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Studio Ghbili PS2 game, Ni no Kuni

Wednesday 18th January 2012

Daniel Robson plays Studio Ghibli’s new PS3 game

The first time Studio Ghibli boss Hayao Miyazaki allowed a developer to make a game based on one of his films, the gently haunting Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Technopolis Soft turned it into a shooter. That was also the last time Studio Ghibli boss Hayao Miyazaki allowed a developer to make a game based on one of his films.

Ni no Kuni

Ni no Kuni, however, is different. Level5, fast becoming Japan’s most important games company, understands anime – its Inazuma Eleven game series has spawned a huge anime, which in turn sent the game’s profile into the stratosphere, and the forthcoming Youkai Watch will follow a similar strategy.

But more importantly, Level5 knows what younger kids want (its other franchises include Professor Layton and Little Battlers), and it can certainly handle a high-profile RPG (Dragon Quest VIII and IX). So with Level5 president Akihiro Hino ready to write a brand new adventure game for Nintendo DS and PlayStation 3, no wonder the bigwigs at Ghibli (if not Miyazaki himself) felt encouraged to dip their toe back into the corrupting world of videogames.

Ni no Kuni tells the story of Oliver, a young orphan in the fictional American town of Hotroit. Distraught at the death of his mother, he clings tightly to a doll she had made for him and weeps – and his tears transform the doll into Shizuku, a fast-talking, gruff little pixie with a lantern hanging from his nose. Shizuku whisks Oliver away to Ni no Kuni, or the Second Land, on a magical mission to defeat evil sorcerer Jabo and bring Oliver’s mum back to life.

Ni no KuniThe references are everywhere. Surreal creatures straight out of Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke inhabit this world as friends and foes, with the half-cat citizens of kingdom of Goronel recalling those in The Cat Returns. The idealised European architecture of Kiki’s Delivery Service informs that kingdom, too, while other artwork brings to life locations similar to those in My Neighbour Totoro and Porco Rosso. Ghibli’s star composer Joe Hisaishi provides a stirring orchestral soundtrack.

The voice acting, too, is of top standard, with excellent vocal work courtesy of such big names as Mikako Tabe, Arata Furuta and Masami Nagasawa.

Level5 brings to the table a deep and involving RPG structure, with a complex turn-based battle system to delight the hardcore gamers and enough side quests to keep you going for dozens of extra hours. But on top of that, it also invokes the spirit of Professor Layton, with gentle but fiendish family-friendly puzzles scattered throughout the game. Oliver must complete various trials on his journey through Ni no Kuni that tax his mind as well as his muscles.

Ni no KuniWhen the game begins, Shizuku teaches Oliver some basic magic tricks that the player can implement either in battle or on the field – the first being a warp from Hotroit to Ni no Kuni. As the game progresses, so do Oliver’s magic skills – various characters you encounter will teach new spells that help attack, heal, unlock and solve. The game comes with a hardcover Magic Master book (no word yet whether this will be translated for overseas, as you also get a digital version in the game) that beautifully illustrates these incantations, and sometimes you need to leaf through its pages to solve a puzzle. It’s like Harry Potter without the teenage angst.

Ni no Kuni itself is a sprawling and fantastical world that stretches across a cloud-covered map. At the start of the game, Oliver and chums (your party slowly grows) must traverse these sweeping plains on foot, but eventually you get access to the sailing ship Queen Cowra and later a dragon, Kuro, which you can ride. By air or by sea, the landscape is every bit as impressive.

The game is text-heavy, with a good deal of the exposition done via text windows during conversations with non-playable characters. These aren’t voice acted, but the cut-scenes are – and there are lots of them, giving you a full Ghibli experience to break up the battles.

Ah yes, the battles. You’ll spend plenty of time fighting in Ni no Kuni. It’s basically a turn-based system, but with a few differences. For one thing, Oliver doesn’t always have to get his hands dirty: He can instead send into battle an Imajinn. These are little Pokemon-style creatures that you can capture as you scrap with them, and you’ve really gotta catch ’em all. Each character in your party can carry three Imajinns, and they level up through experience and as you nurture them like Tamagotchi – they have a thing for sweets and ice cream.

Ni no KuniAlso, the battle arenas are free-roaming, so whichever character you’re controlling can run around, similar to Final Fantasy XII. Tactical positioning is critical, especially during the rock-hard boss fights, where you’ll want to dodge incoming attacks and prepare to retaliate.

The very best thing about Ni no Kuni is that it resists the bloated whimsy inherent in so many modern Japanese RPGs. While Final Fantasy XIII was a 50-hour cringe-fest and, well, almost every other Japanese RPG is chock-full of androgynous conflicted heroes and scantily-dressed women, Ni no Kuni draws again from the dual well of Ghibli and Level5, with themes mirroring the innocent adventure of Laputa or the camaraderie of Professor Layton and Luke, his boy assistant.

After all, anyone can relate to a young boy who misses his mum. This simple but heartbreaking plot device is there in The Neverending Story, in Peter Pan, in Harry Potter, bringing warmth and empathy to their otherwise fantastical narratives. And it’s there in Ni no Kuni – in spades.

Ni no Kuni is coming to a PlayStation 3 near you early in 2012.


