The fighting is turn-based, but operates in real-time – you can only carry out one action every five seconds or so, but you can move around freely. The Imagine fighters dance and chatter around their enemies rather than waiting for their turn to act, bringing battles to life in a way that slow-paced action-time systems often struggle with.
After a few field battles, Oliver reaches the miniature town at the centre of the map. A cut-scene shows him wandering open-mouthed down the cobbled streets as Shizuku shoos away curious, whispering inhabitants, who gather to stare at the outsider.
There are bipedal, humanoid cats dressed in skirts and shirts walking through the town's fountain square, where a guard tells Oliver and Shizuku that they'll need a gift to be allowed an audience with the king. The animation is wonderful – it actually looks better outside of the cutscenes, where Oliver looks as natural a part of the scenery as in any pre-rendered scene.
Shizuku runs ahead to show us where to go, presumably just for the purpose of the demo – but there's no map, no HP bar, no party icons, nothing on the screen to distract your attention from the loveliness of the world around you. A happy face icon above a nearby character's head indicates that you can talk to them, and Square brings up a hint to remind you what your immediate goal is, but there are no other button prompts.
You're led down a few narrow alleyways to a pond at the end of a stream, where a red fish is lurking under the water. Shizuku does some excitable pointing and dancing and Oliver hops out across the water, balancing on poles; it dashes away upstream, leaving us to loop around the streets again and chase it into shall water, where it flops away until Oliver picks it up.
The guards seem happy to grant access with the fish in tow – turns out it wasn't a red herring – and we soon see why; the king is a giant, crowned cat, lounging on a throne and playing with his tail. Shizuku prods and goads a shy, reluctant Oliver into beginning a request, but we don't get to know what it was – the demo ends there.
Neither the action-time battle system nor the simple little fetch-quest from the demo shows us anything that we wouldn't have expected. Ni no Kuni isn't taking the JRPG in a radical new direction – or certainly, it doesn't appear to be – but its touching, mature premise and incomparably beautiful world turn it into something different from anything else on the TGS show floor, even anything else in the genre. Studio Ghibli's influence in this collaboration is clearly more than just cosmetic.
Ni no Kuni: The Another World is in development for PS3. There's no word on a release date as yet.