create a huge path for his majesty – the pig-man prince – to proceed down in his mechanical float. Oliver and Esther look on in awe when Swaine rejoins the group. The group learn a sage is in Hamlin, but he’s walled away in the royal palace. Getting in could prove difficult, since Hamlin’s Ministry of Conduct is fierce. The latest decree assigns three years in jail or a 5,000 gilder fine to people who make eye contact with officials. Fortunately, Oliver and company are able to gab their way into the palace.
Swaine tries to lead the way, but only succeeds in bringing the wrath of Porco Grosso, a huge tank deployed by Hamlin officials. The tank was very detailed and easily four times the size of Oliver or one of his minions. A battle began and since this was a bigger enemy, I focused on evading. All of the characters in the demo seemed a bit over-leveled, but I didn’t want my demo to stop here. Porco Grosso’s most devastating attack had him aim crosshairs over Oliver for a direct attack. Luckily, that only happened once while I was playing and was easy to recover from thanks to Oliver’s Healing Touch spell. Oliver also had Fireball and Frostbite spells to attack with. The boss battle was over in a matter of minutes and the end of the demo ended.