The most famous Japanese animation studio of all time is set to hit the DS and PS3 with Ninokuni: Another Country.
A book which transports a child to another world doesn't win any points for creativity, but the painstaking detail and whimsical beauty of the graphics makes Ninokuni - a collaboration between Studio Ghibli and Level-5 - stand out.
Ninokuni literally means second land - and what a world has been conceived. The town playable at TGS exudes a bright and bustling flavor. Realized as a kingdom where humans and cats live and work side-by-side, the details are exquisite. The town castle is decorated with elegantly intertwined fish and stamped with pawprints (well, the king is feline) and the medieval streets are winding and filled with an array of random, yet beautifully designed objects. Nearby, thick forests teem with googly-eyed mushrooms, two-legged horned sheep, and squawking bat-fish.
Despite the cheery flavor of the game, the story has hints of darkness. The plot revolves around a young boy named Oliver whose mother has just died. While sobbing over a toy from his mother, the doll comes to life as a fairy named Shizuku. A fairy, that is, with a lantern nose who will act as Oliver's guide in Ninokuni - a place where Oliver can save his deceased mother.
Playing the demo version at TGS, we essentially thought Ninokuni didn't exactly shake the foundations of the JRPG, though visually, it's a masterpiece. Navigation was a breeze; all we had to do was follow Shizuku to get around. The demo threw a fetch quest and a few battles our way, though hopefully, the full version will have deeper elements.
You control Oliver over a world map where strange creatures roam. If you bump into any, a battle screen loads up. Young Oliver doesn't really fight, instead, a tiny, expressionless knight beams out of his chest and waddles up to the enemy. Later on, Oliver can acquire magic spells and eventually other children will join his adventures. Interestingly, other children have entirely different creatures popping out of their chests - who knows what this may signify?
It's amazing how much of Ghibli's style came through in this video game. Even the music is pure Ghibli, with resident composer Joe Hisashi lending the game his characteristically serene, yet exotic compositions. All said, though the storyline doesn't appear mind-blowing, the lure of an interactive Ghibli is enough to get people talking.
The game is slated for a 2011 Japan-side release, and will be available on the PS3 and Nintendo DS. The DS version will differ slightly from the PS3.
TGS 2010 reporting is done jointly by Fintan Monaghan and Lisa Gay.