Perhaps the most buzzed-about game on the TGS floor was Ni no Kuni. It's a new fantasy RPG by Level 5, who are best known in the United States for the Professor Layton series on the DS. Ni no Kuni is being developed for the DS, the PS3, and Japanese mobile phones. I got a look at the game on the DS and PS3.
Both versions of the game follow the story of Oliver, a grade-school kid who lives in the "Motor City" of "Hotroit." When Oliver's mother falls ill, his heartbreak drives him into an elaborate fantasy world—the game's title translates roughly as "another country," presumably in reference to the alternate reality where most of the game takes place.
On the DS, the most notable feature of Ni no Kuni is its spell book, an actual dead-tree tome that accompanies the game. Filled with spells that the player can cast with the DS' touch screen, the spell book is also used to solve in-game puzzles—sort of like the "secret letter" that came with the NES game StarTropics, except not so damn easy to lose.
The PS3 version omits the touch-screen spell casting, obviously, and there did not appear to be any spell book, either. Unlike the DS demo, which consisted mostly of cutscenes, on the PS3 I got to engage in some actual combat. Oliver doesn't do the fighting himself. Rather, he commands a squad of cute fantasy creatures to do the dirty work for him.
Ni no Kuni is a collaboration between Level 5 and Studio Ghibli, the famous anime house where My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and other Hayao Miyazaki classics have been produced. Miyazaki's touch is unmistakable here. The characters are sweet and charming, the story is touching, and the animation is buttery smooth. That latter point is especially true on the PS3, which is not to sell the DS version short. This is one of the best-looking games you're going to find on either platform.
The prolix spell book seems to make it less likely that Level 5 will go to the trouble of localizing Ni no Kuni DS for the American market, but then again, it would have seemed unlikely that a game requiring a literary pack-in would even get made in the first place. So who knows? In any case, localization plans have not been announced for either DS or PS3. If players outside of Japan want to get in on this gorgeous game—and the initial response in Tokyo suggests that a lot of them will—they might want to make sure that Level 5 knows how they feel. In the meantime, Ni no Kuni is set to hit the Japanese DS in December, with the PS3 version following next year.