This article originally appeared in GamesMaster magazine.
We're hardly soft touches here at GamesMaster. We spend better parts of the day battering zombies to undeath and/or painting the air blue during a game of FIFA or Halo. But every once in a while comes a game with such powerfully constructed beauty, both in form and in substance, that even our battle-weary hearts thaw.
A dream collaboration between Professor Layton studio Level 5 and Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli animation outfit, Ni no Kuni (lit. Another World) tells the tale of a young boy named Oliver, who's drawn into a strange fantasy land parallel to our own in order to save it from a mysterious evil. It's hardly that simple, as Oliver's given a particularly heart string twanging call to action which we won't spoil for you here. Needless to say this emotional event, early on in the narrative, sets up the despicable villain of the piece deliciously.
Oliver's joined on his journey by a jovial reanimated doll, named Drippy, who oozes charm and is a testament to the excellent localisation team over at Level 5. They may take their time reconstituting Japanese games into English, but there's no arguing they are some of the best in the business. Within five minutes of meeting Drippy his Tom Jones drawl colours his character really well and highlights him as an excellent mischievous foil for the typically pure-hearted Oliver to bounce off.
After procuring a magic wand and a Wizard's Companion tome of spells, it's not long before Oliver is thrust into battle. In true JRPG style you're whisked off to a separate battle arena wherein you'll select actions from an ever growing list of commands, spells and abilities. The twist in Ni no Kuni's combat comes in the forms of Oliver's familiars. The plucky chapper is able to summon critters from his heart to help him out in battle, though you all share the same single health bar to help keep things simple.
All of this is wrapped up in Ghibli presentation, with beautifully cel-shaded characters and screen-filling vistas of lush greenery. Cutscenes come in 2D animation form, with plenty of keen nods towards Ghibli past. To cap it off, Joe Hisaishi, the musical mastermind responsible for memorable soundtracks such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, returns to lend Ni no Kuni an aural air of epicness to rival even those masterpieces.