Ninokuni : The Another World


Platform: DS
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Level-5
Release Date: Spring 2010 (JP) / TBA (NA)

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The Undiscovered Country

While the cruel facts of life and employment kept me from attending the Tokyo Game Show this year (again), I recently received a souvenir of the event in the mail -- the Level-5 Platinum demo cartridge. I then spent the next two days playing through the most prominent title on the cart, Ninokuni : The Another World.

I am so definitely buying this game at the first possible opportunity.

Where do I start? The story seems interesting from what can be seen in the demo, though the actual opening scenes have largely been replaced by a fairy-tale style narration that neatly avoids certain details that I already know about the backstory. The two main characters play off each other well, with Oliver's innocent ignorance standing in contrast to Shizuku's worldwise, Osaka-accented banter. Minor asides, comments, and allusions all hint at things to come.

Graphically, this game is about the best I've ever seen on the DS, rivalling or surpassing most late-PS2 titles in my opinion. Several minor scenes in the demo were shown using the game's own 3D engine, and it worked quite well. The attention to detail in each area is amazing, with all sorts of little touches -- from marching ants in the forest to graffiti in Goronel Town, everything adds up to present the player with the impression of a vibrant, real world.

"Graphically, this game is about the best I've ever seen on the DS."

And then there's the animation. This is Ghibli's department, and the results are cinematic in scope. In the past year or so, since the newest video codec for DS entered the market, I've been seeing more and more video in DS games. Some of it even approaches TV-quality, but rarely have I seen it outside of opening sequences. A few games I can remember having three or four such animated cut-scenes for the entire length of the game. Ninokuni has three in the demo, the first one being almost a minute in length.

Now for the music. Let's start with a message from Level-5, presented when I booted up the demo: "All the music was recorded by a live orchestra, so we strongly suggest you wear stereo headphones in order to enjoy it properly." At least, that's the gist of it. Does the music live up to this kind of promise? Oh, yes. A few times I just let the game sit, mid-battle, in order to enjoy the music. The main battle theme seems to be longer than most of the battles I fought. To anyone thinking of getting this game, I say: Buy the soundtrack. You will not regret it.

I don't think this is going to be a particularly difficult game. Battles are simple, though with some fun potential with the character positioning system. The plot and visuals are the sorts of things Ghibli normally is associated with, making this a good bet for the younger crowd. All in all it was a welcome reprieve from some of the heavier titles I've been playing recently. I can only wish for one thing -- a copy of the actual game, so I can found out what happens next in Goronel!

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