There aren't enough games that want to simply make you smile. Plenty make us roar in victory and umpteen make us satisfied, but there aren't many that leave us gleefully grinning from ear to ear.
Ni No Kuni is one of these rare beasts. A game in which jaw-dropping graphics, a sumptuous orchestral soundtrack and clever, chuckle-filled dialogue combines to create an outstanding RPG that will crack a smile on even the sternest of faces.
Ni No Kuni puts players in the role of young Oliver, a lad enjoying life in the cheery locale of Motorville. An exceptionally polite boy, Oliver is loved by everyone in the town, especially by his doting mother. But, just a mere fifteen minutes into the game, a tragic event (no spoilers) turns Oliver's world upside-down.
Distraught, our young hero is surprised when his tears bring a little stuffed toy to life, transforming the item into a wise-cracking Welsh creature called Drippy who claims he is a fairy from Ni No Kuni - a parallel universe where everyone in Oliver's world has a different role and different abilities.
The local shopkeeper's cat in Motorville, for example, is a king in Ni No Kuni.
Upon discovering this parallel universe, Oliver is told he has a chance to undo the tragedy that has befallen in the real world by reversing events in Ni No Kuni. Of course, life isn't so simple even in parallel universes.
Ni No Kuni's most striking feature is its incredible visuals. It's no wonder really, since the game is a collaboration between Level-5 - which has continually pushed the boundaries on Nintendo handhelds with the Professor Layton and Inazuma Eleven games - and the legendary animation group Studio Ghibli; the "Disney of Japan" which has been responsible for such classic films as My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.
The mixing of styles produces a game that jumps between gorgeous cel-shaded polygonal graphics and Ghibli-style 2D animated cutscenes. The latter isn't a half-hearted effort thrown together by Ghibli animators (perish the thought), but a sequence of beautifully animated scenes that wouldn't look out of place on the cinema screen.
The fully orchestral score (composed by Ghibli regular Joe Hisaishi and performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra) ensures the game sounds as good as it looks.
There is the occasional hammy performance from the supporting cast, but the actors voicing Oliver and Drippy keep standards high and the English dub doesn't disappoint overall. Just as the Claptrap and Wheatley are the most popular characters in Borderlands and Portal 2, it's Drippy's wisecracks and quips - punctuated with a strong Welsh accent - that steals the show.
Nothing feels rushed with Ni No Kuni. It is clear that as much consideration has gone into how the game plays as how it looks and sounds.
Wandering around each wonderfully-designed environment is a pleasure in itself, though there are plenty of side-quests and missions to offer distraction and direction.