One Piece (uncut) Collection 14 (episodes 325-348)

was £34.99
Nami, despite her desperate dash, arrives at the station too late to stop the Sea Train, but she's relieved to learn that Sanji has stowed away on board the vessel and will stop at nothing to rescue Robin! With the storm of all storms bearing down upon them, Nami and Chopper risk their lives to save Luffy and Zoro from the rapidly rising waters. Back aboard the train, Sanji is aided in his battle against the CP9 goons by the arrival of the mysterious Soge King, a wandering warrior from the Island of Snipers!

As the scattered Straw Hats fight to reunite, fate draws them ever nearer the foreboding fortress of Enies Lobby. Will our heroes live to face the hour of reckoning?!



One Piece. Pieces of Hate

Been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt....
Of the anime titles turned into T-shirts by Uniqlo, One Piece is the biggest – the reigning king of all the anime and manga franchises, pretty much unchallenged in the 16 years since Eiichiro Oda began the manga, and 14 since Toei Animation started animating it. But perhaps Uniqlo would have turned One Piece into a line of shirts even if the saga hadn’t been a world hit. Just look at those pirate designs – brash, cartoony, uncompromising. There’s no whiff of a committee, no hint of a five-year product plan reliant on changing a heroine’s hair colour (or deepening her cleavage). It just helps that the pictures are as commercial when they move as they are when they’re a cool static graphic in a manga, or on the front of a T-shirt.

One Piece: Strong World

The Straw Hats Pirates come together for an adventure like no other...
Written by One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda himself, Strong World leads the Straw Hats into the deadly path of Golden Lion Shiki.

One Piece - ninja or pirates?

Matt Kamen turns video pirate!
“Ninja or pirates?” While Naruto – representing the ninja corner, of course – has proven hugely popular, UK fans have long been unable to weigh in on the other side. With the long-awaited arrival of One Piece on DVD this May, that finally changes.

One piece: Crew Manifest #1

Matt Kamen finds out who’s who in the One Piece anime
Monkey D. Luffy: The founder and captain of the Straw Hats, Luffy is a carefree soul who wants to become king of the pirates. After eating the Gum-Gum Devil Fruit, he gained an elastic body, making him near-invulnerable and able to stretch but paradoxically making him unable to swim.

One Piece: Crew Manifest #2

Back at sea for volume two of One Piece
Before you set sail on the second round of voyages for One Piece, brush up on who you’ll be encountering in this latest volume of nautical nonsense

One Piece music: TOMATO CUBE

Tom Smith on One Piece’s TOMATO CUBE
One-hit wonders. Every country has them. And, as PSY can most likely attest, very few musicians really want to be labelled as one. Sure, it’s all fun, games and fancy dinners when that royalty cheque floats through the letter box. The one with all the zeroes from that single from yesteryear that went massive. But what about the rest of your work? It must be somewhat unsatisfying as an artist to be known for one track, while everything else remains relatively overlooked, and expectations are high for that difficult follow up single. If you’re TOMATO CUBE, you do nothing. Ever again.


Hayao Miyazaki versus Alan Moore

Seconds out for the battle of the beards
They’re world-famous practitioners of pictorial media. They started out labouring in despised sub-cultures, then rose to become full-blown artists with establishment respect. Oh, and they both have really impressive facial hair. Miyazaki prefers to keep his beard neatly trimmed, but Moore’s magnificent bristle evokes a shaggy primeval forest, housing a Paleolithic shaman from Northampton or a bouncing bellowing Totoro. Or possibly both.
Mochi-tsuki (rice cake pounding) takes place during all kinds of Japanese celebrations such as Festivals and New Year. Yesterday I got to try it myself, and I have to say that there is nothing quite like the taste of fresh mochi.
Acclaimed director Isao Takahata’s first film in fourteen years is the Academy Award nominated The Tale of The Princess Kaguya.


Babymetal, anime apartheid and MazandaRanting in our 25th podcast.
Jeremy “Care in the Community” Graves is joined by Manga UK’s Jerome “Twitter Hijacker” Mazandarani and Product Manager Andrew “Mr Manga” Hewson, and special guest Stuart Ashen, star of Ashens and the Quest for the Gamechild, out now. Not sure any of those names will stick.
Following on from our English voice actor article, it's time to share with you our favourite Japanese language voice actors.


Andrew Osmond on the real “adult” manga
Eric Khoo's film focuses on one of the founders of gekiga, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who died on 7th March. The framing story is Tatsumi’s account of his life and development, growing up with a difficult family. He had none of the technology and luxuries that we take for granted, no reason to think he could ever make a living from the fledgling manga industry. And yet he was utterly driven to draw comics, like his hero Osamu Tezuka.

A Kim Jong-Il Production

Jasper Sharp reviews a book on the maddest film producer of all
Paul Fischer’s hugely entertaining book, A Kim Il-Sung Production, is the story of two men who lived, ate and breathed cinema, the actress who brought them together and the monster they created together – the Godzilla-inspired Pulgasari (1985), the last of seven features Shin and Choi made in the DPRK in a period of just three years.

The Ninja Museum

Stephen Turnbull risks nine deaths in the eye of the ninja storm... or does he?
There is more to the ninja myth than meets the eye. By 1638 all wars had ceased under the police state of the Tokugawa family, yet within twenty years armchair generals were busily writing manuals of military theory, including speculations about sneak attacks, night-fighting and backstabbing.
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