Daniel Robson chats to Akihiro Hino, CEO and president of Level5, and director Ken Motomura.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is finally coming to a PS3 near you. This lovingly crafted RPG, made by Level5 in collaboration with revered Japanese animation giant Studio Ghibli, is a sprawling epic of magic and wonder, packaged complete with a hefty book – an actual book – of spells and lore that is required at certain points in the game. But how did the partnership with Studio Ghibli come about?
Hino: “I have a mutual friend with [Toshio] Suzuki, a producer at Studio Ghibli, and so after countless casual discussions we got to know each other well. So after we presented some initial ideas for this project, they came on board. I am aware that [Hayao] Miyazaki is generally wary of videogames, but after providing Mr Suzuki a glimpse of what we had in mind for this project, I think they were able to see the value of working with us and bringing the game to fruition.”
When you met Miyazaki, were you intimidated at all? What was it like to meet him for the first time?
Hino: “Haha, yes. I look up to Mr Miyazaki as a film director. I met him during the initial phase of the project and I asked him if we could take a photo together! I keep that photo in pride of place. When we first started discussing this project, Ghibli was in the process of making Howl’s Moving Castle. We talked on a very casual basis, in a friendly way. As a director and a creator Mr Miyazaki comes across as very tough, but as a person he was very sweet, and for me as a creator it was a very emotional experience that I treasure deeply.”
In terms of Level5’s day-to-day production of the game, with Ghibli working on things like character design and the soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi, how did that work?
Hino: “Motomura did most of the day-to-day communication with Ghibli. We worked with [Yoshiyuki] Momose, who was the animation director of this project at Ghibli, and we had numerous sessions where he would comment on the staging or the theatrical direction of the project, and so we were able to reach this level of Ghibli-style universe that we could never have reached on our own.”
Motomura: “We would make something and then send it off to Ghibli to review. Specifically, this included things like storyboard checks as well as staging directions in the motion-capture studio and the hand-drawn animation after the motion capture, camera angles and so on. Ghibli was very much involved in the day-to-day work.”
Level5 has a reputation for making family-friendly games, and Ni no Kuni is obviously aimed at younger players as well as older players. But the battle system is pretty deep and quite technical, and there’s a lot to learn. Were you worried that it might be too difficult for younger players?
Hino: “Yes, smaller kids might need to ask their dad to help with the harder bosses. But I like the idea that they can think about it together. It’s important to have that level of challenge – even in a game for younger players!”