Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madoshi
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Level-5 (Japan)
Developer: Level-5
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: Cartridge
Release: US TBD
Japan 12/09/2010

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The gesture system is both forgiving and optional, so it should please all players.
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The battles are turn-based and should be familiar to pretty much everyone.
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The character art is both attractive and identical to the PS3 version.
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Backgrounds are hand-painted with 3D character models running on top of them.
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Stephen Meyerink
Hands-On Preview
Stephen Meyerink

Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madoushi is the DS half of the upcoming PS3/DS duo, and like its PlayStation 3 cousin, it is an attractive turn-based RPG developed by the respected teams at Studio Ghibli and Level 5. While the game does not have advantage of more powerful hardware, Shikkoku no Madoushi is undoubtedly a very good-looking game with superb art design.

Characters are rendered in 3D in a colorful, almost cel-shaded style, and the world they inhabit is made up of what appear to be hand-painted backgrounds which were highly detailed and very easy on the eyes. My TGS demo included a segment at the outset of which I found myself outside of a traditional little town. My characters chatted a bit, after which I entered town. The game controls conventionally, offering both stylus and D-pad controls. The menu system is icon-based, and was easy to navigate. One of the features the DS version has over the PS3 version is that magic is conjured up by drawing certain patterns on the DS screen. I tested out this feature and found that it was amusing, but it ultimately felt much the same as many other 'gesture/draw to cast' systems found in games such as Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. It took me a few tries to remember the pattern for "healing," but once I did I found that that system was forgiving enough that my horrendous mimicry of the pattern in the menu was recognized and I was permitted to heal my allies. It should be noted, however, that Level 5 deserves credit for offering both this symbol-input method as well as a traditional "select heal from the menu and cast it with the A button" method.

Upon entering town, I was greeted by a red genie-like creature who promptly hit me up for some conversation. It was at this point that I discovered the purpose of the book accessory that all copies of the game will ship with. I was asked to locate a certain piece of information in the book, which took me perhaps a little longer than intended given my non-native command of the Japanese language. As I leafed through the pages of the book, I was highly impressed by both the design of the book and the art within. From what I could gather, the book contained a bestiary (accompanied by attractive art of each beast) and a number of small anecdotes and bits of information. While some might see the book as something of a copyright protection scheme ala King's Quest IV, V, and VI, it was nevertheless a beautiful piece of work to include and something that I think will lend to the sense of wonder and immersion that both Ni no Kuni games (and many Ghibli productions in general) aim for.

Once I located the information the game asked of me, I typed it into a text entry screen. At this point, the genie initiated a boss battle with me. It was here that I found the game plays out – much like its PS3 cousin – in conventional turn-based RPG fashion. I had the usual combat options at my disposal; attack, magic, and items were all present, and the system functioned efficiently. My characters were displayed on the bottom screen, facing directly up at the top screen where my red foe floated. Unlike the PS3 version, the game's turn-based system is more traditional, requesting that I command all three of my allies (Oliver, his lady friend whom I believe was called Arie, and my lamp-nosed monster pal Shizuku) before they moved in to attack. I believe players can choose to cast their spells through the gesture system in combat as well, but I didn't notice how to do this during my fight, and ended up selecting my abilities through the menus. So, at this time it is unknown if casting spells via the gesture system offers any advantage over the easier menu selection method.

After defeating the genie, he helped my party create an item through what I can only describe as Ni no Kuni's version of Dragon Quest IX's Alchemy Pot. After creating the item (a drink of sorts), I gave it to a monster (which I believe will be a key component of the game's Pokemon-like party system), and was sent on my way. In the menu I was able to bring up this genie/alchemy pot option at any time, though I didn't possess the components to craft anything else during my remaining play time, which was spent exploring the town in typical RPG fashion.

Did Ni no Kuni amaze me? No, it did not. However, based on what I played at TGS, it is an attractive and solidly built turn-based RPG (much like the PS3 version) with some seriously good art design. And as I wrote about the PS3 version, the game may not impress those looking for a novel gameplay experience, but for everyone else, Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madoushi is shaping up to be a fun, turn-based romp through one of Studio Ghibli's famous worlds of discovery and wonder. The DS version of the game will be released on December 9, 2010, so look for it then!


© 2010 Level-5. All Rights Reserved.

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