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Gaming Interview

'Ni No Kuni' interview: Level-5 on its Studio Ghibli collaboration

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Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a collaboration between two Japanese creative powerhouses; Studio Ghibli, creator of beautiful and touching animated films such as Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, and Level-5, the acclaimed RPG developer known for Professor Layton and Dragon Quest.

We chat to Level-5 CEO Hino San about bringing the game to the west, bringing the trademark Ghibli style to life in the game, different audiences and why it's a PS3 exclusive.

> Our review of Ni No Kuni: A charming adventure

'Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch' screenshot

© Namco Bandai



Ni No Kuni has been out in Japan since late 2011. What was the feedback like from Japanese audiences?
"If I had to sum it up, I would say Ni No Kuni was extremely well received as being a good, classic RPG that in turn made it very fresh, since there are so many titles with such strong personalities these days.

I was very happy. It was also a popular subject in Japan being that it was the first game that Studio Ghibli had fully participated in for animation creation, and because Joe Hisaishi had composed the music.

Have there been any changes between the Japanese and western releases?
"With the overseas release, our first and foremost objective was to offer the highest quality in localization. Because a direct translation was difficult, it was very hard to adjust the text into something that would be accepted in the West but would also convey the game's Japanese spirit.

"We started translation from Japanese into English, then French, Italian, German, and Spanish followed. To prevent the translation process from becoming sort of a game of 'telephone' (Chinese whispers), the English translators wrote comments beside the translation indicating what the original Japanese names were and what the sentence meant.

'Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch' screenshot

© Namco Bandai



"The European language translators looked at the English translation, the Japanese, and the memos, and then translated it to fit into the different languages.

"Some characters were given their own characterizations and dialect to recreate their personality in the target language, so I believe that the localization provides players with an experience as close as possible to the feel of the original Japanese version."

Why collaborate with Studio Ghibli in particular? What did it bring to the project?
"Studio Ghibli has been creating products that have fans throughout Japan and around the world, and I am a huge fan myself. I was thrilled to have been given a chance to work with them, and it was a very exhilarating experience to be able to create something together.

"Studio Ghibli has a unique approach to their films, in that they ensure the proper portrayal of the mundane acts of everyday people. Prior to this project, we tended to move the camera to create the coolest composition possible, or we'd exaggerate character movements for added effect.

'Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch' screenshot

© Namco Bandai



"But they only move the camera when it's necessary, and instead compose scenes so that the natural movements of the cast are easy on the eye. In fact, if the motion doesn't look perfectly natural, they prefer not to show it at all.

"Not only does this provide the viewer with a greater sense of realism, but the level of empathy is totally different.

"Aside from their theatrical direction, we made many adjustments to each movement of the characters, paying special attention to the way they walk and run. It was a fairly difficult task to express animation-like movement from such a basic and natural motion."

'Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch' screenshot

© Namco Bandai



What were the challenges behind bringing the Studio Ghibli animation style into a 3D, polygonal world?
"The character animation during the event scenes were created by motion capturing the action and then adjusting it by hand. The motion-captured data was fine-tuned to create a more anime-like movement, rather than just incorporating it directly into the code.

"Fundamentally, animation is created by linking images, one page at a time, so it should feel sort of like a 'flip book'. In order for the images to feel hand-drawn, we adjusted the movements to be slightly choppier.

"For the characters, it was tough to programme and create contour lines for something that needed to look cel-animated. In terms of the environments, we spent countless hours researching Ghibli animation to recreate their hand-drawn feel. Our staff worked very hard to achieve this."

'Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch' screenshot

© Namco Bandai



Level-5 has worked on a number of role-playing games, including the Dragon Quest series. How did your work on these titles influence and inform the development of Ni No Kuni?
"While working on Dragon Quest and Professor Layton, one of the things that was at the forefront of our thoughts was how to create games that are very approachable, and we have been incorporating player-friendly systems and atmospheres into our games ever since.

"We have learned a lot about creating games that appeal to a broad audience, and I am confident that our skill in that area is one way that we stand out. It seems to have become something we're known for."

The game's monster allies, Familiars, have been described as being similar to Pokemon. Would you say that's a fair comparison?
"Hmm, I don't know about that. For Ni No Kuni, we've considered the terrain of each map, and thought about what kind of creatures might appear in a Ghibli world. Each creature has been created with a lot of careful consideration.

"One of the game's most exciting aspects is to befriend Familiars and help them grow, so we have provided a variety of Familiars, each with their own personalities. I believe that in playing it, you'll see many characteristics that differ from Pokemon."

'Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch' screenshot

© Namco Bandai



Role playing games are known for their expansive late-game content and side-quests. What can we expect from Ni No Kuni?
"Ni No Kuni flows along a main storyline, but the ability to adventure freely throughout the world is there too.

"If you look hard enough, you'll find that there is a new discovery to be made in every locale you visit, whether that be saving the broken-hearted, enhancing weapons and armour, strengthening Familiars and fighting in the arena, collecting pages of The Wizard's Companion…

"That's all in addition to the casino and some other fun surprises that open after clearing the story, so there is enough content in this game to keep you playing for countless hours if you wished.

"Of course, you could always follow the story without getting side-tracked, but we have placed enough exciting elements in many parts of the game that we hope will encourage you to make stops along the way.

"I will be happy if there are players who just cannot finish the game because of all the side quests!"

'Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch' screenshot

© Namco Bandai



Ni No Kuni seems to appeal to several audiences, such as Ghibli fans otherwise uninterested in games, as well as long-time role-playing game fans. How do you approach designing a role-playing game like this for multiple audiences?
"One thing we can say that applies to all of our titles is that we are careful in creating games that do not overwhelm the player with too much too fast, with what might be called a very snug progression. Basically, we don't make choices too difficult.

"Another thing that we are careful about is to avoid creating games that are just an expression of their creators. We work diligently to create games that the players want instead of games that a creator simply wants to make.

"I believe that creating our proposals and designs from the player's point of view is what keeps making Level-5's titles appealing to broad audiences."


What are the reasons behind making Ni No Kuni a PlayStation 3 exclusive during development?
"That would have to be because we wanted to present the vast world of Ni No Kuni to its fullest potential, spec-wise.

"We created the game so that players can enjoy the animation of Studio Ghibli and the music of Joe Hisaishi as though they are watching a high-quality movie.

"Presenting the player with a world that would be like adventuring within an anime was one of our primary goals for the title. We made great efforts to blend the animation sequences and the event scenes into one experience so that it would be difficult to distinguish the differences between them."

'Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch' screenshot

© Namco Bandai



Is there a chance Ni No Kuni could come to other platforms - including Xbox 360, Wii U or PC - or will it remain a PS3 exclusive?
"It is still unplanned at this time. We have used the PS3 to its fullest to present the animation and convey the world and its music at the highest quality we could provide, but if we were to sell it on other platforms… I would like to find mechanics that would make the title more suitable for that hardware."

Finally, Level-5's first series was the acclaimed Dark Cloud games. Is there a chance this series could return in the future?
"Dark Cloud was released all the way back in 2000 in Japan, so I am very surprised to know that there is still interest in a sequel to it. It is an honour that our first title is so highly valued like this.

"A sequel for the game is still unplanned, but if the right support came along, we could consider it."

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is available now exclusively on PS3.

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